Human Nature and Human Society

Human nature refers to the distinguishing characteristics—including ways of thinking, feeling and acting—which humans tend to have naturally, independently of the influence of culture. The questions of what these characteristics are, how fixed they are, and what causes them are amongst the questions in western philosophy. These questions have particularly important implications in ethics, politics, and theology. This is partly because human nature can be regarded as both a source of norms of conduct or ways of life, as well as presenting obstacles or constraints on living a good life. (Wikipedia)

Human nature: The phrase "human nature" is multiply ambiguous. Some early modern thinkers such as Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau tended to mean by it the supposed nature of human beings before the advent of organized human society. But there is every reason to believe that human beings have always been highly social creatures, and that the idea of individuals coming together to form society is a myth.
Another ambiguity, exemplified in the opposition between Mencius and Hsun-tzu in the ancient Confucian tradition in China, and between differing traditions within Christianity, is over whether human nature is basically good and in need only of appropriate sustenance and education, or whether we are inherently evil and stand in need of discipline or radical transformation.
A further difference is between a conception of human nature as what is in each individual at birth (or, given modern understanding of genetics, at conception), as opposed to the nature of the fully formed adult after maturation, socialization and education. This has given rise to endless nature versus nurture debates. (The

A human society is a group of people involved in persistent interpersonal relationships, or a large social grouping sharing the same geographical or social territory, typically subject to the same political authority and dominant cultural expectations. Human societies are characterized by patterns of relationships (social relations) between individuals who share a distinctive culture and institutions; a given society may be described as the sum total of such relationships among its constituent members. In the social sciences, a larger society often evinces stratification or dominance patterns in subgroups. Insofar as it is collaborative, a society can enable its members to benefit in ways that would not otherwise be possible on an individual basis; both individual and social (common) benefits can thus be distinguished, or in many cases found to overlap. (Wikipedia)

Presuppositions About Human Nature

1. Man differs in kind from other animals by virtue of his having the related powers of propositional speech and conceptual thought, powers totally lacking in all other animals.

2. Man, because he has the power of conceptual thought, is uniquely a time-binding animal--the only animal whose consciousness embraces an extensive past and a far-reaching future. Human memory and imagination, augmented and transformed by the power of conceptual thought, emancipate man from imprisonment in the immediate present. Man could not engage in the pursuit of happiness--he could not seek the ultimate end of a whole good life--if that temporal whole, encompassing his past and his future along with any present moment, were not an object he could hold before his mind at all times in his life, except perhaps the period of his infancy.

3. Man does not have any genetically pre-formed patterns of species-specific behavior, that is, he does not have definite instincts, as other animals do. While he does have instinctual drives or needs, these are subject in man's case to inhibition and sublimation by his power of conceptual thought, with the result that each man determines for himself the manner in which he responds to or satisfies his instinctual drives or needs. Its significance for a teleological ethics should be evident: that each man ought to make a really good life for himself presupposes that he can determine for himself how he shall respond to his natural needs, including those that are called "instinctual" such as the sexual drive.

4. Man, having the power of conceptual thought, also has freedom of choice--a freedom that enables him, at any moment of his life, to choose one partial good rather than another, without being determined to do so by his past experience, the habits he has formed, or the character he has developed up to that moment In other words, he has, through freedom of choice, the power of self-determination, the power of creating or forming himself and his life according to his own decisions.
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Human Nature

The Denial of Human Nature: The denial of human nature is a profound mistake – one with extremely serious consequences for philosophy, especially moral philosophy. If moral philosophy is to have a sound factual basis, it is to be found in the facts about human nature and nowhere else. Human Nature.

In the twentieth century, the essential sameness of all human beings, by virtue of their participating in the same specific nature, has been widely challenged. The challenge has come from cultural anthropologists, from sociologists, from other behavioral scientists, and even from historians. As the social scientists put it, the differences among human groups — racial, ethnic, or cultural — are primary; there is no common human nature in which they all share.

That challenge, tantamount to a denial of human nature, is rooted in a profound mistake, but one that is not, in origin, a philosophical mistake. However, it has become for some philosophers – the existentialists – the root error in their thought. As the existentialists put it, man has an existence, but no essence: the essence of each human being is of his or her own making. The French existentialist, Merleau-Ponty, sums up this error by saying: “It is the nature of man not to have a nature.”

The denial of human nature is a profound mistake – one with extremely serious consequences for philosophy, especially moral philosophy. If moral philosophy is to have a sound factual basis, it is to be found in the facts about human nature and nowhere else. It is the general agreement that all human beings are members of one and the same species that forms the basis for our understanding of natural rights, human rights and human equality.

What can possibly be meant by the denial of human nature?
The criteria we employ to determine whether we are dealing with a human being imply some understanding on our part of the common traits belonging to all members of the human species. These common traits constitute the nature that is the same in all members of the species. That is what we mean by human nature.

Let us now try to explain what it is that leads to a denial of human nature.
First, consider other animal species. If you were to investigate any one of them as carefully as possible, you would find that the members of the same species, living in their natural habitats, manifest a remarkable degree of similarity in behavior. You might find differences in size, weight, shape, or coloration among the individuals you examined. You might find behavioral deviations here and there from what would have become evident as the normal behavior of that species. But, by and large, you would be impressed by the similitudes that reigned in the populations you examined.

Now consider the human species. It inhabits the globe. Its members live in all hemispheres and regions, under the most widely divergent environmental conditions. Let us suppose you were to take the time to visit human populations wherever they existed — all of them. You would come away with the very opposite impression from your investigation of the populations that belonged to one or another animal species. You would find that the behavioral differences were dominant rather than the similarities.

Of course, human beings, like other animals, must eat, drink, and sleep. They all have certain biological traits in common. There can be no doubt that they have the nature of animals. But when you come to their distinctive behavioral traits, how different one human population will be from another. They will differ in the languages they speak, and you will have some difficulty in making an accurate count of the vast number of different languages you will have found. They will differ in their dress, in their adornments, in their cuisines, in their customs and manners, in the organization of their families, in the institutions of their societies, in their beliefs, in their standards of conduct, in the turn of their minds in almost everything that enters into the ways of life they lead. These differences will be so multitudinous and variegated that you might, unless cautioned against doing so, tend to be persuaded that they were not all members of the same species.

It is this that might lead you to the conclusion that there is no human nature in the sense in which a certain constant nature can be attributed to other species of animals. Even if you did not reach that conclusion yourself, you might understand how that conclusion is plausible.

It is understood that the denial of human nature rests ultimately on the striking contrast between the dominant behavioral similitude that prevails among the members of other animal species and the dominant behavioral differentiation that prevails among the subgroups of the human species.

Looked at one way, this actually is one of the most remarkable differences between man and other animals, one that tends to corroborate the conclusion that man differs from other animals in kind, not in degree. But to concede that the members of the human species do not have a specific or common nature in the same sense that the members of other animal species do is not to admit that they have no specific nature whatsoever.

In what sense then is there a human nature, a specific nature that is common to all members of the species? The answer can be given in a single word: potentialities. Human nature is constituted by all the potentialities that are the species-specific properties common to all members of the human species.

It is the essence of a potentiality to be capable of a wide variety of different actualizations. Thus, for example, the human potentiality for syntactical speech is actualized in thousands of different human languages. Having that potentiality, a human infant placed at the moment of birth in one or another human subgroup, each with its own language, would learn to speak that language. The differences among all human languages are superficial as compared with the potentiality for learning and speaking any human language that is present in all human infants at birth.

What has just been said about one human potentiality applies to all the others that are the common, specific traits of the human being. Each underlies all the differences that arise among human subgroups as a result of the many different ways in which the same potentiality can be actualized. To recognize this is tantamount to acknowledging the superficiality of the differences that separate one human subgroup from another, as compared with the samenesses that unite all human beings as members of the same species and as having the same specific nature.

In other species of animals, the samenesses that unite the members and constitute their common nature are not potentialities but rather quite determinate characteristics — behavioral as well as anatomical and physiological.

The mistake that the cultural anthropologists, the sociologists, and other behavioral scientists make when they deny the existence of human nature has its root in their failure to understand that the specific nature in the case of the human species is radically different from the specific nature in the case of other animal species.

Having established the sameness of the human species, which consists in its common human potentialities, psychological and behavioral, in addition to its common anatomical and physiological traits, let us now consider the difference between the human species and other animal species. I shall not state all these differences in kind, but only the most important and obvious ones.

Intellect is a unique human possession. Only human beings have intellects. Other animals may have sensitive minds and perceptual intelligence, but they do not have intellects. No one is given to saying that dogs and cats, horses, pigs, dolphins, and chimpanzees lead intellectual lives; nor do we say of nonhuman animals that they are anti-intellectual, as some human beings certainly are. Other animals have intelligence in varying degrees, but they do not have intellectual powers in the least degree.

Free will or free choice, which consists in always being able to choose otherwise, no matter how one does choose, is an intellectual property, lacked by nonintellectual animals. Some of their behavior may be learned and thus acquired rather than innate and instinctive, but however it is determined, by instinct or by learning, it is determined rather than voluntary and freely willed.

A person is a living being with intellect and freewill. That is both the jurisprudential and the theological definition of a person. Everything else, animate or inanimate, totally lacking intellect and free will, is not a person but a thing.

Only persons have natural and unalienable rights. These we call human rights. There are no comparable animal rights. Morally, human beings may be obliged to treat some, but not all, other animals humanely. We are not obliged to treat a coiled rattlesnake about to strike or a charging tiger humanely.

In addition to the foregoing basic differences in kind between human and nonhuman animals, there are the following behavioral differences in kind.

Other animals live entirely in the present. Only human individuals are time-binders, connecting the present with the remembered past and with the imaginable future. Only man is an historical animal with an historical tradition and an historical development. In the case of other species, the life of succeeding generations remains the same as long as no genetic changes occur. Human life changes from one generation to another with the transmission of cultural novelties and with accretion of accumulated cultural changes and institutional innovations. Nothing like these innovations and changes can be found in any other species.

Other animals make things, such as hives, nests, dams, and, in the case of birds, songs. It may even be that in doing so, other animals use rudimentary tools as well as their own appendages. But only man makes machines, which are not hand tools, for the purpose of making products that cannot be produced in any other way.

Among the things that man makes are works of art that we regard as fine rather than useful because they are made for the pleasure or enjoyment. Are the songs made by birds comparable? No, because even if the songs birds make serve no biological purpose and are simply, made to be enjoyed, the songs made by a given species of bird remain the same for all members of that species generation after generation. The extraordinary variation in human works of art shows that human artistry is not instinctive.

As I see it, all the differences in kind so far mentioned cannot be explained except by reference to man’s exclusive possession of an intellect, with its power of conceptual thought and its power of free choice.

Furthermore, only human beings use their minds to become artists, scientists, historians, philosophers, priests, teachers, lawyers, physicians, engineers, accountants, inventors, traders, bankers, statesmen. Only among human beings is there a distinction between those who behave ethically and those who are knaves, scoundrels, villains, criminals. Only among human beings is there any distinction between those who have mental health and those who suffer mental disease or have mental disabilities of one sort or another. Only in the sphere of human life are there such institutions as schools, libraries, hospitals, churches, temples, factories, theaters, museums, prisons, cemeteries, and so on.

I hope you are now persuaded that human and nonhumans differ in kind, not merely in degree, but you may still ask what difference — what practical difference — it makes. I have already answered that question in part by calling your attention to the meaning of human personality — that only humans are persons, not things, and have the dignity and worth that belongs only to persons, the rights that belong only to persons, and the moral obligations that belong only to persons.

There is, in addition, one further consequence that I have not yet mentioned. The Declaration of Independence asserts that all human beings are by nature equal and that they are equally endowed with the same natural or unalienable rights. All of us know, as a matter of fact, that any two individuals that we may compare with one another will be unequal in a large variety of respects. How shall we understand the equality that all humans possess — all, with no exception whatsoever?

There is only one respect in which all human beings — all without any exception — are equal; that is as members of the human species. One human being is neither more nor less human than another. They all have the same species-specific common properties — the innate potentialities that constitute their human nature.

But individual human beings may differ from one another in the degree to which they possess these common human properties, and with respect to such differences, they may be unequal in many respects. These individual differences in degree may be either due to their different innate endowments or their different individual attainments. Thus understood, there is no incompatibility between the statement that all human beings are equal in only one respect and the statement that they are also unequal in many other respects.

Finally, there is one other consequence of man’s difference in kind from all nonhuman animals. Human and some other nonhuman animals are gregarious and are naturally impelled to associate with one another. But while man is not the only social animal, humans are the only political animals. Because they have intellects and free will, they voluntarily constitute the societies in which they live — their domestic, tribal, and political associations. All animal societies or groupings are instinctively determined and thus they are all purely natural societies, differing from species to species, but everywhere the same in the same species. Only human societies are both natural, and conventional, natural by natural needs, not by instinctive determination. Motivated by natural need, they are conventionally instituted by reason and free will; and so, within the same species, they differ at different times and place.

Man is to a great extent a self-made creature. Given a range of potentialities at birth, he makes himself what he becomes by how he freely chooses to develop those potentialities by the habits he forms. It is thus that differentiated subgroups of human beings came into existence.No other animal is a self-made creature in the sense indicated above. On the contrary, other animals have determinate natures, natures genetically determined in such away that they do not admit of a wide variety of different developments as they mature. Human nature is also genetically determined; but human beings differ remarkably from one another as they mature and most of those differences are due to nurtural influences. To confuse nature with nurture is a philosophical mistake that underlies the denial of human nature.

The correction of the philosophical mistake just mentioned is of the greatest importance because of the consequences that follow from doing so.

Most important of all is overcoming the persistent prejudice – the racist, sexist, elitist, even ethnic prejudice – that one portion or subgroup of mankind is distinctly inferior by nature to another. The inferiority may exist, but it is not an inferiority due to nature, but to nurture.

Thomas Jefferson was right in declaring that all human beings are created (or, if you will, are by nature) equal. When inequalities between human subgroups that are entirely due to nurture are taken for natural inequalities, that mistake must be overcome and eradicated for the sake of social justice.

The correction of the mistake that confuses nature with nurture leads to conclusion that all the cultural and nurtural differences that separate one human subgroup from another are superficial as compared with the underlying common human nature that unites the members of mankind.

Although our samenesses are more important than our differences, we have an inveterate tendency to stress the differences that divide us rather than the samenesses that unite us.

If a world cultural community is ever to come into existence, it will retain cultural pluralism or diversity with respect to all matters that are accidental in human life — such things as cuisine, dress, manners, customs, and the like. These are the things that vary from one human subgroup to another accordingly as these subgroups differ in the way they nurture their members. When that happens, we will have at last overcome the nurtural illusion that there is a Western mind and an Eastern mind, a European mind and an African mind, or a civilized mind and a primitive mind. There is only a human mind and it is one and the same in all human beings.

The French existentialist Maurice Merleau-Ponty declared that “it is the nature of man not to have a nature.” He is also quoted as saying “Some of us old curmudgeons grew up believing there was such a thing as human nature. All the evidence lately says no.” What evidence? The extraordinary variety of human behavior that anthropologists, sociologists, and historians have found in different ethnic and racial groups of human beings? But this behavioral variety is entirely the result of nurtural and cultural differences, all of them superficial as compared with the common and constant species-specific properties of the human nature. These consist of all the behavioral potentialities that are the same everywhere at all times and places in the life of mankind on earth. These potentialities are what Aristotle thought human nature to be.



Human Society

Mistaken View in Human Society: The modern philosophical mistakes about society is to be found in the theory of the social contract as the origin of the state or civil society and the failure to understand how the basic forms of human society are both natural and conventional.

We learn from biological science that some animals lead solitary lives and that other animals live and act in groups that are more or less organized. The latter are called gregarious or social animals. Their individual survival and the survival of the species to which they belong depend upon their living with one another, instead of in isolation, and upon their acting, to some degree at least, in concert with one another.

There can be no question that the members of the human species are gregarious or social animals. They, too, cannot survive, nor can the species, unless they associate with one another in groups, the smallest of which is the human family, without whose care and protection human offspring would perish.

But is man gregarious in the same way that all other species of gregarious animals are?
I have long persisted in the view that man is radically different from all other animals, different in kind, not merely in degree. Human race differ from other species of social animals by reason of the fact that its gregariousness gives rise to states as well as to other forms of societies. In other words, man is the only politically social animal: a law-making animal, one that forms a civil society, a state or political community, and establishes political institutions.

There is still one further striking difference between the social life of the human species and of other gregarious animals. Human beings live together and associate with one another in a variety of ways: they live in families; they live in tribal or village communities; they live in states or civil societies; and, in addition to all these, they associate in numerous organized subgroups to serve one purpose or another. Nothing like this variety of modes of association exists in any other species of gregarious animal.

What is common to man and to other social animals is that they are naturally gregarious – the propensity to associate is ingrained in them at birth. But are they naturally gregarious in the same sense of that word “naturally”?

If one concentrates for a moment on the elaborately organized hives, colonies, or mounds of the social insects, one finds that the mode or plan of organization is exactly the same for the insects of a given species, generation after generation, for as long as that species endures. The way in which the members of that particular species of insect associate with one another, the structure of their social organization, the pattern of their social behavior, is genetically determined by instincts with which that particular species is endured.

What is so obviously true of the social insects is equally, perhaps not so obviously, true of the social groupings and behavior of the gregarious higher animals. Their gregariousness is natural in the sense of being genetically determined for each generation of a particular species as long as that species endures.

In sharp contrast to all other animal species, the members of the human species divide into a multitude of subgroups characterized by the widest variety of distinctive traits or attributes. It is this fact that led to doubts and denials about the existence of a human nature common to all.

The same type of fact raises a question about the naturalness of human societies. Wherever on this globe one finds human beings living in families, in tribal organizations, and in civil societies or states, those domestic societies, those tribes or villages, and those civil societies or states are structured, organized, and operated in the widest variety of different ways.

They can, therefore, hardly be genetically determined by instinctive endowments. Were that the case they would all have to be the same. If human societies are not natural in origin, how then do they come into being? The answer that is usually given is: by convention; or, in other words, by the voluntary agreement of individuals to form an association for this purpose or that. This is certainly the way that many associations are formed – clubs, hospitals, universities, business or professional associations, companies, corporations, and so on. They are all voluntarily instituted, set up and organized by conventions entered into by the associating parties.

Nevertheless, in antiquity and in the Middle Ages the three main forms of human association – the family, the tribe or village, and civil society or the state – were all regarded as natural. Only in modern times, beginning with the The Leviathan of Thomas Hobbes and culminating in The Social Contract of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, has civil society or the state been declared to be wholly conventional, not in any sense natural as might be the human family and as are the associations formed by other gregarious animals.

The most important of the modern philosophical mistakes about society is to be found in the theory of the social contract as the conventional origin of the state or civil society. It rests on two myths.

One is the myth that goes by the name of “the state of nature”. This phrase, when used by Hobbes, Locke, or Rousseau in their slightly varying accounts of the origin of civil society, signifies a condition of human life on earth in which individuals live in isolation with complete autonomy.

The second myth is that human beings, dissatisfied with the precariousness and brutality of living in a state of nature, decided to put up with it no longer and to agree upon certain conventions and rules for living together under some form of government that eliminated their isolation and autonomy.

Of the three modern exponents of this social contract theory, Rousseau at least concedes that the state of nature and the social contract have no historical reality, but only constitute a hypothesis to explain how civil society came into existence. However, the origin of the state can be satisfactory explained without any recourse to such fictions. Therein lies the philosophical mistake that needs correction.

The correction of the error turns on recognizing that the distinction between a natural and a conventional origin for the state or civil society is not a flat disjunction – an “either-or-but-not-both”.

If a form of association is natural only in the sense in which insect society are genetically determined by instinctive endowments that are peculiar to a particular species, and if a form of association is conventional only in the sense in which private corporations or business and professional associations originate as a result of voluntary agreement on the part of the members, then no form of association can be both natural and conventional. It must be either the one or the other.

According to the modern exponents of the social contract theory, historically, men did not always live in civil societies and states. Also, when civil societies or states did come into existence they were not all structured or patterned in the same way. Hence the state cannot be regarded as natural. As they saw it, the only alternative was to regard the state as purely conventional.

The root of the error here lies in not recognizing two different senses of the word “natural”, in one of which an association cannot be both natural and conventional, and in the other of which it can be both.

The other sense of the word “natural” was recognized in antiquity. Aristotle found no difficulty in describing the state or political community as both natural and conventional. Let me paraphrase Aristotle’s account of the origin of cities: “When tribes or villages united to form a community that was nearly or quite self-sufficing, the state came into existence, originating in the bare needs of life and continuing in existence for the sake of a good life. Therefore, if earlier forms of society were natural because they satisfied natural human needs, so too was the state natural.”

In the context of all the passages in Aristotle’s Politics where its author asserts that the state is purely natural or a creation of nature, we can also find the sentence in which he says that “he who first founded the state was the greatest of benefactors.” That reference to a founder of the state implies that the state is not purely natural in origin, but also a product of human devising and innovation. What Aristotle had in mind when he referred to the founding fathers of states were innovators who drafted constitutions, the kind of constitution that Solon drafted for Athens and Lycurgus for Sparta.

By saying that the state enables human beings not only to survive and subsist, but also to live well, Aristotle expands the natural needs that the state serves beyond the biological needs served by the family and the tribal community.

Rousseau reveals that he, too, recognized the sense in which the state may be natural as well as conventional. Unfortunately, the recognition was subliminal and never came to the surface explicitly. In The Social Contract, Rousseau wrote: “The most ancient of all societies, and the only one that is natural, is the family: and even so the children remain attached to the father only so long as they need him for their preservation. As soon as this need ceases, the natural bond is dissolved”.

Two contradictions are plainly evident here. If the human family is a naturally necessary society, then human beings never lived in isolation in a state of nature. If the impulse to enter into civil society arises from the same natural need that caused human beings to live in families, then the state is as natural as the family, not purely conventional.

The family is thus seen not because human beings are genetically determined by instinct to set up relatively permanent domestic groups but because there is a natural need for it. That these domestic societies are natural by need also becomes apparent from the fact that families are organized in a multitude of different ways. They would not be if they were instinctively determined instead of being formed voluntarily and by free choices. The human family is thus both natural and conventional.

Why, then, did human beings depart from the hypothetical state of nature (in which they never did exist, because they always lived in families at least)? They were not driven to do so by innate instinct. They were driven by a natural need, just as they were driven to live in families by a natural need. Civil society is just as natural as the family, and natural in the same sense.

But is the natural need the same? No.
Small domestic society consists of isolated family and enlarged society consists of consanguineous families associated in tribes and villages suffice for the mere preservation of human life.
The state or civil society, on the other hand, came into existence to satisfy man’s natural need for the conditions requisite for achieving a morally good human life - not just to live, but to live well.

All animal societies are natural, not conventional. All are the products, more or less, of instinctive determination — more in the case of the social insects, less in the case of the gregarious higher mammals.

Innumerable human associations are purely conventional. Our labor unions, our trade associations, our clubs and fraternal organizations, our business corporations and our professional associations, are formed by individuals come together and voluntarily unite to act in concert for a common purpose.

Human societies (families, tribes, and states) are both natural and conventional. Their naturalness is evident from the fact they are found everywhere on earth where human beings live. However, the immense variety in the way these natural societies are structured indicates the operation of reason and choice in their origination. Being conventional, they can also be natural only if the word “natural” can be used to mean something other than being instinctively determined, as bee hives and termite colonies are.

While human beings do not have social instincts, as do bees, termites, and other gregarious animal species, humans are instinctually driven or impelled by their natural needs to associate in certain ways. Societies or associations that are formed in order to satisfy natural needs are natural in a sense of that word which is different from the sense it has when calling a society natural means that it is instinctively determined.

Both families and tribes or villages serve the same basic biological needs — survival and subsistence.

At a later stage, tribes or villages united to form the earliest cities. The earliest cities were states — city-states. Being more self-sufficing and secure, the city-state was able to serve a natural need above the biological level — to serve the specifically human need to do more than just stay alive, the aspiration to live well and to lead a civilized human life.

The Aristotelian account of families uniting to form tribal communities and tribal communities uniting to form cities is much more in accord with all the facts. The acts by which these unions occurred were voluntary, but they were not of a character that can be properly described as entering into a contract.

The state or civil society came into existence to satisfy man’s natural need for the conditions requisite for achieving a morally good human life - not just to live, but to live well.



Natural Needs = Natural Rights

*Human beings have natural and acquired desires (needs and wants).
What you need is always really good for you. What you want is always apparently good for you and may or may not be really good for you.
*Really good is that which satisfies right desires or needs inherent in human nature.
*A basic tenet of the commonsense view is that what is really good for any single individual is good in exactly the same sense for every other human being.
*The totum bonum — happiness or the good life — is the same for all men, and each man is under the same basic moral obligation as every other — to make a good life for himself.

Two things follow from this controlling insight.
* The pursuit of happiness by individuals of every shade of individual difference and under every variety of outward circumstance is the pursuit of the same real good and the totum bonum.
*When I understand that each real good and the totum bonum are common goods, the same for all men, I can then discern the natural rights each individual has — rights that others have which impose moral obligations upon me, and rights that I have which impose moral obligations upon others.

By an individual’s rights, we understand the things he has a right to demand of other men or of organized society as a whole.
His rights are legal rights when they are granted to him by organized society through the institutions of positive law, including the constitution of the state in which he lives. Conferred upon him by society, they can also be revoked, but while they are in force, each man’s legal rights impose legal obligations upon his fellowmen. Where there is no legal right, there is no legal obligation, and conversely, where there is no legal obligation, there is no legal right.
The same co-implicative connection exists between moral rights and moral obligations. I can have moral obligations toward another man, and he can have moral obligations toward me, only if each of us has moral rights one against the other.

What is a moral right? It is obvious at once that it must be a right that exists without being created by positive law or social custom. What is not the product of legal or social conventions must be a creation of nature, or it must have its being in the nature of men. Moral rights are natural rights, rights inherent in man’s common or specific nature, just as his natural desires or needs are.
Such rights, being antecedent to society and government, are inalienable in the sense that they cannot be taken away or annulled by acts of government.

The critical point to observe is that natural rights are correlative with natural needs.

I have a moral — or natural — right to a decent livelihood, that can be the case only because wealth, to a degree that includes amenities as well as bare necessities, is a real good, part of the totum bonum, and thus indispensable to a good life. The fact that it is a real good, together with the fact that I am morally obliged to seek it as part of my moral obligation to make a good life for myself, is inseparable from the fact that I have a natural right to a decent livelihood as well as other natural needs.

In other words, all my subsidiary natural rights — rights to life, security of life and limb, a decent livelihood, freedom from coercion, political liberty, educational opportunities, medical care, sufficient free time for the pursuits of leisure, and so on — stem from my right to the pursuit of happiness and from my obligation to make a good life for myself. They are rights to the things I need to achieve that end and to discharge that obligation.

The foregoing discussion of natural rights and moral duties not only throws light on the primacy of the good over the right, but also enables us to connect the good and the right with the notion of justice and injustice. Let me briefly expand both of these points.

The primacy of the good over the right: If we did not know or could not know what is really good or bad for the individual, we would not and could not know what is right and wrong in the conduct of one individual toward others; nor could we know what is right and wrong in the individual’s conduct of his own life.

The words “just” and “unjust” are applied to an individual’s conduct toward others — to say that the individual is just only when he acts rightly toward others, and unjust only when he acts wrongly toward them. His moral obligations toward others are grounded in their rights, which is another way of saying that he ought not to injure them by preventing them from making good lives for themselves.

Two further points emerge with regard to justice. One concerns the ancient observation that justice consists in virtuous action toward others. Thus, justice in general consists in having the moral character that the individual needs in the effort to make a good life, for when his moral character or virtue is directed toward the good life that others are under an obligation to make for themselves.

The second point concerns the obligations of organized society as a whole toward its individual members, and leads us to the consideration of justice and injustice in our social institutions, our economic arrangements, our laws, our constitution, and our government. Our basic natural right to the pursuit of happiness, and all the subsidiary rights that it encompasses, impose moral obligations on organized society and its institutions as well as upon other individuals. If another individual is unjust when he does not respect our rights, and so injures us by interfering with or impeding our pursuit of happiness, the institutions of organized society, its laws, and its government, are similarly unjust when they deprive individuals of their natural rights.

Just governments, it has been correctly declared, are instituted to secure these rights. I interpret that statement as going further than the negative injunction not to violate the natural rights of the individual, or deprive him of the things he needs to make a good life for himself. It imposes upon organized society and its government the positive obligation to secure the natural rights of its individuals by doing everything it can to aid and abet them in their efforts to make good lives for themselves — especially helping them to get things they need that are not within their power to get for themselves.

A retitled excerpt from Dr. Adler’s book The Time of Our Lives: The Ethics of Common Sense (Chapter 14).

The Nature of Natural Laws

That by “natural law” we mean principles of human conduct, not the laws of nature discovered by the physical sciences. The natural law as applied to physical things is inviolable; stars and atoms always obey the laws of their nature. But man often violates the moral rules which constitute the law of human nature.

The idea of a natural right order to which all things, including human beings, should conform is one of the most ancient and universal notions. It is a major principle in the religious and philosophic systems of ancient India and China, as well as in classical Greek philosophy. Plato calls it “justice” and applies it to the human conduct.

In Western society, especially from the Roman jurists and the theologians of the Middle Age on, we find the doctrine of the natural moral law for man. It is the source of moral standards, the basis of moral judgments, and the measure of justice in the man-made laws of the state. If the law of the state runs counter to the precepts of the natural law, it is held to be unjust.

The first precept of natural law is to seek the good and avoid evil. It is often put as follows: “Do good unto others, injure no one, render to every man his own.” Now, such a general principle is useless for organized society unless we can use it to specify various types of rights and wrongs. That is precisely what man-made, or positive, law tries to do.

Thus, the natural law tells us only that stealing is wrong because it inflicts injury, but the positive law of larceny defines the various kinds and degrees of theft and prescribes the punishments therefor.

Such particular determinations may differ in various times and places without affecting the principles of natural law. Neither Aquinas nor Aristotle thinks that particular rules of laws should be the same in different times, places, and conditions.

How the natural law is known?
Answer: Through human reason and conscience.
The natural-law doctrine usually assumes that man has a specific nature which involves certain natural needs, and the power of reason to recognize what is really good for man in terms of these needs.

Christian thinkers, such as Aquinas and John Locke, think the natural law is of divine origin. God, in creating each thing, implanted in it the law of its nature. The phrase about “the laws of nature and of nature’s God” in our Declaration of Independence derives from this type of natural-law doctrine. However, this particular theological viewpoint is not always found in writers who uphold the natural law, for these include such pre-Christian thinkers as Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero, and such modern secular philosophers as Kant and Hegel.

There has been much opposition to natural-law philosophy from the very beginning. Indeed, the idea of natural right or justice was developed in ancient Greece to counter the views of the Sophists, who were “conventionalists.” These men believe that law and justice are simply man-made conventions. No action is right or wrong unless a particular community, through its positive laws or customs, decrees that it is right or wrong. Then it is right or wrong in that particular place and time — not universally. By nature, the Sophists say, fire burns in Greece as it does in Persia, but the laws of Persia and of Greece, being matters of convention, are not the same. The “conventionalist” or “positivist” doctrine of law has come down all the way from the ancient Sophists to many of our modern law-school professors.

Is law relevant to modern conditions?
The answer is that if justice is still relevant, then natural law is. Indeed, interest in natural law has increased especially during the past half century, with its experience of the kind of positive laws which have been imposed by totalitarian regimes.
On what grounds could a decent German citizen in Nazi times justify his opposition to the laws of the land? Even purely inner resistance to iniquity must be rooted in firmer grounds. “A law which is not just is a law in name only,” says Augustine. And Aquinas adds: “Every human law has just so much of the nature of law as it is derived from the law of nature. But if in any point it departs from the law of nature, it is no longer a law but a perversion of the law.”

The naturalists, as that name indicates, affirm the existence of natural justice, of natural and unalienable rights, of the natural moral law, and of valid prescriptive oughts that elicit our assent to the positive law.

The positivists deny all this and affirm the opposite. For them, the positive law — the man-made law of the state — provides the only prescriptive oughts that human beings are compelled to obey. According to them, nothing is just or unjust until it has been declared so by a command or prohibition of positive law. If this is a fundamentally erroneous view, It is the mistake made by those who embrace an subjectivism and relativism with respect to what is good and bad, right and wrong.

Neglecting or rejecting the distinction between real and apparent goods, together with that between natural needs and acquired wants, the positivists can find no basis for the distinction between what “ought” to be desired or done and what is desired or done. From that flows the further consequence that there is no natural moral law, no natural rights, no natural justice, ending up with the conclusion that man-made law alone determines what is just and unjust, right and wrong.

This positivist view is as ancient as the despotisms that existed in antiquity. It was first eloquently expressed in the opening book of Plato’s “Republic” where Thrasymachus, responding to Socrates’ mention of the view that justice consists in rendering what is due, declared and defended the opposite view — that justice is the interest of the stronger. Spelled out, this means that what is just or unjust is determined solely by whoever has the power to lay down the law of the land.

The positivist view is recurrent in later centuries with the recurrence of later despotisms. It was expressed by the Roman jurisconsult, Ulpian, who, defending the absolutism of the Caesars, declared that whatever pleases the prince has the force of law. Still later, in the sixteenth century, the same view was set forth by another defender of absolute government, Thomas Hobbes, in “The Leviathan”; and later, in the nineteenth century, by John Austin, in his “Analytical Jurisprudence.”

Neither Austin nor the twentieth-century legal positivists who follow him regard themselves as defenders of absolute government or despotism. That is what they are, however — perhaps not as explicitly as their predecessors, but by implication at least. The denial of natural rights, the natural moral law, and natural justice leads not only to the positivist conclusion that man-made law alone determines what is just and unjust. It also leads to a corollary which inexorably attaches itself to that conclusion — “that might makes right” — this is the very essence of absolute or despotic government.



The Declaration of Independence sets forth a number of basic and controlling principles. Four truths are asserted: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that, to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

Civil government does not have to be instituted in order to endow men with certain basic rights. Such rights are inherent in human nature. Being inherent, they are also unalienable: their existence does not depend upon constitutional provisions or legal enactments. But the fact that these rights are unalienable does not mean that they are inviolable. When men are murdered, their right to life is violated; when they are enslaved, their right to liberty is violated.

In a state of nature or anarchy, the individual would have to use his own power to protect his rights from threats by other individuals. Civil government saves the individual from recourse to self-help for the protection of his rights. And civil government is just in its origin only if it is instituted to secure — protect, safeguard, or enforce — these rights.

As a matter of fact, governments are not always just in their origin or institution. Some are imposed by force; some are tyrannies or despotisms which, far from securing these rights, violate or transgress them. It is by reference to these basic unalienable rights that governments can be measured for their justice or injustice.

That, however, is not the only criterion of the justice and legitimacy of government. The Declaration calls our attention to another: that a just government derives its powers from the consent of the governed. Without such authorization, a government’s power is nothing but coercive force.

“Consent of the governed” does not mean the consent of all who are in fact subject to government for infants and resident aliens are subject to government and their consent need not be sought. It means the consent of all who are capable of giving or withholding consent, or all who should be expected to do so. No one capable of giving or withholding consent is justly governed unless the form of government under which he lives is one to which he has freely given his consent.

The principle of consent of the governed defines the essence of constitutional government, as well as its justice and legitimacy.

That is this understanding of consent of the governed which Lincoln expressed in the first of his three prepositional phrases — government of, by, and for the people. There is no difficulty in understanding “government by the people.” But “government of the people” is seldom properly understood. It does not mean what it is so often taken to mean: that the people are the subjects of government — those who are in fact being governed — for then government of the people would apply to despotic as well as to constitutional government. That little word “of” must be interpreted in the possessive sense of the preposition, as when we say “la plume de ma tante” — “the pen of my aunt.”

Thus interpreted, a government of the people means the people’s government — government that derives its existence, its authority, and its legitimacy from their having constituted it. Understood in this way, we realize that the government is not in Washington. What is there is only the administration of our government by its officeholders. The government that is ours resides with us, we who are the citizens and constituents of it, we who are the permanent and principal rulers. The officeholders — citizens in public office only for the time being — are the transient and instrumental rulers. They serve us. When we periodically change these officeholders, we do not change our government for another, but only one administration of government for another. When we impeach an officeholder, we do not overthrow the government. We merely remove from office a magistrate who has exceeded the authority constitutionally vested in his office and who wanted to be above the law.

The second paragraph of the Declaration throws more light on the consent of the governed. It says that when a government either fails to secure basic human rights or violates them, the people have a right and a duty to alter or abolish that government and replace it by another which does what a government should do. This right derives from the people’s right to liberty — their right to be governed as free men and women, not as slaves or subjects. Their duty derives from their obligation to make good lives for themselves in the pursuit of happiness. When that pursuit is impeded or frustrated by tyrannical or despotic government, the exercise of this right and duty involves the withdrawal of their consent.

Such withdrawal goes far beyond civil dissent which, when it is lawfully exercised, is dissent within the boundaries of consent. Withdrawal of consent, in resistance to tyranny or despotism, may be accompanied by resort to force and arms in a violent uprising. As long as we do not withdraw our consent by such action, we are tacitly giving our consent, even though we may wish to alter the laws and policies or amend the constitution of the government. By not withdrawing our consent we seek to achieve those alterations or reforms without resorting to force or violence.

The Necessity of Government

If human beings could engage in their pursuit of happiness more effectively without living in states and under the auspices of government, then neither the state nor its government would be necessary as a means to the ultimate objective at which human beings should aim--living decent human lives.

The goodness of the state or civil society lies in its being indispensable to living a civilized life and obtaining all the real goods that individuals cannot obtain by themselves alone or under the conditions of family and tribal life. The goodness of the state or civil society is thus seen to be inseparable from its necessity as an indispensable means to the ultimate good we should seek.

What holds for the state holds also for government. Its goodness resides in its necessity--in its indispensability as a means for human beings to achieve good lives for themselves.

Those who call themselves anarchists--philosophical, not bomb-throwing, anarchists-- think that it is quite possible for human beings, either as they are now or as they might become under altered conditions, to live peacefully and harmoniously together in society and to act in concert for a common good in which they all participate, and to do this without the restraining force exercised by the state or its government. They do not see in the complete autonomy that everyone would have under anarchy any threat to the peace, harmony, and order of social life.

Why are they profoundly wrong? One answer was given by Alexander Hamilton when he said that if men were angels, no government would be necessary for social life. Hamilton's reference to angels expressed his understanding of angels as completely virtuous, and so obedient by free choice to just laws. Some men, yes, but not all! That is precisely why some portion of the individuals living together in society must be constrained by coercive force from injuring their fellows or acting against the common good of all. Hence, government with its sanctions is as necessary for social life as that, in turn, is necessary for the pursuit of happiness.

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"The only standard we have for judging all of our social, economic, and political institutions and arrangements as just or unjust, as good or bad, as better or worse, derives from our conception of the good life for man on earth, and from our conviction that, given certain external conditions, it is possible for men to make good lives for themselves by their own efforts." The goodness of the state or civil society lies in its being indispensable to living a civilized life and obtaining all the real goods that individuals cannot obtain by themselves alone. (Mortimer J. Adler)

The obligation of the organized community, or of its government, to act justly toward its members or subjects, is both positive and negative. A just government is one that secures, as far as that is possible, the natural rights of all who are subject to it. In other words, it is under the obligation to injure no one. Beyond this, however, a just government is under the positive obligation, as a matter of justice, to promote the general welfare. What does this mean?

It means, first, that it ought to preserve and enhance the common good of the community itself — the bonum commune communitatis— in which its subjects participate or share, a good that is essential to their making good lives for themselves. In addition, it means that a just government ought to help its subjects obtain the real goods that they cannot obtain wholly by their own individual efforts. As Lincoln observed, a government should do for its people what they, individually, cannot do for themselves.

The purpose of the state is to help men not only to live, but also to live well.

The obligation of the individual to act justly toward his fellowmen requires him, “as far as that is possible,” to do nothing that inflicts injury on them by depriving them of the things they need in order to make good lives for themselves. This is negative rather than positive. The positive side consists of actions that facilitate or enhance the pursuit of happiness by others, through helping them to obtain goods that they need, but that they cannot obtain wholly by their own efforts.

Does justice obligate us positively as well as negatively? Do we have a duty to take steps to benefit our fellowmen as well as to avoid injuring them?

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The Art and the Philosophy of Human Nature & Society

Human Nature

The Philosophy of Human Nature
The Philosophy of Human Nature
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Human beings are rather strange: They’re obviously part of the animal kingdom in many important ways, and yet they exhibit many features and activities that set them apart from other species. (For example, they organize seminars on human nature.) Philosophy professor Michael Gorman leads a fascinating exploration into the nature of what makes us uniquely human. .....

Human nature

Human nature
Human nature
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Human nature is often considered in isolation from the rest of the world as if it would be an exception or a special case. In the past it was thought that humans were at the centre of all creation. It was believed that we were destined to dominate the earth, that the earth was the centre of the universe, and that humans, in the natural order of things, were above all other creatures. Currently we have plenty of evidence to show that these anthropocentric views of the universe are mistaken. .....


The Truth About What Makes Us Human

The Truth About What Makes Us Human
The Truth About What Makes Us Human
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New analyses of chimpanzees and humans reveal them to be far more different than suspected, perhaps as much as 95% different. .....

Human Nature and Human Diversity

Human Nature and Human Diversity
Human Nature and Human Diversity
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Why is there so much diversity in sex and gender, race, diet, morality and norms, political views, religious beliefs, cognition, perceptions, and emotions? Is this just human nature? Are there any universals in human nature? .....


Ants' social ethology

Ants' social ethology
Ants' social ethology: ants hunting a bigger prey
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The social group enables its members to benefit in ways that would not otherwise be possible on an individual basis. Both individual and social (common) goals can thus be distinguished and considered.

Canis lupus social ethology

Canis lupus social ethology.
Canis lupus social ethology.
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Mollies Pack Wolves Baiting a Bison.

San people in Botswana start a fire by hand

San people in Botswana start a fire by hand
San people in Botswana start a fire by hand
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Bushmen in Deception Valley, Botswana demonstrating how to start a fire by rubbing sticks together.

Cleric, knight and peasant; an example of feudal societies

Cleric, knight and peasant; an example of feudal societies
Cleric, knight and peasant; an example of feudal societies
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Representation of the tripartite social order of the Middle Ages – oratores "those who pray" (cleric), bellatores "those who fight" (knight), and laboratories "those who work" (workman: peasant, worker, member of the lower middle class); book illustration France XIII century.


Ploughing with oxen in the 15th century

Ploughing with oxen in the 15th century
Ploughing with oxen in the 15th century
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First farm work of the year, sowing and ploughing and suchlike. The castle in the background is Lusignan. Detail from the calendar Les très riches heures from the 15th century. This is a detail from the painting for March.

Night Revels

Night Revels
12th-century South Tang Dynasty remake of Night Revels of Han Xizai
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A half-section of the 12th-century South Tang Dynasty version of Night Revels of Han Xizai, original by Gu Hongzhong (10th century). The painting portrays servants, musicians, monks, children, guests, and hosts all in a single social environment. It serves as an in-depth look into the Chinese social structure of the time.
12th century remake from the Song Dynasty. Collection of the Palace Museum in Beijing.