Rousseau and Humanistic Psychology
While reading about the theories of these 17th and 18th century philosophers for this class, I’ve noticed a common reoccurring theme of how all these theorists view human nature in a negative way. Although I understood how these theories could be applied to our lives, I realized that I never had any interest in reading about them, as I rather contemplate human nature in a more positive light. This was up until Rousseau’s Discourse on the Origin and Foundations of Inequality among Men. Rousseau believed that human nature is innately good and society is the corrupting force that transforms man into the self-interested man described by Hobbes. This positive view of human nature is a refreshing change compared to Locke’s description of man as selfish and a social animal, and Hobbes’ view that man will behave in a warlike nature if the state is without authority. This also got me thinking about how Rousseau’s political theory relates to other subjects.
Rousseau’s philosophy reminded me of a view of psychology I learned about in high school. The theories of humanistic psychology emphasize the basic goodness of human beings, in contrast to the earlier theories of psychology that focused on abnormal behavior and psychological problems. Like Rousseau, humanist thinkers give more credit to the individual in controlling and determining their state of mental health, and take environmental influences into account. According to humanistic psychologists, the ultimate goal of living is to attain personal growth and understanding. Through constant self-improvement and self-understanding can an individual ever be truly happy. The one key point about this view of psychology is that it promotes free will related to change. This ability of humans to change over time is also seen in Rousseau’s argument, when he states that human nature can, and does, in fact change, and we can bring about this change ourselves. Rousseau’s positive thinking partially stems from the fact that he did most of his writing during the Age of Enlightenment and Revolution in 18th century Europe. His thinking was also a response to Locke’s view of human nature and the natural man. This connection between Rousseau’s philosophy and humanistic psychology shows how the arguments based on the positive view of human nature and the ‘natural man’ has been developed over time.