Human nature brings up many sentiments in a lot of people. The most recent person whom I encountered who felt so was the instructor of my Stevenson Core Fall section. She passionately argued that there is no possible way that one can identify a human nature across the various cultures and times. I agree that it is absolutely impossible to prove that there is a human nature. Conversely, it is also impossible to prove there is not one. But, I believe the arguments for a human nature are strong enough that I can believe in them. I don't necessarily need to be proved something to believe in it. If the evidence is strong enough, I do not have a problem in believing in it. Machiavelli and Hobbes both believe in human nature. Hobbes and Machiavelli both have similar views of human nature and its foundations.
Niccolo Machiavelli definitely agrees there is a human nature. He says this of man:
The desire to acquire is truly a very natural and normal thing [to humans]; and when men who cannot do so, they will always be praised and not condemned; but when they cannot and wish to do so at any cost, herein lies the error and the blame.
(The Prince 86)
From this quote, one can infer that Machiavelli believes that humans are greedy beings. Humans naturally want more of everything. Society praises those who, as Machiavelli would say, are foolish enough to not want anything. Machiavelli would also say that, this is a scheme developed by the powerful in order for to appease the masses that are poor and weak. For "those who commit themselves and are not greedy should be honored and loved." (p.108-109) This is how the natural nature of the greedy human is oppressed. If there were not this social praise, it would be complete chaos because man is "ungrateful, fickle, simulators and deceivers, avoiders of danger, greedy for gain". (p.131)
There is no question whether Machiavelli believes in a human nature. In fact, he has an awful grim view of it. The passages cited are few among the numerous times Machiavelli refers to human nature directly. He comes out and says with out question "one can generally say this about manÃ¢â‚¬Â¦" (p. 131), "because menÃ¢â‚¬Â¦areÃ¢â‚¬Â¦" (p. 109), "men desireÃ¢â‚¬Â¦" (p. 392), and even outright that "our nature isÃ¢â‚¬Â¦" (392). It is a fact that Machiavelli believes in human nature.
But, what Machiavelli does not state is what human nature is, its origin, nor what a human being even is. Machiavelli has "pulled a fast one" by not defining what human nature is. He lets us decide what it is and makes his ideas a little bit more flexible by not saying what human nature is. Based on the way he uses the word though, it is almost safe to say that human nature, according to Machiavelli, is the thoughts, desires, wills and actions that are common to all humans.
To find the answer to what Machiavelli thinks about human nature's origin and what is a human requires more speculation. One can only be lead to assume that Machiavelli believes that people have their nature upon birth because that seems to be the most simplistic view. If a view is unchallenged, which we must assume because he never mentions it, we are forced to take the most obvious and the most simplistic answer. By the same logic, we are forced to think that Machiavelli makes the oversimplified assumption that it is obvious what a man is. In strictly macro-biological terms, man is a being that physically appears human. No consideration is given for immoral beings (of course everyone is immoral according to Machiavelli's description of human nature), mental capacity, or socialization. If you look like a human, then you are one, period.
Why is it fundamental to define what is a human, human nature, and the origin of human nature? If you do not define what a human is, you do not know if a certain being is going to follow human nature because you do not if it the nature of the human is going to apply because you do not know if it is human. Once you have established what a human is, you need to confine the extent of which you can deem as nature to the human. One may be able to find a nature in humans' view of sex, but it is impossible to determine humans' sex lives. A view is less confined and more applicable than a sex life. A sex life is more empirical than a view of sex, so one may easily refute the argument regarding the sex life with two different lifestyles. However, it is harder to refute a view of sex because people may not be open with that information or may not even know it for themselves.
It is almost more important to determine the origin of human nature. If one is able to logically deduce a cause or a reason for the particular attribute of human nature and be able to show it through numerous varied examples, then he or she has just used scientific logic to produce a valid view. The origin can show causes of the nature and why it is and the observations confirm it.
Another great think who believes in human nature is Hobbes. Hobbes come outright and says:
From man's desire of knowing causesÃ¢â‚¬Â¦ it is peculiar to the nature of man, to be inquisitive into the causes of the events they see, some more, some less; but all men so much, as to be curious in the search of the causes of their own good and evil fortune. (Leviathon p. 87)
In this quote, Hobbes says that man in bounded by his own curiosity. He is constantly looking for answers regarding his existence. Hobbes also says, "in the nature of man, we find three principle causes of quarrel. First, competition; secondly, diffidence; thirdly, glory." (p. 99) Hobbes is saying that man does not fight by his very nature except for one of the three reasons given. Again, Hobbes cites causes that apply to all of humanity for fighting and is giving another aspect of human nature.
I could go on and on with citing more examples of human nature from Hobbes, but Hobbes never says what kind of disposition humans have directly. One can only infer that since Hobbes lays out a well-structured society, he does not put much faith in humankind. Since Hobbes lays down several laws, he must believe that humans need laws to be in a safe, productive, and livable society. If he believed in the goodness of humanity, there would be no need for these laws. So, we are forced by contradiction to deduce that he thought of humans being of a selfish lot. Without laws, humans could not "play nicely" and be able to function properly. Therefore, Hobbes believes that humans are greedy by nature.
Hobbes has a much more stable "foundation" for his arguments regarding human nature. He takes the extra steps, which Machiavelli did not, and defines or clarifies the three questions mentioned earlier: what is a human, what does human nature consist of, and what is the origin of human nature.
On page 125, Hobbes defines a person:
A person, is he, whose words or actions are considered, either his own, or as representing the words or actions of another man, or of any other thing, to whom they are attributed, whether truly or by fiction.
Basically, Hobbes says that a human is one who can carry on a coherent conversation with another person. Hobbes is saying that the only requirement to be a human is for one to be able to carry on a conversation with another person. Again, this points to Hobbes emphasis on the intellect of a human (which he has showed great interest in because most of his passages regarding human nature deal with this to some degree).
Hobbes indirectly talks about what human nature consists of. In the top paragraph on page 103, Hobbes talks around the definition of human nature. He says that man's nature consists of his free actions, judgement, and reason. Hobbes is saying that the only things in the categories of free actions, judgement, and reason that are common to all humans. Not all humans' free actions, judgements, and reasons are going to be the same, but certain aspect within those areas are common to all humans. This stays fairly consistent with Hobbes' observations on human nature and they at no time stray from these areas.
The origin, or the commonness that allows for these laws, is unclear from Hobbes. Since he does say that all men are created equal (p. 120), and his definition of a man is being able to rationalize, the commonness is the ability to rationalize for themselves regarding certain matters. Since all humans are equal and humans rationalize, the opinion of all human's are equal. Some may be more compelling than others', but nonetheless, the opinions are equal in terms of their validity.
The difference in the outlooks of human nature from Hobbes and Machiavelli are quite subtle. They both agree that humans are greedy, but Hobbes seems to give humans more credit for their ability to think. Where Machiavelli thinks that humans are more primitive deceivers than they are thinkers. The difference is very slight. A deceiver's whole intent is to portray what he or she is not. A thinker's intent is pure curiosity. However, both involve the processing of information to give the desired result, so in essence they are the same. It just comes down to a matter of intent.
Both Machiavelli and Hobbes come to their conclusions by different means though. Machiavelli cites historical evidence that shows that humans are naturally greedy. Hobbes, on the other hand, uses logical deduction to come to his conclusions. As I said earlier, both come to more or less the same conclusions. This is very strong evidence for the similar views of human nature. Hobbes has showed that humans are greedy through the use of analytical logic; he has shown it in theory. Machiavelli has shown the same through numerous historical observations; he has shown it in practicality. By coming to the same conclusion using diferrent means, this only strengthens the conclusion reached by both.
I am not arguing that humans are greedy beings. I am argueing that there is a common human nature. So, if two of the greatest thinkers in history have said that there is a human nature and it is this. It must be assumed at the minimal that there is a human nature because both have specifically pointed it out what the nature is. Hence, it is less controversial to argue the previous deduction that there is a human nature because it has been accepted that as a fact by two great minds. This by no means proves it, but makes a compelling argument for the validity of the concept of human nature. The research and the history required to prove that there is a human nature is inconceivable, but there can be a strong likelihood that there is a human nature.
As you have seen, Machiavelli and Hobbes share like views on human nature. Maybe some of us who do not believe in human nature subconsciously believe in one. In fact, it almost seems impossible to function in a society that one has no idea how to treat another. One must be able to have some idea of the other person's thought process and how he or she would react to certain things. If not, then the whole idea of a society would be foreign because the society could not get along with itself. It just seems that we make up more differences between ourselves than there really is. This may be the root of many of the problems we have in this world. Not being able to see each other as the same as ourselves.