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Philosophy of Human Nature


Different theorists have attempted to explain human nature from different perspectives such as Sigmund Freud, Karl Marx, Aristotle, Plato, Charles Darwin and Sartre. The theory of Marxism, for example, has attempted to explain human nature from the concept of capitalism. According to Karl Marx, human are fundamentally egocentric and greedy beings whose behaviors are characterized by the need to maximize profit. Marx developed his theory using the idea of “free market” capitalism which its principle focus was greed. In his theory, he identified two types of classes of people: the bourgeoisie and the proletariats. Marx explained that the bourgeoisie owned and controlled natural resources while the proletariats were exploited by providing human capital; in order to satisfy the thirst of the ruling class. Another theorist, Sigmund Freud, postulated his theory from the psychoanalysis perspective. He argued that the human nature was controlled by several key elements such as denial, repression, anal (personality), cathartic, neurotic and libido. Freud explained that the psychoanalysis influenced the humans’ way of life. The paper will examine the theories of Sigmund Freud and Karl Marx, and attempt to compare and contrast them. The paper will also show the positions of defendants of the two theories and their critiques and examine which theory is more compelling than the other. Lastly, the paper will show my position on the Freudian and Marxist theories.


Karl Marx Theory of Capitalism on Human Nature

According to Marx, human nature is characterized by self-interest that is guided by the overwhelming desire for the material greed. He argued that human beings turned to exploitation through the free market capitalism. As a result, he argued the self-serving nature of the bourgeoisies was a way to adaptation so as to meet their needs. These needs included food, shelter and clothing. However, Marx argued that human beings had the higher need to satisfy what he referred as the “species beings”. He explained that the “species beings”, as a nature of human beings, were unique than the animal kingdom because they were involved in production. In other words, humans had the ability to adapt to new environment and, as a result, the ability to produce. When human beings were alienated from production, he argued that they would live in a state of despair. Nevertheless, Marx’s theory faced some challenge when explain how the “happy workers” who was alienated from the fruits of his labor since would be considered as being alienated from the species being. To explain the role of the happy worker in the production process, Marx used the idea of social production whereby the happy workers were involved in the production of their social reality outside their work. According to Marx, the social production involved maintaining relationships with other people such as raising children and taking care of the family. As such, Marx explained that the workers had to work hard in order to maintain this social reality. He explained that human beings were social creatures and, as a result, they could not build relationships and acquaintances without working hard. Marx asserted that most workers accepted the capitalists’ system ends of extravagance because they had no choice; rebelling against bosses would render them jobless and unable to continue their social production. Given these two forms of classes (dominant and the exploitative classes), Marx explained that human nature was characterized by two forms of dimensions: the need for the bosses to depend upon the workers and the desire of the workers to feel needed (Fuchs 266).

Sigmund Freud on the Human Nature

Sigmund Freud deferred from Marx, and he proposed the theory of human psyche in explaining human nature. Freud focused on psychoanalysis of the human mind to explain human nature. He developed his theory “bit by bit” after conducting a series of clinical investigations and from his findings; he argued that there were at least three levels of the mind. Freud examined the unconscious mind, and he came up with a topological model of the mind which he used to describe the structures of the mind and their functions. Using the model, he explained that everything that people were aware was like the tip of an iceberg, while the unconscious mind consisting of primitive impulses and wishes, were kept at bay and controlled by the preconscious area. The main idea of Freud in explaining human nature was that the unconscious mind-controlled human nature to a greater degree than people could suspect. In fact, the aim of Freud in postulating his theory was to make the unconscious conscious. As a result, in 1923, Freud came up with a structural model that he referred as the psychic apparatus. He conceptualized that the brain comprised id, ego, and superego. The id consisted of biological drives that included Eros and Thanatos (Loptson 167).

He explained that Eros were life instincts that helped people to survive by performing some body functions such as respiration and digestion. Furthermore, he explained that the energy that was generated by the life instincts was the libido. On the other hand, Freud explained Thanatos as death instincts that represented the destructive forces that were exhibited by human beings. When Thanatos was directed onto other people, it resulted in violence and aggression. As such, Freud believed that people chose to survive rather than engage in self-destruction because Eros was stronger than Thanatos. Ego, as he explained, developed from infancy and its main function was to meet the demands of the id by making humans feel acceptable and safe in a socially way. Unlike the id, ego relied on both the conscious and the unconscious mind and, as a result, it followed the reality principle. He also focused on the aspect of the superego, and he explained that it developed from infancy. Superego enabled people to have acceptable moral standards. As such, superego followed the moral principle and was responsible for making people act in a way that was morally and socially acceptable. As a result, he explained that the superego was responsible for making someone feel guilty if he failed to follow the rules of the society. He argued that whenever the goals of the id and the superego were in conflict, the ego served as the mediator by deploying various defense mechanisms. These mechanisms included repression, displacement, regression, sublimation, denial and projection. For example, he explained sublimation as a satisfying impulse such as a person choosing to substitute aggression with socially acceptable activities (Loptson 168).

Furthermore, when Freud lived and worked with women, he forced then to repress their sexual desires that, in many cases, resulted in neurotic illnesses. As a result of the neurotic illnesses that the women were facing during his clinical investigation, Freud also observed how women dealt with powerful emotions such as guilt, love, and hatred. It is these observations that led to another Freud controversial theory of psychosexual development and the Oedipus complex. In his theory, he argued that children were born with a sexual urge (libido) and that this energy made children obtain pleasures from different objects during the developmental stages. He came up with five stages of psychosexual development, and they included oral, anal, phallic, latent and genital. He explained that each of the stages was important to the children during development and that the success of failure of the children at each stage affected as adults. For example, at anal stage, if the child was deprived of feeding or was forced to eat or weaned early, as an adult, the child would start smoking cigarettes, become too dependent and showing signs of aggression (Loptson 170).

Freud also focused on dream analysis in the explaining human nature. He argued that dream was very important to the unconscious mind because it enabled repressed materials to come through to awareness. He distinguished manifest content (what one remembers in the dream) from latent content (the underlying wishes of the dream) and stated human nature was influenced by the process whereby the latent content was translated into manifest content-dream-work. He argued that dream-work involved condensation, a process of joining two dreams into one. In his example, he argued that a dream about worries about security and how the person appeared to the rest of the world transformed into believable events such as people’s wishes to be famous and to be praised (Loptson 172).

Despite the two theorists had a different approach towards explaining human nature, there are some characteristics that the Freudian and Marxist capitalism theory shared. Both theories have shown that the human mind was a product of social phenomenon and not as a result of the individual instinctual development. Freud explained that the mental illness was as a result of the individual failure to progress through the sexual developmental stages. In psychiatrist terms, doctors would state that the patient’s condition was as a result of him not being able to relate with other people properly. Marx clearly shows that the existence of the capitalist and the exploited classes in the society was as a result of human behavioral patterns in the choices they made. Both theories show that the most powerful motivating forces of human actions originate from the conditions of their actions (Loptson 180).

However, there are those who have criticized the Marxist theory of capitalism. Defendants of Marxist theory would argue that despite exploitation can be seen as normative concept exhibiting the injustices of capitalism and the need for a fundamental change, the term is also acceptable in explaining the process of socialism. According to social, theory, exploitation is also part of the social theory that aIDresses issues such as social conflict, class struggle, and social change. As a result, Marxian theory is also applicable in developing egalitarian society. Secondly, Marx states that human capitalism and exploitation are as a result of universally developed individuals, which means that human nature is historically defined. As such, defendants would argue that human nature depicted by Marx is as a result of preconditions that have been generated by the actual process of historical developments (Loptson 182).

Opponents of Marxian theory of human nature would argue that the theory relied on non-distributional human relations. The theory failed to aIDress human relations that make them remain in the dominant classes, or the exploited classes. The theory only distinguished the ruling class and the subordinate class and proposed that human nature was determined by the two classes, in the absence of human relations.

In Freudian theory, defendants of his theory would argue that the theory explained a great deal, the human personality using the developmental stages and as such, suggested ways of dealing with various personality disorders such as anxiety and depression. However, the theory has been opposed since it is unfalsifiable-cannot be determined whether it is true or not true. The theory has other weaknesses such as it used unrepresentative samples, the case studies were based on studying one person in details and that the research was based on biased interpretations.




The Marxist theory of capitalism seems to be more compelling compared to Freudian theory since it was based on findings from different people. The theory is also based on findings that can be falsified by empirical research and, as a result, this makes the theory relevant and reliable in explaining human nature. I think the concept of human nature related to how human beings interact with one another. I think that the kind of behavior that is acquired by a person and the life he or she lives is influenced by the family settings. For example, a person living in a poor family but has been raised to have good morals and to be hard working, there are high chances that he will be successful in life. I disagree with Marxist’s view that our class statuses are historically determined by the dominant classes.

Works Cited

Fuchs, Christian. Digital Labour and Karl Marx. New York, NY: Routledge, 2015. Print.

Loptson, Peter. Theories of Human Nature, third edition. California: Broadview Press, 2006.





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