HumanNature is Born Neutral
Humanbeings are born neutral, and they only become who they are in theiradult life after influence from the environment. This position iscognizant of the opposing views that invoke the philosophicalpositions that consider human nature as a product of philosophicalpredispositions. Hence, a discussion of both and supporting andopposing views instrumentally juxtaposes the idea that human natureis a product of nature or nurture. The nurture argument is strongerthan the nature argument due to evidence that points out a stronginfluence of the environment on people’s behavior. Specifically,John Locke’s philosophical position on human nature inspires thisperspective. Human beings are born neutral or blank slates thatuninfluenced by the external world. Whatever they do, think, or saylater in their life reflects their upbringing and many otherinfluences that come later in their life. The conceptions of virtue,which presumes the right actions in the society, differ from onesociety to another (Goffman33). Thus, a person growing in a society that has institutionalizedways of thinking regarding certain actions as either evil or goodwill conforms to the constructs of their society rather than createtheir conceptions (Lowe18). However, this does not mean that human beings cannot changetheir behavior in a manner contradictory to their upbringing or theconstructs of the society. Ideas from outside their social realm canspark a new realization that will provoke them to take a differentpath. For example, a child brought up in a religious family withstrict Christian observance may convert to Islam after a series ofexposures to the Muslim community that could be having morepersuasive religious convictions than their Christian community.
JimmySantiago Baca’s, APlace to Stand, revealsa very important aspect of human nature. The Chicano convict at thebeginning of the story knew nothing about the horror and humiliationthat characterizes jail cells until his mother deliberately took himto jail with her (Baca14). His father had been arrested for driving under the influence ofalcohol. As the prison captain led them to the cell where his fatherhad been incarcerated, the cells created a lasting impression thatchanged his view of life. In his words, he described the place as,"smelling like urine and whisky vomit…..The corridors weredark and gloom” (14). He continues by describing the inmates whowere in the cell as, “glancing at them with hangover disinterest…herose in a groggy stupor, cautiously stepping over bodies” (14). Theconvict’s description shows a pathetic scene especially for afive-year-old. They left the prison without his father. He struggledto remain with his father or take him along with his and his mother,but his mother forcefully dragged him off. According to the convict,his initial encounter with the prison at the age of five never lefthim. He thought of returning there one day, possibly to take hisfather out of prison. The convict considers jail as something that“always defined the measure of life in some way” for him (14).Baca’s story embodies the immense influence that the environmentand experiences are likely to have an individual. The convict in thestory could have a different view of life if could have accompaniedhis mother to the prison cells where his father was incarcerated. The encounter altered his view of life quite significantly. Baca’sstory reveals that people become what their immediate environmentshapes them to be. Even if they later develop a different view oflife, they must first view it in the scope of the initial images theyabsorbed into their subconscious mind. This explains why the convictfound it easy to plead guilty. Supposing he had grown up in anenvironment where his father was a responsible father and his familynever separated due to his father`s conviction, he would have foughtfor his innocence because prison life could be out of the norm. Unfortunately, the world, right from his formative years, taught himthat being in prison is a normal experience hence, he viewed it inthat sense.
Beforeexploring Locke’s position on human nature, discussing the opposingphilosophical views to the idea that human nature is born neutral isplausible. Understanding the divergent views provides the basis uponwhich Locke’s assertions prove more credible for the “blankslate” perspective. Mencius views of human beings as inherentlygood are in direct opposition to Locke’s views that inspire themain argument for the “neutral human nature”. Mencius consideredlove, righteousness, propriety, and wisdom as human qualities thatinherent in every human being right at birth rather than imparted byexternal influences(Chan111).The four qualities make all human beings to possess the feelingsand notions of deference, right, wrong, shame, and commiseration thatguide them into making moral decisions. In Mencius view, human beingsunderstand altruism and egoism. The weakness of Mencius’ positionis that it is not concordant with the reality in the world. Althoughhuman beings ware aware of egoism and the altruism that evokescertain feelings about what happens around them, it is majorly shapedby the rationale of their environments. Human beings only try to beas rational as their immediate environment would dictate, but in auniversal context. They also express such societal virtues as honestyand fairness, with some exceptions, to other human beings who theyconsider as their kind. An illustration that debunks Mencius view isthe spread of racism in the late 19thCentury and the early 20thCentury in Europe and North America. Black people were condemned toservitude by their fellow human beings through slavery andcolonialism. The generations born after the abolition of slavery andfall of colonial empires came to conceive black people as lesserhuman beings, and it degenerated into racial segregation. Supposingthere was no slavery and colonialism, but a world where human beingshad treated each other as equals, the preceding generations couldhave had a different attitude about Africans. Thus, they developedprejudice and discrimination against them because they saw theirparents do so regardless of their understanding of human altruism andegoism.
JohnLocke’s view of human nature is that the mind acquires, examines,compares and combines the ideas people get in their immediateenvironment in different ways. Hence, Locke describes knowledge asthe conception of the world based on the relationships betweendifferent ideas conceived in the mind based on everyday experiencesand influences from other people (Locke15). This explains why Locke’s political position was that humanbeings are born free to pursue issues that maximize on the pleasuresuch as liberty, property, good health, and life. However, humannature is distorted by the influences that neither cares about thegeneral good of others, but selfish interests. Locke’s viewsmotivated his postulations of the social contract. The government (asmall government for that matter) exists to act as the mitigatingfactor for the self-interested of human beings. The government`srole, in this case, is to shape inhibit the behavior of humans thatemanate from their environment. Now that people grow up and areinfluenced by different circumstances they are likely to pursueself-serving interests that reinforce how they perceive the worldaround them, the government intervenes through laws that dictate whatis right and wrong while incorporating aspects that accommodate allpeople. Thomas Hobbes had the same views about the nature of humanbeings as Locke except that he favored an authoritarian governmentrather than a democratic government that Locke proposed(Thomas15). Locke proposed a government that has the mandate of the peopleto protect the common of the good of the society. If a governmentnegates this role, Locke suggested that it should be changed by thepeople and replaced with one that plays that role.
Inconclusion, human beings are born as neutral beings withoutpredispositions of how the world should be. The environment shapestheir perceptions of the world. A change of preconceived perceptionsfrom the environment and influences also follows the same spectrum(Hume13). For instance, the convict who perceived prison life as a normalaspect of life obtained that conception on experiencing firsthandprison life at the age of five years. A change of his attitudetowards life takes another external influence from psychologists,through psychosocial therapy. As Locke and Hobbes postulated, thegovernment mitigates the self-serving interest that emanate fromdistortions from the environment through laws that establishconventional rights and wrongs.
Thesis:Human beings are born free from the preconceptions of the world theyacquire later in life from influences of their environment. Theenvironment includes family members, the mass media, religiousdoctrines, and the civil culture of adults responsible for theirupbringing.
Historicalexamples that prove that human nature is a contingent upon externalinfluences:
Racism that emanated from colonialism and slavery continued long after scientific research showed that all human beings were the same regardless of their race or ethnic background.
Although human beings are aware of their altruism and egoism, they do not embody them on a universal scale, but only limit them to other human beings of their kind. For example, a white police officer how grew up in a racist society is more likely to be ruthless to a colored offender than one who grew up in a liberal society with multi-racial values (this is the environment at work).
Jimmy Santiago Baca’s narration typically explains how the environment shapes people’s conception of the world. The Chicano convict considered prison life as a “defining the measure of life” because that is how he first saw it at a young age.
Human beings are inherently good
They are altruistic and egoistic
Human beings are born blank slates without the conceptions and prejudices of the world
The environment later shapes their view of life and the world.
They act in ways that are attributable to their preconceptions
The government should intervene to bring order.
Agrees with Locke but favors an authoritarian government rather than a democratic government.
Locke’s perspective as a more practical view of the world. Events in history prove that human beings are likely to act and behave in a manner the preserves their self-interest or those of the society rather than the universal good.
Baca,Jimmy Santiago. Aplace to stand.Grove Press, 2007.
Chan,Wing-Tsit. "Transformationof Buddhism in China." Philosophy East and West7.3/4 (1957): 107-116.
Goffman,Erving. Stigma:Notes on the management of spoiled identity.Simon and Schuster, 2009.
Hume,David. Atreatise of human nature.Courier Corporation, 2012.
Lowe,Jonathan. Routledgephilosophy guidebook to Locke on human understanding.Psychology Press, 2005.
Locke,John. Anessay concerning human understanding.Eliz. Holt.
Thomas,Hobbes. "Leviathan." (1996).