Is it true that humans are fundamentally selfish?

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The idea of human selfishness has been a topic that has sparked debate in a variety of circles. As a result, research into the role of governments, morality, and evolution in shaping the mind and human actions has been spearheaded by the definition. Competition has been emphasized as a guiding force for natural selection. Nonetheless, philosophers have recently stressed the idea that humans may not have survived in a given group by charity or social reciprocity. As a result, people like Locke have been stressing that the desire for personal pleasure and benefit is the driving force behind every human's daily activities. Therefore, this paper will examine why humans are fundamentally selfish through an evaluation of Locke's perspective and the role of the government in promoting the ethical environment.

Relevance of the Problem

Being selfish forms the basic aspect of evaluation when it comes to comprehending human behavior. According to Nietzsche, (104) the concept of societal growth may not have prevailed without the focus on altruistic behavior. Kramer, (13) contradicts the concept the humans are fundamentally selfish through the emphasis that the need for selflessness was critical towards the growth of civilization across the globe. The focus on collectiveness towards unified growth was imperative towards sustenance of a given society and ensuring that the achievement of set targets prevailed. Accordingly, understanding the concept of human nature is a daunting prospect since the definition of morality versus survival comes into play. The nature of humans is founded on set values, principles, and morals that constitute universally acceptable actions. In a societal framework, altruism is viewed positively and given a good moral standing as opposed to selfishness. Evidence of altruism or selflessness has become a critical aspect towards understanding human nature. Nietzsche, (104) emphasizes that altruism is not limited to anthropology. In research undertaken by Kramer, (13) it became evident that a toddler as young as 20months old was willing to assist an adult who was struggling to undertake a daunting task due to the norm that the elder individuals ought to receive preferential treatment in the event that there is a young individual in the same situation. Aspects of selflessness are second to human nature, and it is evident that individuals are already wired to show acts of selflessness and remorse in the day-to-day environment.

Reciprocity to acts that people deem good or bad is the moral standing of humans. The deliberate actions to reciprocate form a moral compass in evaluating human nature as equally evident among adults. In the instances of a natural disaster such as a hurricane or a terrorist attack, acts of selflessness are evident. As a clear example, in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, no reports of people being trampled in the midst of escaping the falling buildings was evident. As such, people that needed assistance to descend were given the necessary help by selfless individuals regardless of the eminent danger posed upon each individual. Cases of people looking out for themselves are a rare phenomenon in the social dynamics of a society.

Pundits such as Locke, (28) emphasize that the concept of selflessness prevails as a result of the government. The government has been deemed as an important institution towards ensuring that the morality of the society is safeguarded comprehensively. Without the government, social discord or selfishness would prevail whereby survival of the fittest forms the daily moral guideline. Nonetheless, throughout history, selfishness has been deemed as a defining factor towards ensuring personal or human survival. Competition for the basic needs such as food, shelter, and clothing were and still are determinant factors towards showing the level of selfishness among human beings. Kautsky, (15) states that from an evolutionary perspective, competition should be replaced with selfishness. Kautsky, (17) goes on to emphasize that people exist for their own sake and the emphasis on personal achievement through happiness comprises the true nature of existence of any human.

Why the issue is complicated through an evaluation of multiple views

Understanding the concept that humans are fundamentally selfish is a daunting prospect due to the conflicting philosophies brought forth. As such, individuals such as Locke and Nietzsche have been influential in propagating distinctive perspectives about the nature of human beings. From Nietzsche's perspective, the notion of free will should be recognized in the evaluation of human nature. Nietzsche emphasizes that free will and human nature have a rigid and transfixed psycho-physical constitution and personal beliefs, values, and day-to-day lives are an expression of one's personality. It is easy to label one as being selfish, but the circumstances of a person define one's morality. Nietzsche is not quick to judge humans as fundamentally selfish rather he is adamant in stating that evaluating human nature reveals the concept of individual will in the day-to-day actions (Nietzsche, 94). A person will undertake an act if he freely wills, and the act of will forms a commanding thought that describes human nature. Nietzsche deviates from the concepts of universal moral principles and subscribes to the notion of individual accountability. Therefore, as one of the theories contradictory to human’s being fundamentally selfish, Nietzsche emphasizes on the need to hold people accountable for the actions that are within their power. At the point of a given action, a person could have chosen to be either selfless or selfish, and the concept of personal choice is fundamental in the analysis of human nature. Of utmost importance is the idea of free will and its importance in the evaluation of the society. As such, the government plays a fundamental role in the description and determination of the guidelines of operation among humans and ensuring that morality prevails on a daily basis.

In understanding humans as essentially altruistic, Kautsky, (20) believes that the “herd morality” was a fundamental factor towards the rise of diverse civilizations. Accordingly, the herd morality entails that for as long as civilizations have existed, many followers have been evident in proportion to the small number of leaders. Obedience, selflessness, and communal growth have been bred and practiced effectively and longest among humans. Therefore, the prospect of altruism is second nature to humans coupled with the leadership system playing a direct role in ensuring that it prevails among individuals. Towards the evolutionary process, Kautsky, (20) believes that what was the driving factor was the universal morality that became a common factor. Selfishness was deemed as immoral, and any practice could have translated to excommunication from the society; and in extreme instances death. Therefore, the herd morality, as per Nietzsche, is in favor of modesty, selflessness, obedience, and hard work, which are the facets that are still prevalent among humans to date.

On the contrary, Locke emphasizes the notions of liberalism and personal duty. As per Locke, liberalism entails the notion of freedom to operate as per a personal moral compass. As such, the concept of natural law plays a critical role towards the evaluation of personal conduct. As per Locke, human nature is, in most instances, inclined to acts of violence, selfishness, and disobedience. It is a daunting prospect to develop an avenue whereby humans can share similar beliefs, thoughts, and activities. Further, it is extensively complex to end selfishness and transform a person who appreciates another, and can view him or her as being equal. Human nature as our home ought to be maintained via diverse approaches (Locke 26). Humans treating each other as strangers is a common behavior and even more common is the notion of selfishness. As John Locke emphasizes in the evaluation of government and control, it is evident that humans need the government. It is through the government that the moral guidelines are established towards detailing how people live with each other. As such, human nature, as per pundits such as Locke, (28) denotes a blank slate and no mental knowledge prevail when a person is born. Nonetheless, the prospect of inclining to vices is a concept that is evident among humans. Inclining to acts of selfishness forms a daunting prospect for any society and the need for government intervention, as per Locke, is a fundamental concept towards influencing the societal values. Therefore, contrary to Nietzsche, Locke emphasizes that humans are morally inclined to acts of selfishness, and the need for governments’ intervention is imperative to set the moral principles for the society.

Relevant Author in the Description of the Theory

Locke provides an in-depth understanding of human nature. As such, his perspectives on human nature are warranted towards the comprehension of how individuals act and the inclination to selfishness. As well, he emphasizes that human nature is in most instances evil and human conduct is mostly inclined to selfish reasons. Of utmost importance is the need for government intervention. The development of a society in which government intervention prevails is geared towards the establishment of the laws and rules to ensure that the destruction of humanity out of selfishness does not prevail. Kramer, (16) asserts that through Locke, individuals manage to develop a distinctive outlook into the need for the government in the establishment of the moral principles. Through the government, the establishment of equality prevails in which hope emerges towards attaining the holistic positive end. In an unruly society, if two men desire a similar thing, they become enemies, and selfish tendencies take effect which translates to personal conservation with dire consequences such as death. However, through government intervention, Locke believes that the establishment of an equal environment prevails. The government sets the standards of operation through the emphasis on joining together to achieve selfless outcomes. In a government led society, two individuals desiring a similar thing are guided by laws and rules that establish the principles towards decision-making (Locke, 29). Despite the prospect that not all individuals are satisfied, altruism takes shape in a government-led society. The focus of Locke is on the need for the government towards the eradication of such acts such as selfishness, which come as second nature to human beings.

Theoretical Framework and its Relevance

The state of nature, as per political philosophers such as John Locke, can be used extensively to describe selfishness. As such, the state of nature as a theoretical framework denotes the condition that individuals find themselves in the absence of any form of authority. Kramer, (21) affirms that living without any form of law, the notion of rationality does not prevail and behaviors such as selfishness take shape in the society. Human nature becomes the driving force in a society without leadership. In a society whereby there is no leadership, the prospect of survival, as opposed to communal collective growth, takes shape. In a given society, the state of nature by John Locke is an important philosophy since it brings into the picture the fundamental role of the government (Locke, 37). The government is a defining factor towards the development of liberal views in a given society. Despite Locke emphasizing that humans are united by the human nature that determines interactions and behavior, it is imperative to enforce some of the natural laws. Locke further believes that despite the notion of free will and potential to act in either good or evil manner, humans in most instances subscribe to harmful behavior such as selfishness. Therefore, the government, when put into the picture, plays the role of the unifying factor and depicts the natural laws that determine the societal environment. Without the government, social discord can prevail, and elements of selfishness and personal preservation at the expense of others can progress in the society.


From the above analysis, Nietzsche and Locke present different philosophies on human selfishness. As such, from the evaluation of the two philosophers, their distinctive school of thought is based on human nature. As per Nietzsche, free will is a determinant factor in the evaluation of human selfishness. Individuals acting as per how they prefer can translate to an avenue whereby personal survival takes the shape of selfishness. On the other hand, human nature, as per Locke, is inclined to evil as opposed to good. Nonetheless, the government, as per Locke, should play a fundamental role in enforcing the natural laws and ensuring that universal morality prevails.

Works cited

Kautsky, John H. The Politics of Human Nature. London: Routledge, 2017.

Kramer, Matthew H. John Locke and the origins of private property: philosophical explorations of individualism, community, and equality. Cambridge University Press, 2004.

Locke, John. Second Treatise of Government: An Essay Concerning the True Original, Extent, and End of Civil Government. John Wiley & Sons, 2014.

Nietzsche, Friedrich. Nietzsche: On the Genealogy of Morality and Other Writings. Cambridge University Press, 2017.

May 04, 2022

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