Something to Think About

"I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love."
- J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

Friday, November 23, 2012

Are Human Beings Naughty or Nice?

Are people essentially good or evil?  Do we have to work to overcome our natural selfish tendencies or is our first impulse to be cooperative? Philosophers and theologians have argued over the nature of human beings for centuries.

Most of us are aware of the concept of original sin which has a basis in Bible scripture, Romans 5:12 and 1 Corinthians 15:22.  In short, the actions of Adam, the first man in Christian doctrine, caused sin to enter the world and, as his descendants, we all are sinners. (If I'm stating that incorrectly in my attempt to simplify it, I apologize.  Feel free to correct me in the comments.) This implies that we have a tendency to act evilly.

Thomas Hobbes, the English philosopher, also thought that men, without an authority to govern them, would quickly turn to their evil nature. (though he didn't attribute this to any sort of religious basis)

The Swiss philosopher, Jean-Jacques Rosseau, adamantly disagreed with Hobbes citing the behavior of Caribbean natives and their "uncorrupted morals" as his proof.

A new series of scientific studies may help to resolve this argument once and for all.  Scientists studied the behavior of thousands of subjects who they had play a market game.  Individuals were divided up into small groups and an individual had a choice of either keeping money they earned for themselves or contributing it to a pool which would increase if all contributed and would benefit the entire group. They timed how long it took for a subject to make up his or her mind. People who made their decision quickly would be more likely to use intuition than those who stopped to think it over.

It was determined that people who made quick decisions - and therefore acted on impulse - were more likely to share their earnings with the group and those who took longer to make their decision tended to keep it.  This was seen when they made people wait to decide or made them make quick decisions as well as when they allowed them decide in their own time. This suggests that human beings are not intuitively selfish individuals.

So!  It seems that these studies indicate that human beings are basically non-selfish which we can take to indicate that we are good by nature.  No wonder Santa brings us all gifts every year...

Image in the public domain and I found it here

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