Aristotleis considered to be the most influential philosopher of all times.Although he disagreed with his thoughts, Aristotle was a student ofPlato. Almost all medieval scholars were influenced by Aristotlethoughts. However, divergent philosophies emerged in enlightenmentera although his thoughts have remains relevant up to date.In allthe disciplines that he decided to venture into, he left an indeliblemark. Aristotle sunk his teeth in almost every discipline and thus akey figure in all aspect of philosophy and academia. One of theissues Aristotle deals with in detail in human nature. His views ofhuman nature are contained in his virtue theory in the Nicomacheanethics (Reeve, 2014).
Accordingto Aristotle, human nature is blind to morality. This means that bynature, man is amoral creature. Aristotle also argues that when anindividual is born, he or she does not have any knowledge aboutmorality. Thus, morality and virtue cannot be part of human nature.Through life experiences and socialization, man acquires knowledge ofmorality and ethics. The suggestion that man is amoral by naturemeans that morality is not priori but posteriori knowledge.Additionally, Aristotle argued that “none would be evil…wickedness is voluntary”. Thus, according to Aristotle humannature, there is nobody who is born immoral. However, the choicesindividuals make after birth makes them unethical or immoral.Therefore, morality is learned and not part of human nature(Aristotle, 1998).
Althoughthis view have been supported by many philosophers in the moderntime, scholars such as Thomas Hobbes have been opposed to Aristotleidea of amoral human nature. Hobbes argued that man actions andinactions are guided by natural laws. Thus its natural laws that makecompel individuals to have immoral or unethical behaviors. Being anEnglish civil war thinker, Hobbes argued that men engaged inaggressive and violent behaviors because they envy people who areaggressive. Additionally, the vices of the war encourage people toengage in aggressive acts. However, the strong authority has theability to control natural laws and promote morality. His idea thathuman nature is immoral and control is necessary is contrary toAristotle argument about human nature. Another philosopher who had acontrary argument is Jean Jacques Rousseau, a French philosopher. Heargued that by nature, man is good. This means that at birth, allindividuals are good and moral. However, agreed with Aristotleargument that through socialization and life experiences, thegoodness in man can be corrupt. This explains why some people areimmoral in the society (Loptson, 2006).
Thesecond view about human nature by Aristotle is that human ishedonistic. This means that by nature, man will always pursue andavoid pain. These thoughts have been adopted by other philosophersand thinkers such as Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill which led tothe development of utilitarian ethics. Aristotle gives a hint toutilitarianism when he argued that human nature is impulsive and thusman is an impulsive creature. The impulsive nature of man proposed byAristotle was also adopted by Sigmund Freud in his psychologicaltheory. Additionally, it can also be argued that Aristotle borrowedthis proposition from Plato’s view of human nature in The Republic.Plato argued that man is naturally corrupted and become immoral dueto power and lack of true knowledge. Nonetheless, it is important tonote that although he was his mentor, Aristotle did not entirelyagree with Plato (Loptson, 2006).
Aristotleargued that since man is impulsive by nature, in order to be moral,he should learn to go against this human nature. This will enable manto control his impulses and avoid immoral act. This will allowrational judgment and reason to guide the individual towards makingmoral decisions. Aristotle used this notion to explain the thoughtthat although man is amoral, the natural impulses that drivesindividuals towards pleasure and away from pain resulting into moralor immoral acts. Additionally, due to man have the wrong informationor ill-educated, man is likely to be immoral by seeking pleasureusing vices rather than virtue. In this regards, Aristotle agreeswith Plato who argued that it is human nature to be corrupt. Throughhabituation human will acquire the ability to resist the impulses andlive a life of virtues. Thus, although human nature is amoral, it hashedonistic impulses that need to be controlled in order to promotemorality. Effective controls include proper education on moral waysof seeking pleasure and avoiding pain (Aristotle, 1998).
Animportant aspect of Aristotle human nature is argument that man hasnatural ability to defy his own nature. This forms the foundation ofNicomachean Ethics. The defiance to human nature can be either byindividual choice or individuals can be forced by a firm authority.Additionally, going against human nature is associated with some formof pain. This means if human nature is hedonistic, the most preferredpath would be following the ill education of nature and actingimmorally as opposed to choosing to endure pain and be moral (Reeve,2014).
Inhis description of human nature, Aristotle also gives an account ofhow the amoral man can become moral or immoral. Being moral is as aresult of the amoral acquiring virtues that guides his actions andinactions. According to Aristotle, virtues refer to what he describedas human excellence. As mentioned earlier, Aristotle argued thatmorality, and therefore virtues, is posteriori. This means thatvirtues are not part of human nature but are learned after birth. Inorder to become moral agents and always act morally, the virtuesdescribed by Aristotle should be habituated into human nature. Thisrequires a lot of time and some aspects of suffering. To thecontrary, hedonistic impulses which are important aspect ofAristotle’s human nature dictate otherwise. For example, thehedonistic impulses would make an individual to seek pleasure fromidleness. According to utilitarian ethics, idleness is ethical if itresults into maximum pleasure. On the other hand, Aristotle would notagree with this preposition. For Aristotle, idleness is anundesirable vice which is caused by lack of or inadequate motivation.This idea was adopted by Christian philosopher St Aquinas who arguedthat idleness is immoral. This is the origin of the Christian viewthat idleness is an immoral and a sin of acedia (Loptson, 2006).
Inhis discussion about human nature, Aristotle wrote widely aboutidleness. He argued that there is an element of human nature thatdrives individuals to idleness. The fact that man is enticed byidleness means that man derives pleasure from it. This obeys thehedonistic nature of man. Additionally, Aristotle noted that someindividuals are compelled or enticed towards certain vices comparedto others. This is despite the fact that all individuals arenaturally prone to corruption. Therefore, it can also be argued thatAristotle viewed idleness as part of human nature. For example, insome instances, he argued that he has been influenced by the vice ofidleness even in his work as a philosopher where he failed to explainor fully describe his ideas (Reeve, 2014).
Therefore,Aristotle inquiry on the human nature is far reaching. Although theseare some scholars and philosophers who do not agree with Aristotlehuman nature, it formed the foundation of some of the modern thought.Each aspect of Aristotle philosophy and description of human naturediscloses a new understanding of man uniqueness. Aristotle describedman as a living thing, an animal with a soul, who is capable ofinvestigating the world and deciding how he will live in the world.However, according to Aristotle, humans have different opinions aboutwhat is good for humanity. To derive the maximum benefits of a moraland ethical inquiry, the disagreement of what is good should beresolved (Aristotle, 1998). This means that in Aristotle view, humanmorality and ethics is not a theoretical subject. This is becausephilosophers make ethical and moral inquiry not for the sake ofknowledge but because a better understanding of what is good forhumanity will enable us promote it. This means that the study ofhuman nature and morality should not focus on a list of virtues.Aristotle used these thoughts to described what he believed is thenature of human happiness.
Aristotle,(1998). TheNicomachean Ethics,New York: Oxford World’s Classics.
Loptson,P. (2006). Theoriesof human nature.Peterborough, Ont.: Broadview Press.
Reeve,C. D. (2014). Nicomacheanethics,Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Co., Inc.