The Question of Human Nature

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The question of human nature is a topic that has polarized mankind for centuries. The desire to understand human nature is the desire to understand the essence of what it means to be human. So what underlying themes are common to all man? Are humans simply intellectually elevated animals that are motivated solely by unconscious primitive instincts or are human beings capable of possessing higher level drives like maturity, social adjustment, independence, and productivity (Rogers, 1946)? Freud opted for an evolutionary view, believing that humans are inherently aggressive and dominated by unconscious urges that must be forcibly tamed through repression in order to adapt to modern society.

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Rogers however, held a more optimistic view that while yes, there are unconscious elements to the mind, they are more easily accessible than Freud believed. Additionally, humans are not only capable of, but desire to experience psychological growth and maturity (Rogers, 1946). An added point of contention is whether or not we are just a summation of our past experiences. Freud argued that will power or the desire to overcome our traumas was nothing more than repression finally being set free (Freud, 1917). While Rogers believed that individuals are more than their unconscious desires and that within them resides growth forces and a tendency toward self-actualization that alone can motivate a human (Rogers, 1946). This paper seeks to compare and contrast each theorist’s views on human nature in regards to the unconscious,methods of accessing the unconscious, and drives.

The two psychologists were in agreement on the existence of the unconscious mind. However, Freud believed that the unconscious mind was largely motivated by sexual forces and desire for pleasure that have over time become repressed and the only way to achieve catharsis is to trace back into the patient’s past history and bring those repressions to conscious thought (Freud, 1917). Rogers’ view on the unconscious was not rooted in sexual forces, rather he believed humans are equally influenced by all experiences to which they are exposed (Rogers, 1946).

Both men agreed that the repressed unconscious must be brought to the surface in order to experience growth and relief of psychological stress. But a method on how to effectively unleash the unconscious was a concept of opposition. In psychoanalysis, treatment is very much therapist focused. The therapist maintains control over the session and provides insight, guides the client through making choices, and instructs them on how to handle difficult occurrences. Very little autonomy was given to the patient because Freud believed that most humans are lazy and unintelligent and must be led by an atypically competent human that was superior to them (Freud, 1930). Rogers held that therapy must be client-centered and that there are constructive forces within the patient that can be trusted to guide the client through repressed thoughts (Rogers, 1946). Full confidence must be placed unto the individual because Rogers felt that motivations of greater complexity than pleasure can and will prompt recovery. Psychoanalysis claims that the therapist knows best and they alone should receive credit for the patients’ recovery. Client-centered therapy states that the expert must merely provide an empathetic space where the client feels comfortable enough to access these dangerous and painful repressions. There should be no probing, advice, or interpretation given on part of the therapist (Rogers, 1946). This allows the client the sole responsibility of navigating their own experiences and attitudes and accepting them. Once accepted, only then may the client, on their own accord, choose new behaviors that are more constructive than the previous ones.

The amount of faith these two psychologists put into the human species is perhaps the most telling of their starkly contrasting views on human nature. Freud believed that more intellectually stimulating tasks -those not associated with pleasure or instinct- such as art or science, are prestigious and only a few people are capable of such a capacity (Freud, 1930). But the intensity of satisfaction from these activities is mild compared to the satisfaction received from engaging in our inherent instincts. Freud adamantly believed that men are not gentle creatures rather they are aggressive and under the right circumstances could unleash savagery upon their fellow man with consideration and compassion becoming foreign traits. He thought society would permanently be on the brink of collapse because primitive drives are stronger than rationality and reason (Freud, 1930). Clearly bleak in his views, Rogers took a vastly different approach proposing that while humans are subject to instinct, they also possess creative and integrative capabilities that can overpower primordial urges (Rogers, 1946). He also thought that all, not just a select few, were fit to have goals of self-actualization. He deduced that humans are capable of achieving emotional intelligence, exhibiting self control, and are in command of their own minds.

In pursuit of understanding who we are, many have theorized about human nature. What exactly it is, what the implications are, or if it even exists at all. Rogers theory is a more favorable approach that has endured to modern society, while Freud’s reductionist approach is limited in scope and not sustainable in the contemporary era. Rogers’ ideas do not focus on a narrow definition of human nature like Freud’s focal surmise about sexuality and aggression as the dominating human motivations. Freud’s psychoanalysis method places the therapist in control of the session, enabling the client to fall to their manipulations and influence. Instead Rogers speaks on the importance of client-centered therapy that allows the individual to come to conclusions autonomously and decide for themselves a solution to their trials. Lastly, the abstraction of pleasure alone is a much too simple answer for the question of a human life’s purpose. In contrast Rogers, believes in a person’s ability to find purpose externally and understands that humans have free will, a desire for improvement, and needs other than those of carnal nature. Though Freud’s theory is influential and interesting, he fails to account for reason and our ability to think critically. Collectively most of society is proud to say that there simply is more to us than animalistic tendencies. These higher order functions is what makes us unique as a species. Not all is yet know about human nature, but part of being human is the simultaneous acceptance of the unknown and the desire to forge past it.

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The Question of Human Nature. (2019, Jul 23). Retrieved from