The Consensus on Human Nature

Do we sway between being rational or irrational? Or is it more complicated?

Sat May 13 2023

Google's human nature definition
"The descriptions of how people think, feel, and act. These descriptions are studied within psychology and philosophy.""
-9takes definition

What is the a definition of human nature?

Philosophers and psychologists have talked about human nature a lot but did they come to a consensus? Is there a peer-reviewed study that shows what human nature is? No, not really. But there have been two main perspectives that keep coming up in different circles that we are going to examine in this blog.

One theory of human nature is about how humans fluctuate between being logical and illogical, and our goal is to be rational. The other theory is more complicated and less explored. The philosophers Plato and Aristotle had opposing views on this, and this mirrors the opposing views of the psychologists Sigmund Freud and Steven Pinker.

Plato is to Aristotle as Freud is to Pinker

Plato had a complicated view of human nature. He thought of human nature as having three distinct parts, calling it the “Tripartite Soul.” These parts were the rational soul that governed the logical intellect. Then, the spirited soul was the source of emotions and courage. And lastly, there was the appetitive soul, which was associated with desires and bodily needs.

Aristotle, however, thought that the defining feature of humans was our capacity to be rational. He talked about how humans were social and that morals were important, but our rationality set us apart.

Similarly Freud had a complicated view of human nature that mirrored Plato’s view, where there was an interplay between three elements: the id, ego, and superego that pull at the human psyche.

However, again, like Aristotle, the modern psychologist Steven Pinker focuses on rationality. He calls on humans to be rational to mitigate potential chaos.

Greeks debating human nature

Plato and Freud’s concepts unified

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 ❤️.

Plato Emoji Freud
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

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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 check out 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.

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