The Consensus on Human Nature
Do we sway between being rational or irrational? Or is it more complicated?
Sat May 13 2023
Is there a consensus on human nature? Is there a peer reviewed theory that is widely agreed upon? No... but there have been two main perspectives that keep coming up that are worth looking at. One theory is complicated but the other boils down to human nature fluctuating between being logical and illogical. The philosophers Plato and Aristotle had stood on opposing sides as have the psychologists Sigmund Freud and Steven Pinker. Let's get into it.
Plato is to Aristotle as Freud is to Pinker
Plato had a complicated view of human nature, but his pupil Aristotle had a simple view. Aristotle argued that humans have the unique ability to be rational and that we are in a constant struggle to be rational. Similarly Freud had a complicated view of human nature where there was an interplay between three elements: the id, ego, and superego that pull at the human psyche. However the modern psychologist Steven Pinker calls for rationality, mirroring Aristotle’s view.
What was Plato’s view?
Plato talked about the human soul and about how it was divided into three parts: reason, spirit, and appetite which formed something called the “tripartite soul.” Reason, associated with the rational part of the soul, represents wisdom, intellect, and the capacity for logical thinking 🧠. Spirit, associated with the spirited or emotional part of the soul, represents courage, honor, and the pursuit of noble ideals ❤️. Appetite, associated with the bodily or sensual part of the soul, represents the desires, passions, and basic physical needs 💪.
Unified concepts: Plato’s “soul” and Freud’s “psyche”
Freud’s theory of the mind like Plato describes three components: the id, the ego, and the superego. The id can be seen as analogous to Plato’s appetite, representing the instinctual and primitive drives 💪. The ego, like Plato’s reason, represents the rational and conscious aspect of the mind, mediating between the id’s demands and the external reality 🧠. The superego, similar to Plato’s spirit, represents internalized societal values and moral standards ❤️.
|Reason- rational, logical, and concerned with the most profound and abstract matters||🧠||Ego- operates on the reality principle, responsible for decision-making and problem-solving|
|Spirit- associated with emotions, passions, and desires related to social standing and honor||❤️||Superego- moral part of the psyche, internalizes societal rules, moral standards, and values|
|Appetite- all the primal, fundamental drives such as hunger, thirst, sexual desire, and other bodily urges||💪||Id- instinctual part of the mind, operates on the pleasure principle, seeking immediate satisfaction of basic drives|
So who has built upon these theories? Where are we today?
Pinker calling for Rationality
If only we could purge all the misinformation and fake news. If only we could establish a ministry of truth. If only people were smarter and more rational.
It’s easy to boil things down to being rational and irrational, it makes everything black and white. Who doesn’t want to live in a simple world?
- “I am right and you are wrong”,
- “I am rational, you are irrational”
- “I was once wrong but now I have learned and am right again, I was irrational but now I am back to being rational”
- “We are not making progress because we are irrational and we need to be more rational”
What if everything wasn’t that simple? What if we are oversimplifying the problem by boiling human nature down to the pursuit of being rational?
Explaining the repeated calls for rationality
Freud talked in great depth about his theory of the conscious and unconscious mind. He suggested that a significant portion of our mental processes occurs outside of our conscious awareness. Freud thought that the unconscious mind contains repressed thoughts, memories, desires, and unresolved conflicts that influence our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.
A potential reason why discussions often focus on the rational aspect of the psyche, while neglecting the other parts is because the rational or conscious mind is more readily accessible and controllable. We have a direct awareness of our conscious thoughts and can easily articulate our logical ideas.
In contrast, the unconscious aspects of the psyche are not immediately accessible. It is easier to critique someone’s logic than it is their perceived morals or instincts.
Andrew Huberman on the model of the mind
Here is Andrew Huberman and Dr. Paul Conti, M.D., who trained at Stanford School of Medicine talking about this iceberg model of the mind.
Huberman Lab Iceberg Model
Wrapping it up
So did Aristotle and Pinker successfully simplify human nature? Or were Plato and Freud on to something? If you thought they were onto something checkout the enneagram. It shares many similar concepts but it has no direct lineage to Plato or Freud. Perhaps the reoccurring 3 divisions that we keep stumbling upon form a better model for understanding “human nature.” 9takes is on a quest to poke and prod at these divisions because we think there is still a lot to learn. And maybe, just maybe we can start to heal the human psyche and soul.
Sign up for the 9takes Beta
9takes will be free for the first 1000 users