Influences on Human Nature
Human nature is the central characteristics, including the ways of thinking, acting, and reacting that are shared by most or all human beings, and which humans display naturally. Each one of us is a unique being and various facets of human nature determine our individual personalities. The question posed by personality theorists is, what factors influence the development of our personalities? Simply stated, how did we become who we are? Who we are is not determined by any one characteristic or concept of human nature, but by combination of influences. Is human nature determined by our own free will or is it pre-determined by our past experiences and forces which we have no control? Are we dominated by our inherited nature and genetic composition or the nurturing environment of our background and education? Are we dependent or independent of our past? Is human nature unique or universal? Are our life goals motivated by the simple satisfaction of physical needs, or are we driven by a deeper need for growth and progress? Is man kind’s outlook one of optimism or pessimism? Do humans develop relationally or individually? Questions about human nature focus on these central issues and theorists attempt to answer this question, while defining their image of human nature. Free Will versus Determinism
The ability to make choices unrestricted by certain factors is called free will. In contrast to free will, determinism dictates that there are forces over which we have no control. These forces externally shape our personality and that each event is determined by preceding events. How can we have free will if everything is determined for us? On the other hand, if everything is determined, how can we have free will? Free will and determinism are companions and you cannot have one without the other. We need to feel that our will is free and not determined for us. We need to be able to assign responsibility, bestow blame and praise, and allocate punishments and rewards. If we do not have free will, are we then not responsible for the choices we make? If we are not responsible for our actions, then we should not be punished when our behavior justifies it. The decisions we make, and the emotional reactions we feel, about the choices we make, are a learning process. When we make a choice, we learn from the outcome. The next time we are in the position to make a similar choice, we draw on our experiences and either choose similarly, or differently, depending on our previous outcome. In this sense, it can be said that determinism is a strong factor. The choice made is determined by the outcome of previous decisions. We cannot learn to choose more wisely, unless we can recognize a particularly good or bad choice. Gordon Allport held a balanced position on the free will versus determinism debate. Allport bestowed free choice in our considerations about our future. However, Allport also recognized that some behaviors are determined by personality traits and personal dispositions. Once the behaviors are formed, they are difficult to modify (p. 203). Inherited Nature versus Nurturing Environment
For the purpose of the nature versus nurture debate, nature is defined as inherited traits and attributes. Nurture is the characteristics of our environment (nurturing influences of education, childhood, and guidance). Given that genetics and environment both influence human nature and personality, which plays a greater role? The genes we inherit determine physical characteristics about us from the color of our eyes, hair, and skin to how tall or short we will be. However, behavioral tendencies and personality attributes are not hard-wired. As human beings, we are features of our environment and the conditions by which we live shape our personality and our intelligence. We come by our personality traits through observed behaviors, not through genetic endowment. At birth a child’s mind is a blank slate. How he develops from...
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