T Nation

Human Nature: Generally Good or Generally Evil?


I think the answer to this question is probably the greatest driver in what we believe politically as well as spiritually and emotionally.

My hypothesis is:
If you think human nature is generally evil, you slant right and tend to be more religious or at least a Theist.

If you think that human nature is generally good, you slant left and tend towards atheism, anti-religiosity, or agnosticism.

I think that human nature is generally evil. I think if we complied the empirical evidence world wide, we would see that more or less, people are generally pretty shitty to each other.

What are you and how do you see it?


Thats a tricky one. I believe in god, I’m moderately conservative, but as I look at my 3 year old boy I have a hard time believing that he is inherently evil.


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[quote]SkyzykS wrote:
Thats a tricky one. I believe in god, I’m moderately conservative, but as I look at my 3 year old boy I have a hard time believing that he is inherently evil.

Yeah, after three kids I have to conclude humans are usually inherently good. Maybe my kids are just special though.

Pat, you might be onto something with the theistic angle. I’m not religious at all and I believe humans slant toward an innate desire to be fair, cooperate and have empathy for others.


I am a believer and it is written that we have been created in God’s image. I would like to believe that our nature was intended to be good. Then free will was given to mankind.


I do not have any answer to your question Pat, but I do have some additional questions I think it is necessary to answer before one can begin to tackle the main question. The two additional questions I will add is:

  1. What is human nature?

  2. What is good and what is evil?

Before we can make a judgement regarding if our nature is good or evil, we need to first figure out what our nature is!
We(humans) share with our cousins in the animal kingdom some traits, like our need for food, water and oxygen. Like other animals
we also have sex to procreate and we empty our bowls and bladder. We therefor spend alot of our time as humans taking care of the most basic needs mentioned above and it can therefor be said that the pursuit to eat, fuck, piss etc is an important part of the human experience and also therefor part of our nature and our culture(s). However these beastly traits of ours is not what defines us as human beings, but they are rather what defines us humans as animals. What make us humans separat from other animals is our large brains with the ability of abstract thought. With this ability of abstract thinking, we are able to envision thinks that are not, envision a future that may or may not happen, think up concepts like tools, written languages, Music etc. The total sum of these creations with its sui generis in our minds, constitutes what we often call human culture. My conclusion is therefor that what is inherintly human and ergo what is human nature is our culture. Said simpler: Human nature is culture!

Before we then go further and ask if our nature(or culture) is good or evil, we must try to figure out what good and evil is and further if it is possible to answer such a question. The first problem when trying to figure this out is the problem of knowing if good and evil are concepts that exist by themself in nature outside the minds of humans, or if they are concepts derived from the human mind? If good and evil are concepts not contigent on human thinking, then who’s thinking are they contigent on? Or are they uncontigent entities existing like forces of nature. If however they are products of the human mind, then they are likely relative concepts and there might even be more than one human definition of whats good and whats evil dependent on in wich historical and cultural context those who define good and evil find themself in. Obviously I cant say as matter of fact if the concept of good and evil are absolutes existing by themself outside our minds or if they are products of our mind, but I find it reasonable to think that good and evil are human concepts and that the best we can do is to try define for ourself what we think constitutes good and evil. My subjective opinion of what is outright evil is acts of murder, torture and rape. Outright good in my opinion is helping and caring for our fellow humans without expecting anything in return, in essence acts of altruism.

After reflecting over what human nature is and what good and evil is, my attempt to answers Pat’s original question is: I do not think human nature is inherently good nor evil, because I think human nature is rather defined by our ability to create our own nature(culture) because of our ability for abstract thought. When it comes to what good and evil is, I find it to be a hard question
to answer, but when it comes to good and evil as it relates to humans, my obvious answer is that we have the ability to do acts of both evil and good. So in conclusion: No I do not think our essence as humans are good or evil.



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Regarding your hypothesis Pat, I think you are on to something. However I think they who believe (or think) that the essence of human nature is either good or evil tend to be religious in some respect, while non-believers tend to view human nature as neither good or evil. When it comes to our views of human nature in relation to where one is on the political spectrum, I am not following you. My view is that it is not the leftists in general who think humans are mostly good, but rather anarchist on both the right and the left.

To believe in any form of anarchism you must have a rather optimistic view of human nature. Most non-anarchist leftists however are in favor of some sort of a state who can intervene when someone does “evil”. I offcurse see that leftists on a general basis put more stock in our ability to be good, then more traditional conservatives do.


This is pretty simple really, if you believe humans are one or the other then something else must be the opposite, generally God for theists. As an atheist what are the other options?


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I am a firm moderate afaik (I look like I’m on the left to y’all, and I look like I’m on the right to people who are definitely on the left.)

I am agnostic for the most part. I want to believe in God, but I can’t seem to.

I believe that people are generally good when they live stable lives. I believe people are generally evil when they live unstable lives.


Well Florious, I am not looking to unpack each of these things into their inevitable meta-ethical entities. This is really an opinion question. I would define ‘good’ in this case as people being more or less kind to one another most of the time. And I would define ‘evil’ as people being shitty to each other to varying degrees most of the time.

Like I said, I am willing to bet if we unpacked the data, people being shitty to each other would probably exceed people being kind to one another. I am talking looking out side our little bubbles we live in and take a look around.
If your choice is not to decide then that is your right.

The position you did state is one of moral relativism. A ethical view that has been debunked pretty successfully though it still rears it’s ugly head in this type of conversation. Moral relativism is basically a position that morality does not exist.


I will rather call my position regarding morals/ethics, agnostic instead of relative. I have a sense of whats right and wrong, good and evil etc and my sense of morals/ethics feels absolute and objective. However I can not know if they are objective and absolute or if they are a product of the time and place I find my self in. Ergo I must be honest and state that I do not know if our morals exist outside of us (objective and absolute) or if they are a product of the human mind.



Well try an experiment. Think of the greatest evil against another person and try to find a way to justify that behavior as ‘good’. If you can find no condition in which said act could be considered ‘good’ or ‘moral’ you have your answer on objectivity. It does not answer the origin of said objectivity but you know it’s objective.
It’s more than a feeling. For morality to be relative, you have to be able to justify the most horrendous evil man has to offer. ISIS does it, Saudi Arabia does it; so people do it, but we know it’s not right. How? Because there is a victim who is suffering.
All things being equal, no man has the right to take away another’s well being or add suffering.
Relativism creates superior people. The one causing the misery has a greater value than the victim, simply because one decided it was true.


How does one reconcile that human nature/culture creates some absolute definition of good and evil when different societies have very different views of what is acceptable behavior: societies where suicide or execution is/was routine for anyone who dishonored themselves or someone who had authority over them vs other societies where suicide/killing under any circumstances is abhorrent, or one society where monogamy is prized verses another where promiscuity is considered accepted.

In virtually all human societies there were different rules for how you treated those within your own group (tribe, class…) and how you treated those in other groups. Only in very recent times, mostly in Western culture, has the concept that all humans (and in some cases all living things) deserve equal treatment/rights (to life, liberty, happiness…).


In my gimpy opinion. we are good simply because we are created in the image of GOD. However the loss of intelligence has resulted in many, many evils. Now this post will take a religious turn ; ) After Vatican II there were many abuses that arose. Never once did the documents talk about the priest facing the congregation, never once did the pages mention the Eucharist being delivered into the hand, zero instances was the communion rail to be removed, zilch mention of Latin being taken out of the Mass, never is the Sacred Species to be delivered by Eucharistic ministers, not once was Gregorian chant to be replaced with a sissified Christian rock.

Catholicism is about Truth and never about feelings. The Church leaders have done a horrible job in protecting the flock and now the laity will help the Catholic Faith return to Her intended glory, after this fourth heresy hemorrhages the last of the dissident clergy out of Her ranks.

If anyone thinks my thinking is wrong, tell me why evils of the day exist, evils that are accepted and even celebrated by so many. For example the seven to eight BILLION souls lost around the world since Roe v. Wade passed. How about gay so called “marriage?” Marriage spent thousands of years as being defined as between a man and a woman. Yet now I am labeled homophobic if I question society about the acceptance of the intrinsically disordered act.


I don’t think it’s either, I think most people are just ok.


Odd this came up in a good vs. evil thread, but what specifically is evil with homosexuality? Is it the marriage or the act itself? If same-sex couples were not allowed to be married would you be ok with their choice? If your son/daughter were gay/lesbian what would you do?

I think this is a good hypothesis for social issues but I don’t think it applies to fiscal ones. It is possible to be left on social issues (gay marriage and abortion for example) and not have that be a reflection in any way on fiscal policies. I actually find it odd that they are always tied together. Anytime somebody agrees 100% with one party’s views I am skeptical of their objectivity.


I think human nature generally slants towards good; however, I think historically power appeals to those that are evil, generally. I’m more spiritual than religious and I’m pretty conservative except on some social issue where I’m more indifferent than anything else.