There has been a lot of skepticism concerning human nature; regarding if there even is any sort of underlying essence to being human. Existentialists predominately argue against the idea of essential traits and any innate abilities. Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980) says in his 1946 lecture “Existentialism is a Humanism”:
“… There is no human nature, because there is no God to have a conception of it. Man simply is. … Man is nothing else but that which he makes of himself. That is the first principle of existentialism.”
In saying this, Sartre proposes the idea that existence precedes essence. Existentialism though, in John Locke’s (1632-1704) view allows for certain innate faculties of the mind ...view middle of the document...
Though an essential trait of being human is sharing in the common gene pool of Homo sapiens sapiens, this does not quite correlate with what we mean when we speak of ‘human nature’ in casual conversation. Human nature is often heard of in phrases such as “it is in human nature to be selfish” and “humans are curious by nature.” When phrases like these are used, the people who use them are most likely referring to a generalised view of modern society; where there is an established etiquette in each culture. In this case, the person would already be addressing people who would be able to understand and relate to that idea; such as being selfish, where the person who uses the phrase “it is in human nature to be selfish” would firstly already believe that, and secondly be addressing someone who they would think would too.
Additionally, one could consider selfishness to be a universal trait to all humans, which would be referring to the philosophical belief of Psychological Egoism – contrasting to psychological altruism. Though humans may or may not be selfishly motivated, it would not be a characteristic property in which we could label as our essence, as acts of both altruism and selfishness have been commonly observed throughout the animal kingdom. Extensive research on the cognition of elephants for instance has been taking place for a long time. With the availability of articles and studies with the new age, popular media can show us that a web search of “elephant intelligence” will reply with over eleven million articles linking the two keywords together. Widely regarded as one of the world’s most intelligent species and arguably one of the most altruistic, elephants have been observed to display many similarities to what was thought to be only human acts. Examples of this include the idea of death rituals (funerals), use of tools, and the ability to react to art and music at a higher and more involved extent. So, returning to psychological egoism; it is a claim that all human actions are selfishly motivated, and it may at first glance make sense due to its relatability. But along with psychological altruism, it does not align with the definition of an essence, as it is not characteristic of only humans.
As mentioned before, when someone speaks of human nature, they would most likely be referring to a generalisation of modern society, which would already have an established etiquette within each culture. This takes into account that there is a certain standard of being and behaviour, which is considered ‘average’ and ‘normal’. Regarding an ‘average human being’ or a ‘normal’ person, this would refer to the general tendencies of the society that they live in. But when regarding evolution, one cannot pinpoint what an average human is, as evolution follows that the human species is...