Do you intuitively trust or distrust other people? This boils down to whether you believe the fundamental nature of man is good or bad. In philosophy, your worldview could be classified as either Lockean (man is good) or Hobbesian (man is bad).
Let me introduce you briefly to John Locke and Thomas Hobbes. I’ll explain in simple terms their opposing beliefs about the nature of man. Then you can choose which camp you want to belong to.
The nature of man according to Hobbes
Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) held the view that man, left to himself, would descend into “a war of all against all.” To prevent us from killing and otherwise hurting each other, government is needed. We grant the government our rights in exchange for its protection.
Hobbes thought that we cannot know the difference between good and evil, and cannot achieve peace by our own means. Civil society is thus based on a strong government telling us what to do. And peace is achieved when we do what we are told.
Hobbesians, therefore, believe that we are constantly at risk of being hurt by one another. Our assumption is that others are out to get us, and our instinct is to protect ourselves.
The nature of man according to Locke
John Locke (1632-1704) believed that man is by nature a social animal. For the most part, we are reasonable and tolerant. We tend to live in a state of peace and honour our obligations to each other. Occasional conflicts would arise and so it is important to establish boundaries of ownership.
Locke thought that people had an innate sense of right and wrong, even if we disagreed over the specifics. We are therefore capable of resolving conflicts in a fair and peaceful manner. The state exists to formalise our individual rights in the form of property rights.
Lockeans, therefore, believe that people are by nature good, and will deal fairly with each other. Others will respect our rights, and so our inclination is to seek peaceful co-existence through mutual respect.
What do you think?
I’m generally Lockean in my outlook, because the alternative is not a very happy way to live. And I’d rather have happy as my default mode. I think that most people want to be good, and try their best to be. Still, I’m aware that evil exists and it would be naive to pretend there is no crime or injustice in the world.
My stance is therefore to give the benefit of the doubt. Innocent until proven guilty, rather that guilty until proven innocent. So I will trust a person until that person gives me reason not to. Others will not trust until a person earns that trust.
What about you? What is your world view regarding the nature of man? Your fundamental belief will guide your interactions with everyone, so choose carefully.