The nature or the essence of the human being is an age-old question.This is a fundamental inquiry and there are many points of view. Some philosophers, such as Mill, believe that human beings are born without natural inclinations…
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A philosopher like Hobbes would disagree. He would argue that our natural inclinations are competitive, and that we are naturally destined for destruction. In between these two extremes is the notion of rationality. Kant, for instance, argues that we can overcome our natural inclinations, whatever they may be, by using reason.This question is significant because the answer has important implications. How we choose to govern ourselves depends, in large part, on how we answer the question of natural inclinations. How constitutions and legislation treat notions of liberty and freedom of expression, for example, depend on the extant to which the drafters perceive human beings to be capable of moderating their behavior. In short, how we choose to form laws to govern ourselves is dependent on our assumptions regarding our natural inclinations.These are a few of the questions posed and addressed in the works of John Stuart Mill, Thomas Hobbes, and Immanuel Kant. This essay will identify each thinker's analysis of the human being's natural inclinations, the implications of each thinker's analysis, and then offer a brief comparative analysis.As an initial matter, John Stuart Mill, in Utilitarianism, argues that natural inclinations are not innate. Human beings are not born with a natural predisposition to compete (Mill, 1863). Satisfaction of our basest needs, such as food, shelter, or a mate, does not compel us to satisfy our needs at all costs. We do not begin hunting for food until we are taught how to hunt. We do not steal the food of others until we are aware of the possibility of stealing. Nor do we believe in monogamy or polygamy at birth. These are not natural drives. They are not genetic predispositions. Who we are is the product of our environment. Our inclinations, as they develop throughout our lives, are taught and learned.
In Mill's view, therefore, an innate compulsion or natural inclination is absent in the very beginning. On this basis, he reasons that the formation of laws should be used to condition people. More specifically, he believes that the creation of a fair and just society will create fair and just citizens. We should discourage authoritarian forms of government, for instance, because they are unnecessary and because they will teach us destructive habits. To this end, he advocates personal liberties and freedom of expression. The government does not need to dominate its people because its people are conditioned by these broader concepts of justice, moderation, and restraint. They will follow the examples set forth in just and reasonable laws.
More specifically, he advocates the formation of laws which emphasize the satisfaction of the people rather than the domination of the people. Mill states that, "Actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness; wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness" (Mill, 1863).
His notion of happiness is twofold. First, happiness is physical pleasure. Laws should encourage and allow people to pursue interests of importance to the individual. Second, happiness is mental pleasure. Freedom of expression and diversity of opinion are to be valued rather than prohibited. Proper laws can, in the final analysis, teach us how to be happy and thereafter operate to sustain our happiness.
The significant point is that human beings are not naturally inclined to commit bad or destructive acts; on the contrary, we are capable of forming laws and principles which can result in moderate political and social structures. Mill employs a balancing test. The goal is to promote maximum happiness while minimizing unhappiness. This tends toward
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