Exploring the Relationship between Instinct and Social Pressure

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Updated: Mar 31, 2023
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Human nature is a constant struggle between our innate savagery and morality. We tend towards cruelty in our greed and selfish behaviors; we are moral in our cooperation. In the eyes of man, we are the paragon of evolutionary perfection – yet we are still subject to instinct. However, our morality is a more complex phenomenon that is both a result of natural selection and social pressures. Darwin and de Waal would agree that morality has blurred the lines between social animals and humans, complicating our perceptions of the anamorphic properties of emotion and consciousness.

Darwin’s evolutionary principles corroborate the genetic basis of morality. As a result of social instincts, a consciousness is developed to reject the feeling of remorse that follows “unsatisfied instincts” (Darwin, 1871). In other words, as humans become more attuned to each other they are compelled “by the same general wish to aid his fellows” (Darwin, 1871). Humans (insert analyzation) .He believes “evolution favors animals that assist each other” and increases their survivability (de Waal, 2006). Darwin on the surface seems to refer to morality as a faculty that comes out of our ingrained sense of kinship. This can be most clearly identified in the family dynamic where the parental figures care for their offspring. In this explanation, all human ethics are simplified into a blind adherence to instinct, natural selection and the order of our base pairs.

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However he goes on to introduce external factors, other than instinct and DNA, which work in conjunction with the aforementioned factors to develop our moral sense. One such factor is a degree of higher intellect. Our virtue is influenced by the stimulation of our “intellectual faculties” and the usage of “ratiocination (Darwin, 1871).” Intellect improves our recollection of past mistakes and helps us to surmise a solution that would keep us from making the same ones. Language, as a product of intellect, further guides our tendency towards reciprocity in a community. Through higher cognition, humans have the ability to voice their needs and wants, which makes our morality subject to social pressures (Darwin, 1871).

According to Darwin, in civilized societies the opinions of others become internalized and become a guide for the distinction of bad and good character. For example, a child striking another would be admonished by an elder. This child, after repeated punishment, will try to refrain from this activity to stay in the good graces of the adult. In the beginning, humans were ruled by the “the greatest happiness principle”– meaning we are primarily ruled by anything that will increase our happiness — so the consequences receive little notice (Darwin, 1871). In short, the end justifies the means. Darwin assumed that as “reasoning powers advance” and “experience [is] gained” we become receptive to public opinion in our quest to conform to societal standards (Darwin, 1871). Our malignant, “self-regarding virtues” are the round pegs that no longer fit into the square holes of community morals (Darwin, 1871). The needs of the majority take precedence over those of the minority.

While animals do not have higher levels of cognition, like humans, they can engage in altruistic behaviors through instinctual sympathy. Darwin and de Waal would agree that humans acquire this through instinct, but it only becomes frequented with practice (Darwin, 1871). Both humans and animals have “retributive emotions,” owing to their descent from a common ancestor, the Quadrumanam (Darwin, 1871 and de Waal, 2006). The distinction between animals and humans starts to become indistinct when all social species are inclined towards benevolence, even when compensation was unlikely (de Waal, 2006). Now animals emerge as entities with complex communities and emotional states (grief, resentment, and compassion) rather than disjointed, barbaric creatures driven by purely self-serving behavior. The predator is not merely a cold-blooded killer looking for its next victim but rather a mother providing food resources to its young.

Darwin, however introduces, the struggle among instincts, particularly in humans (de Waal, 2006). For instance, we value egalitarianism and unification but establish highly hierarchical societies, prioritizing our instincts of rivalry against those of sociability. Darwin’s ideas diverge slightly from that of de Waal’s in his discussion of human nature as the constant struggle between conflicting instincts (de Waal, 2006). Darwin’s argument is that our sympathy, unlike animals, does not come as readily and is highly subject to our environment, peers, and rational thought (de Waal, 2006). If anything, Darwin knocks humans down a peg by revealing that humanity is not all pure; we are driven by an element of self-preservation behind the veil of sympathy.

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In this interpretation, we are placed in a more negative light; in spite of our intellect, de Waal’s views on human nature are much more optimistic in that he believes we always have the best intentions at heart. We are not the “cruel and pitiless creatures” Huxley makes us out to be; rather we are Russian dolls (de Waal, 2006).This metaphor indicates that if we keep stripping ourselves down we will find the more simplistic, impulsive “emotional contagion” at the crux of all humanoids (de Waal, 2006). For this reason, de Waal recognizes the idea of sympathy yet dissociates it from the evolution of moralization, instead stating it brings “animal altruism much closer to that of humans” (de Waal, 2006). According to de Waal, empathy is a capacity that is conducive to morality, though empathy does not always imply morality.

In de Waal’s perspective, emotion and fairness, sub spheres of empathy, are “prerequisites” to the practice of morality (de Waal, 2006). Moral emotions are mostly based on abstract, intangible “gut feelings” with no calculated rationale or influence from the environment (de Waal, 2006). A case in point is when, during a funeral, we comfort someone suffering from the pain of loss. Our social instincts are activated and we are subject to “emotional contagion” (de Waal, 2006). Under this term, our emotions are not our own, our free will is compromised, and we turn into clannish entities like a herd of deer frightened by a fox. Our moral emotions in response to specific stimuli (like the funeral example) become both a depiction of our character and a constituent of our moral senses. The human and animal races are both displayed as interdependent societies with patterned behaviors, giving truth to the aphorism “no man is an island.” 

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Exploring the Relationship between Instinct and Social Pressure. (2023, Mar 21). Retrieved from https://papersowl.com/examples/exploring-the-relationship-between-instinct-and-social-pressure/