Good or Evil?

One of the age-old questions about human nature which most of us probably have discussed about in some part of our lives: are we naturally good or evil? Hobbes and Rousseau represent opposing poles with their interesting and complicated positions to the question of whether humans are inherently good or evil. What did Hobbes and Rousseau saw in us that made them think differently about human nature and what do I think about it?

Hobbes, it turns out, did not believe that humans are naturally bad. Rather, his point is that we aren’t programmed to exist in large-scale political civilizations. As someone who had witnessed firsthand the atrocities of the English Civil War Hobbes thinks that we’re not naturally political animals like bees or ants, who cooperate and work together for the greater good. Instead, we’re naturally self-interested and prioritize our own well-being. We care about our reputation as much as we care about our physical well-being, and our yearning for social status leads us into conflict just as much as competition for limited resources.

On the other hand, according to Rousseau, after humanity achieved the techniques of agriculture and manufacturing, everything began to go wrong, resulting in unprecedented amounts of private property, economic interdependence, and inequality. Social division is bred by inequality. Where formerly strong social connections bound communities together, rising inequality turned us into vicious rivals for status and dominance. And the thing is even if Hobbes was incorrect about human nature, I think we could say that modern society is more Hobbesian, and turning back doesn’t seem much possible. 

To answer the question myself, I think I agree to Rousseau more in some points. In my opinion, people are neither inherently good or inherently evil. Humans are complicated beings and they shouldn’t be stereotyped as good or bad. We might be self-interested, selfish and arrogant but we are also empathic, caring and cooperative. And I think that, as Rousseau said, before there was a reason for inequality, people were better and the communities were at peace. But this doesn’t mean humans of the modern society is evil now, it is just that people are tend be worse because of the circumstances which are again caused by humans. I hope that there is still time for turning back to when we did not compete with one another for profit and social status.

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