The Enlightenment: What is the nature of man?


1) What does each philosophe think is the nature of man?

2) What evidence or premises is the philosophe using to justify or explain his position?

3) What inconsistencies or questionable assumptions exist in the philosophes theories of human nature?


See Chart below!


Thomas Hobbes


So that in the nature of man, we find three principal causes of quarrel. First, competition; secondly, diffidence; thirdly, glory.

The first makes men invade for gain; the second, for safety; and the third, for reputation. The first use violence, to make themselves masters of other men's persons, wives, children, and cattle; the second, to defend them; the third, for trifles, as a word, a smile, a different opinion, and any other sign of undervalue, either direct in their persons or by reflection in their kindred, their friends, their nation, their profession, or their name.

Hereby it is manifest that during the time men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called war; and such a war as is of every man against every man. For war consists not in battle only, or the act of fighting, but in a tract of time, wherein the will to contend by battle is sufficiently known: and therefore the notion of time is to be considered in the nature of war, as it is in the nature of weather. For as the nature of foul weather lies not in a shower or two of rain, but in an inclination thereto of many days together: so the nature of war consists not in actual fighting, but in the known disposition thereto during all the time there is no assurance to the contrary. All other time is peace.

Whatsoever therefore is consequent to a time of war, where every man is enemy to every man, the same is consequent to the time wherein men live without other security than what their own strength and their own invention shall furnish them withal. In such condition there is no place for industry, because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and consequently no culture of the earth; no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea; no commodious building; no instruments of moving and removing such things as require much force; no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.

To this war of every man against every man, this also is consequent; that nothing can be unjust. The notions of right and wrong, justice and injustice, have there no place. Where there is no common power, there is no law; where no law, no injustice. Force and fraud are in war the two cardinal virtues. Justice and injustice are none of the faculties neither of the body nor mind. If they were, they might be in a man that were alone in the world, as well as his senses and passions. They are qualities that relate to men in society, not in solitude. It is consequent also to the same condition that there be no propriety, no dominion, no mine and thine distinct; but only that to be every man's that he can get, and for so long as he can keep it. And thus much for the ill condition which man by mere nature is actually placed in; though with a possibility to come out of it, consisting partly in the passions, partly in his reason.

The passions that incline men to peace are: fear of death; desire of such things as are necessary to commodious living; and a hope by their industry to obtain them.

John Locke

The Blank Slate of the Mind: An Essay Concerning Human Understanding

It is an established opinion among some men, that there are in the understanding certain innate principles; some primarily notions, characters, as it were, stamped upon the mind of man, which the soul receives in its very first being and brings into the world with it. It would be sufficient to convince unprejudiced readers of the falseness of this supposition, if I should only show (as I hope I shall in the following parts of this discourse) how men, barely by the use of their natural faculties, may attain to all the knowledge they have, without the help of any innate impressions, and may arrive at certainty without any such original notions or principles.

Let us then suppose the mind to be, as we say white paper [tabula rasa], void of all characters without any ideas; how comes it to be furnished? Whence comes it by that vast store, which the busy and boundless fancy of man has painted on it with an almost endless variety? Whence has it all the materials of reason and knowledge? To this I answer, in one word, EXPERIENCE: in that all our knowledge is founded, and from that it ultimately derives itself. Our observation, employed either about external sensible objects, or about the internal operations of our minds, perceived and reflected on by ourselves is that which supplies our understandings with all the materials of thinking. These two are the fountains of knowledge, from whence all the ideas we have, or can naturally have, do spring.

The understanding seems to me not to have the least glimmering of any ideas which it doth not receive from one of these two. External objects furnish the mind with the ideas of sensible qualities, which are all those different perceptions they produce in us; and the mind furnishes the understanding with ideas of its own operations.

He that attentively considers the state of a child at his first coming into the world, will have little reason to think him stored with plenty of ideas that are to de the matter of his future knowledge. It is by degrees he comes to be furnished with them; and though the ideas of obvious and familiar qualities imprint themselves before the memory begins to keep a register of time and order, yet it is often so late before some unusual qualities come in the way, that there are few men that cannot recollect the beginning of their acquaintance with them: and, if it were worth while, no doubt a child might be so ordered as to have but a very few even of the ordinary ideas till he were grown up to a man. But all that are born into the world being surrounded with bodies that perpetually and diversely affect them, variety of ideas whether care be taken about it, or no, are imprinted on the minds of children. Light and colours are busy at hand every where when the eye is but open; sounds and some tangible qualities fail not to solicit their proper senses and force an entrance to the mind; but yet I think it will be granted easily, that if a child were kept in a place where he never saw any other but black and white till he were a man, he would have no more ideas of scarlet or green, than he that from his childhood never tasted an oyster or a pine-apple has of those particular relishes.


The Philosophical Dictionary

People clamor that human nature is essentially perverse, that man is born the child of the devil, and of evil. Nothing is more ill-advised; for, my friend, in preaching at me that everybody is born perverse, you warn me that you were born that way, that I must distrust you as I would a fox or a crocodile... It would be much more reasonable, much nobler, to say to me: "you were all born good; see how frightful it would be to corrupt the purity of your being." We should treat mankind as we should treat all men individually....

Man is not born evil; he becomes evil, as he becomes sick... Gather together all the children of the universe you will see in them nothing but innocence, gentleness and fear...

    If men were essentially evil, if they were all born the subjects of a being as malevolent as it is unhappy, who inspired them with all this frenzy to avenge this own torment, we would see husbands murdered by their wives, and fathers by their children every morning...


The Social Contract

THE most ancient of all societies, and the only one that is natural, is the family: and even so the children remain attached to the father only so long as they need him for their preservation. As soon as this need ceases, the natural bond is dissolved. The children, released from the obedience they owed to the father, and the father, released from the care he owed his children, return equally to independence. If they remain united, they continue so no longer naturally, but voluntarily; and the family itself is then maintained only by convention.

This common liberty results from the nature of man. His first law is to provide for his own preservation, his first cares are those which he owes to himself; and, as soon as he reaches years of discretion, he is the sole judge of the proper means of preserving himself, and consequently becomes his own master.

The family then may be called the first model of political societies: the ruler corresponds to the father, and the people to the children; and all, being born free and equal, alienate their liberty only for their own advantage. The whole difference is that, in the family, the love of the father for his children repays him for the care he takes of them, while, in the State, the pleasure of commanding takes the place of the love which the chief cannot have for the peoples under him.






What is the nature of man?

What evidence/premises are used to justify/explain this position?

What inconsistencies/questionable assumptions exist in this theory?







Always quarrel, compete

Glory is man’s nature

Life of man is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short…

Violence is used to gain power

Defense for the sake of glory

Men are always anticipating war so naturally defensive

Peace is a selfish endeavor

Need central power to prevent war












Constantly brings up real war and battle

Observation of real life

Ideas justified through war because they display all of these characteristics

People go to war for gains and safety

If you are always fighting how can you truly have peace?

Talks about society has a whole – but what about individuals?  Are all men like this?

How could always be at war? Aren’t there other conflicts that exist besides those of war?

Example of avoiding war:

WWII – neutral until attacked; people were united and not quarreling among themselves

United Nations

Romans allow barbarians to settle within borders to avoid more war

Venezuela – avoid war over oil

Objectors to war always exist (Vietnam protestors, draft dodgers)

Cold war – intentionally not fighting a physical war










Tabula rasa – blank slate -

Gain knowledge through experience – this is what makes individuals

It’s nurture that screws you up or makes you better

Bad experiences will turn you evil but you are not naturally evil

Information from external and internal forces

Babies – children responding to adults

Metaphor of color – until a color is named you only live in black and white

Everyday life as his data

People are born with natural traits

You can obtain knowledge other ways besides experience – like studying?

Bad experiences won’t necessary make you evil – they could build character and make you stronger – only missionaries do good




Everyone starts out innocent and as time goes on they become evil

Living in the world (your environment) makes you evil

No choice – everyone becomes evil – he is blaming society

Men be come evil and women stay innocent






Says children are innocent – children cannot be bad from birth or they would kill their parents – its adults that they surround themselves with that teach them evil

Cannot be born evil because everyone would be evil

Not everyone can become evil – if you are in a good environment

Can you be born with natural evil or negative instincts?

Wouldn’t the parents kill the children too?

If all the adults were evil wouldn’t they be killing everyone?  Wouldn’t there be chaos?

Doesn’t originate somewhere? Like Eve? Or maybe not?

Some children are mean? Does that make them evil? 





Nature of man is to become independent and lead their own lives – but still need a higher body to govern you

Man will always put himself before other s – man is naturally selfish

After childhood, man becomes his own master











Children – they grow up and move out of the house

Relationships between father and son are used as an example

Uses his own “nature” – because he is a man and he knows that he would put himself first – he is independent


A lot people do not become independent – from family or from government

People might try to sacrifice themselves to save others – this is not selfish

Not everyone is only looking out for him/herself

Just because you take care of yourself first doesn’t mean you are being selfish

Some people have jobs to help others