Human Nature

6At the most basic level, it can be argued that the way people come to view the world is invariably connected to their survival needs, which has always depended on an ability to live and work in groups, not as isolated individuals. While, in the earliest history of humanity these needs would have been fairly fundamental, the development of human civilisation would come to expand the scope and sophistication of these needs. We might also consider that all worldviews are in some way reflective of human nature; although circumstances have tended to lead different cultures in different directions at different times. In this respect, worldviews evolve to meet the collective need of a group, i.e. tribes, cultures and nation-states, at some given point in history. Hindsight also suggests that while any given worldview, within this evolutionary process, may appear rational from within a given culture, it was not necessarily a truthful perspective of the wider world. In this respect, we might question whether our own worldviews are still the focal point of the survival needs of the collective culture in which we live.

But surely this doesn’t apply to my 'own' sophisticated 21st century worldview?  

As a starting point, we may cite the Greek philosopher, Socrates, as one of the first original thinkers concerning the nature of things and, in particular, human nature. However, much of Socrates thinking related to the question of how a person should live life, which in his view involved the pursuit of rational reasoning. In the subsequent works of Plato and Aristotle, the human soul was divided into a number of aspects, which we might simply define as human and spiritual, where the concept of rational understanding could exist in both. However, another aspect of the soul encompassed the more basic desires and emotions, which could also be attributed to animals. So, within this model, the function of rational thinking, both human and spiritual, was to control the other parts of the soul. As such, the conclusion of this philosophy was essentially one of rationalism, although the accompanying idea that philosophers were representative of the highest form of humanity might not have been entirely rational! Historically, this school of thought would remain influential until the middle ages and be used as the basis of much discussion amongst Jewish, Christian and Islamic philosophers and theologians.  

How do we equate survival needs to theology and philosophy?  

Spiritual needs have existed within all culture groups from our earliest history. Naturally enough, the articulation of these ideas would have reflected the culture at that time, but over time, these ideas grew in sophistication and philosophical scope. However, in many cases, even primitive creation stories persist because they described a metaphysical existence that remains beyond any form of physical verification, i.e. it simply requires you to believe. Irrespective of the diversity or sophistication of the creation story in question, they all invariably address a fundamental human need for solace in the face of death and all of life’s troubles. In this respect, theology and philosophy address a very basic human need that has transcended the need for any verification of its truthfulness.  

But surely some would question the rational of some of these worldviews?  

A review of the classical Greek culture also shows the emergence of rational logic, which we might loosely describe as science, given limited empirical verification, over 2000 years ago. However, history then suggests that the subsequent development of modern science turned out to be a far more protracted process than we might possibly have expected. Apparently, just understanding the need for rational truth, verified by empirical observation, was not enough in itself to overturn the powerful human needs embodied in established, and subsequent, theological and philosophical worldviews. In many ways, this leads us to the question posed on the first page of this discussion:  

Is a collective worldview one of consensus of the majority or the imposition of a minority?  

While we might believe that we have developed our own worldview in a rational way, in truth, we are all in some way a product of the culture we grew up in. If so, the collective worldview that surrounds us will have influenced us, such that we need to consider the survival needs that have influenced and shaped this collective worldview, e.g.

  • Geography/Climate
  • History/Wars
  • State/Politics
  • Church/Military
  • Economy/Trade

In the context of human nature, it might be suggested that while humanity is capable of rational thinking, humanity is still very capable of acting irrational, especially in terms of its collective action as a society. However, what might appear to be irrational behaviour in an individual, may be rational to the survival needs affecting the collective group, i.e. as defined above. As such, the notion of some 'gospel truth' can become an elusive concept, which can easily be lost in a myriad of collective survival needs. In the first subsection, evolving human needs are considered in a little more detail, while the second subsection outlines some of the difficulties associated with the verification of truth, both in terms of the physical and metaphysical limitations.