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Human Nature Theorists

Steven Pinker. To demonstrate the violence inherent in human nature, Pinker attacks certain theories that propose man to be a clean slate. The blank slate theorem constructs man as a born with emptiness, which he continuously fills through environmental interactions. Thus, according to the blank slate theory, we cannot posit a human nature in the face of such emptiness. In his book, ‘The Blank Slate’, Pinker refutes the blank slate by stating that the humans were born blank, they would be devoid of an ability to do. Since human beings act willfully, predetermine outcomes, understand and interact, they are the architects of the environment, and they shape its variables then blankness cannot be held by Pinker (2002). Additionally, man’s nature does not depend on an independent variable culture acting outside man’s nature according to Pinker; this is because culture cannot be independent of the mind that invents some of its aspects, and on which circuits of interaction determine its existence.

Furthermore, Pinker refutes the propositions of the blank slate theorists that it is impossible to understand man separately from the environment. He states that given man’s evident role in the so-called environment, human nature does exist as determined by some unchanging elements; this nature guides his disposition to act in particular ways and in our case violently. Pinker makes reference to historical data on killings of the early man. He states that the studies indicating the non-violence nature but ritualistic murders are wrong; the murder of ten people implies a thousand today on a ration basis. According to him, violence is part of man’s nature given that the traditional society was full of killing as a norm. This evidence discredits the noble salvage doctrine of man as devoid of evil and incapable of violence.

However, Pinker has to offer a convincing argument against the ‘ghost in the machine’ theory, which views man as acting out of free will, and whose actions are beyond the confines of brain functions. Pinker quotes studies in the field of neuroscience that indicate huge dependence of physical functioning on mental processes. He further indicates that man naturally loves violence since studies indicate that over 90% of male entertain the fantasy of ever killing someone. To conclude his argument that man is indeed violent and that his natural composition mentally and otherwise direct him towards violence, Pinker states that man does actually plan war and violence. He argues that if a man was peace-seeking, war would be random and spontaneous. He refutes Stoessinger proposition of violence as a disease and asserts it’s as in man’s nature. He proposes that a man’s brain has violence tendencies, and this is why an individual, who suffers blows to the head or certain surgeries, may reduce or increase violent tendencies Pinker (2002). This, he states, confirms that man is violent.

Edward Wilson. Edward in his book ‘On Human Nature’ strongly puts a case that man is inherently violent because his genes direct him towards such. According to Wilson, man is like any other animal. His huge studies as a sociobiologist on ant’s social organizations indicate that, like them, man is violent in defending some aspects. He states that human beings form social attachments in the form of family, nations, tribes and races and will use their genetically determined violent nature to attack an outsider.  He believes like Pinker that forces of evolution design our human nature into a nature of less pity, heroism seeking and violent among others, which result in violence. According to him, biology is sufficient in explaining human nature and thus his behavior is of a biological composition. He refers to genes as the ultimate guide to this nature of violence, which can be isolated from an organism and understood (Wilson, 1980).

Wilson narrows down from the broader likening of man to animals and the genetic postulation on human nature to the narrower aspects of human violence and behavior. According to him, man’s behavior is hugely aggressive and natural to man. However, unlike other human nature theorists, human nature is on a balance of induced and innate aggression. This implies that man adapts some aspects of behavior, while others are naturally inherent in his being (Wilson, 1978). In his explanation of determining the extent, to which aggressiveness is induced or innate, Wilson indicates that expression of high / overt aggression is not natural, but it requires evoking aspects. Wilson connects his earlier preposition on genetic role in human nature by stating that aggressors determine the manner and extent of evocation, however, this response is determined by the genetic make-up. Thus, ultimately, violence is an aspect of unchanging human nature as determined through codes.

To reduce violence and wars on the basis of Wilson’s model, human beings must organize the society in a manner that reduces the chance of producing aggressors. He quotes examples, such as prisoner’s struggle for food, diminishing resources as such resulting in high conflict and so forth. Thus, William concludes that man is innately violent having borrowed from animals behavior, biological concepts and incorporation of some social inducements.

His theory is not immune to criticism since majority argues that his likening man to insects and animals makes his conclusions wrong, since they are drawn from wrong assumptions. However, his two books, Sociobiology Abridged and On Human Nature make a strong case about his basis. Additionally, respected scholars, such as Wranghum and Peterson (1996), argue and indicate that the killing nature of animals is applied across the board to man as well. He states that genetics do determine human nature and human behavior is innate since biology proves that it can explain a majority of behavioral aspects of animals and man by extension. He defines man as a convectional animal and responds to his critics that the only difference between man and animals is that man’s genetic coding is a precursor of development of unique aspects and traits. He concludes that unique genetic codes overlap and form a web that qualifies the description of human behavior in general.

William’s theory in explaining human behavior as violent lacks major critics regarding his observation and conclusion on animal and insect behavior. It is his use of them as evidence to man’s behavior that majority refute, however, he tells them off by stating that persistence and existence of genetically controlled tendencies in man’s primate relatives prove he is right (Wilson, 1978). He also reconciles the unexplained altruistic behavior as a selfish investment rather a general good. William thus concludes with finality that man is violent; he only awaits triggers that evoke the violence in him.

John G. Stoessinger. Stoessinger has vast wealth of experience in war, in his book Why Nations Go to War he begins by acknowledging that a majority of people has the temptation of dismissing peace makers’ efforts as futile and concluding that war is a manifestation of human madness. However, the bottom line in his argument is that man is not innately violent. He agrees that the traits of aggression may be innate to a man but not the action of violence of war (Stoessinger, 2005).  This underscores his argument and a firm belief that man has the mental ability to confront war and seek for better alternatives. Stoessinger proceeds to argue that war does not occur spontaneously, rather, individual actions, perceptions and communication by key leaders and decision makers dominate the pre-war period. Thus, man still has a chance to stop the war during this period, in which possible war outcomes and desired results motivate the next course of action (Grossman & Watzman, 2003).

According to him, war is a disease to humanity, since a disease is not a natural part of the human constitution, neither is war; war is an acquired disease learnt through the environment. He thus insists that war and violence is an occurrence that threatens man, but which he has options and cure to. Stoessinger quotes that there are numerous behaviors that man has unlearn along history and evolution, for instance some societies were cannibals, others practiced female circumcision, incest, slavery, and others were seemingly unconquerable and could be termed as a part of human nature then. However, when man chose to face them and seek better alternatives, there are almost taboos everywhere. In the same fashion, Stoessinger advocates that individuals should focus on the determinants of war and realize that the better alternatives exist. For instance, he states that those who started war took a beating despite their expectations or ideologies. Thus, Stoessinger defends his cognitive theory to human nature as not inherently violent (Stoessinger, 2005).

Konrad Lorenz. Konrad, a behavioral scientist, states that causes of war are in our biological nature and innately in us. Like Wilson, aggression turns into violence in the presence of stimuli, such as rivalry or threat. However, Wilson refers to the aggressors as being evoked by an environment, on the other hand, Konrad states that eventually, violence still finds expression in human nature in the absence or presence of a fostering environment. He defines aggression as an instinct that serves territorial and survival needs of the animal and human beings likewise. Ethologically, Konrad states that human beings, like other animals, such as the gulls (which, he spent a lot of time researching on), produce internal energies, which seek expression in specific behavior (Lorenz, 1966).

Konrad’s proposition denounces the credibility of cognitive theorists claiming aggression as a learned behavior. While admitting a certain aspect of stimuli, he strongly asserts that human aggression is an in-built instinct passed on from ancestors just like in other animals, and it is specific to a species. He views aggression and violence as an inner excitement that will eventually be released as a violent act hence war (Lorenz, 1966). His arguments stem from a wealth of experience in research on fish, birds among others. He notes uniformity in all of them to instinctively defend young-ones, females and territory. To him, this aggression is the same to human and is positive in modification of gene pools and preservation of a species.

In conclusion, he argues that traditional societies and man’s ancestors had a better chance of dealing with aggression, unlike man today. He notes that the nature of confrontations then was such that when the weaker in the fight retreat, the war ends (Lorenz, 1966). However, the modern society has weapons of mass destruction offering no such opportunities whatsoever.  He thus admits that even if our natures contain in them an inhibition towards killing, it has limitations to the use of our hands and bodies and cannot sufficiently offset the damage of weapons as small as a gun. He thus ends his argument that man is innately violent majorly coded in the DNA and seeking to release aggression at some point. Lorenz went ahead to win Nobel having presented the issue in 1966, soon after the end of World War II. He also receives support from ethologist explaining that indeed hormones, genetics and neurological processes explain and guide man’s aggressiveness.

Michael P. Ghiglieri. Perhaps on all humanistic theorists terming man as innately violent, none gives a passionate description of man’s atrocious acts of violence than Ghiglieri. He also sets himself apart from them by introducing the gender aspect in the violence inclinations of man (Ghiglieri, 1999). He offers a narrative of the horrors of man’s violent nature on fellow man. For instance, Ghiglieri vividly describes the over 60 million collective murders of the 21st centuries termed as the ‘Century of Genocide’, persistent inhumanity, executions, slaughters, barbarity among others (Browder, 1996).

He quotes the Jewish Holocaust, genocide in Rwanda, Cambodia, Yugoslavia among others and state that while indeed there are individuals behind those acts; there is only one constant in all of them – people, who are willing to inflict pain and suffering to their fellow men. The perpetrators of crimes against humanity are indeed dubious for selfish reasons, but Ghiglieri argues that they were sure that for people, to execute their plans would never be a problem. Ghiglieri is not interested in the bureaucrats, higher level perpetrators, leaders and people, who fostered the initiatives to enable such gross violations.  He states that his focus on real actors reveal that it is in human nature to be violent.

Ghiglieri proposes that just like the apes are, man is genetically predisposed to violence. He goes ahead and likens man’s history of violence to mountain gorillas and apes. He continues to note that violence differs across the sexes with males acting more violent. Violence and atrocities are in the male physiology and thus war is not avoidable (Ghiglieri, 1999). He indicates that over 85% of homicides in the US are executed by male, which he attributes to mates and superiority reasons. He notes that, in the gangs, the leader has more mating partners while studies indicate that violence among men decreases as they marry and hence there is no competition for mates. He, therefore, concludes that man is innately violent, and to him, his description of man’s atrocities is almost self evident.


Indeed, credit is due to both sides for putting up a spirited fight through an array of evidence supporting their case. However, this study concludes, that though seemingly shallow and non-scientific, the cognitive theorist proposition that man is not innately violent but acquires such tendencies is more convincing.  Human nature theorists borrow widely from other areas and species, but a simple case of man’s evolution indicates that man does not develop mentally towards violence but rather to a superior understanding (Montagu, 1968). Additionally, the existence of man’s shortfalls including diseases does not merit interpretation as being a part of man’s nature showing up occasionally as human nature theorists argue. Furthermore, the human nature theorists reference to science and animals’ ignoring various critical aspects of man that set him apart from animals. In addition, science cannot explain the varying connection and social interactions amongst human beings that lead to conflict and wars (Malik, 2002). Neither do the theories disaggregate aspects of life, upon which humans operate. Cognitive theorists capture this by bringing the mental aspect of cognition that aggregates the minute aspects of a man’s life. It offers a complete view of man as being able to make decisions between violence and peace. Therefore, wars and violence are the learned behaviors playing role while man makes choice amidst to fight instead of seeking other alternatives other that innate in him.

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