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The Accuracy of Hobbes’ Human Nature and How People Have Changed

October 31, 2010

Upon reading and learning about Hobbes’ ideas in Leviathan, I thought he seemed too pessimistic at first.  However, after debating Hobbes and Solnit’s thoughts about human nature in my discussion section, I began to discover the truths in Hobbes’ ideas.

I realized that yes, humans are self-interested and they desire power and material goods. Various biological and psychological studies throughout history have demonstrated that humans are selfish.  If you think about this from a biological standpoint, it is true that humans are innately concerned about their own well being before others.  According to Darwin’s theory of natural selection, humans choose mates who have the best qualities in order to produce healthy offspring that will likely pass on their well-suited genetic composition.  Similarly, Freud’s description of human nature and Id relates to a self-serving pleasure principle and B.F. Skinner’s learning theory relates to self-serving rewards and the avoidance of punishment.

However as Professor Dacher Keltner of the University of California Berkley described:

“Recent studies in psychology showed that the pursuit of self-interest may not be the clearest path to the greater good or personal happiness.”

In other words, maybe people are selfish, but they are realizing that in order to be happy, they should be more selfless.  Egotistical aims vary based on age and culture, but generally, those who are self-centered in the modern world tend to focus on career advancement, leadership titles, and material possessions.  However, these aims lead to limited happiness, as they only last for a certain amount of time.  Studies like what Keltner mentioned have convinced people to focus on relationships in their lives.  Strong relationships between family members and friends can have a much larger impact on people than a job title, a high leadership role, or a fancy car.  Family members and friends can interact with each other and support one another unlike material possessions.  Relationships with loved ones can last a lifetime if they are treated with care and respect.  Therefore, even if people are innately self-interested, they are trying to control themselves by fostering relationships with others.

Besides relationships, many people partake in community service, knowing that their actions are helping others.  Community service allows people to forget about their personal lives and to focus on improving others’ lives.  By helping others, they are also helping themselves because the service will likely make them grateful for all that they have.  The positive energy created by community service will likely encourage people to continue helping others, and therefore become more selfless.

Hobbes’ theory about the selfishness of human nature may be accurate, but many humans are trying to change this by forming stronger relationships with others and helping humanity as a whole.

For more information, please read Keltner’s article by clicking the link below.


  1. Benjamin Di Pietro permalink
    October 31, 2010 4:46 PM

    Don’t you think that all of that (relationships, helping community, etc) are all means of bettering oneself, there for making it all selfish and self-interested?

    • matteric9 permalink
      November 1, 2010 11:43 AM

      I understand where you are coming from with this question but what if there are more then one motive for these actions? For example, when community service is preformed you feel better because you helped others. Therefore, not only did you better yourself but those that you helped feel better as well. Relationships are an extremely effective way to feel better about yourself, but, also the people you have relationships feel better too. Thus, maybe these are self-interesed acts, but, since they are beneficial to others involved they are not done solely for the purpose of self-interest.

  2. gustavusarborus permalink
    October 31, 2010 5:50 PM

    To expand upon Benjamin’s question, is there a truly selfless motivation? After all, most persons who engage in community service will typically express some sort of satisfaction with their action. Even in cases where satisfaction is not derived from something potentially selfless, could this not be the result of duty? And while duty may seem a selfless concept, it too has roots in self-interest. Duty to one’s family unit encourages supportive behavior. A duty to do community service as a criminal penalty is the lesser alternative to something like jail or probationary measures. Even when we have a particularly bad day working at whatever venue, and there is no satisfaction to derive from the work at hand, does not the promise of future satisfaction compel self-interest to continue said service?

    • mbhilton permalink
      November 1, 2010 3:01 PM

      This is where the idea that there is no such thing as a truly altruistic act. What we call altruism is doing things that help others without any real benefit to us, but as the others have said, the knowledge that you are helping others generally causes people to feel good which is a benefit. It is a difficult question, whether or not people can be really selfless, and it depends on whether you consider feeling good about helping others is self-serving or not.

  3. Andrew Berman permalink
    November 1, 2010 8:32 PM

    A response to Ben’s question would be that relationships and helping the community are ways to better oneself, but that doesn’t mean the person doesn’t have selfless intentions. In a relationship people give because they care about the person they are in a relationship with. If they only gave to expect something in return, then it isn’t a true relationship. At first relationships might be for selfish intentions, but the more time and energy people put into their relationships the more selfless they become.

  4. arimark91 permalink
    November 9, 2010 7:10 PM

    People are selfish. I agree that many people out there truly want to help other by doing community service, but they still walk out of a community service project feeling good because they liked the feeling they felt after helping someone. People do love their partners, but the reason they entered a relationship in the first place was because they wanted to feel loved and cared about. There is good in a lot of people, but that does not mean that they don’t do things to benefit themselves. I think that everyone is selfish, but the degrees of selfishness vary. Even the most “selfless” person is still a little selfish.

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