Are Humans Inherently Good? I say YES.

Opinions on Debatable Issues #28

Are humans inherently good? This age-old question has been bothering and intriguing us for centuries. Some believe there is a seed of evil in humanity and that only through laws and social order people can live in peace and safety. Others contend that humans are good when we are born, but external factors such as education, childhood experiences, and circumstances force us to make bad decisions. I think the latter argument has more merits. 

Are Humans Naturally Good or Bad? - Smithsonian Associates
Smithsonian Associates

According to, “inherently” is an adverb that describes a natural, necessary, or inseparable element or quality. “Good” describes characters that often have traits like integrity, honesty, courage, loyalty, fortitude, and other important virtues that promote good behavior. Therefore, “humans are inherently good” refers to humanity having virtuous intrinsic characteristics. 

Evidence shows that people do good things out of natural instincts. According to Scientific American, a developmental psychologist, a moral philosopher-turned-psychologist, and a biologist mathematician from Harvard and Yale examined whether humans’ automatic impulse—our first instinct—is to act selfishly or cooperatively, which means opting to maximize group benefits at the cost of the individual rather than the other way around. In total, a nationwide sample of 835 participants was recruited to perform 5 studies. The result shows that in every single study, the more intuitive decisions were associated with higher levels of cooperation. This shows that humans’ natural instinct is to do things that are beneficial to society and others, even it might cost self-interest. The additional finding that reflective decisions, which are made consciously and rationally based on perception and reasoning, are associated with higher levels of selfishness demonstrates humans are conditioned by social norms to be selfish or deceitful. Thus, people do disappointing, cruel, or self-centered things not because they are inherently bad, but because they are influenced by social pressures, such as injustices, inequalities, and competitions. 

9 Reasons Why Humans Are Inherently Good - Goodnet

Humans are inherently good. This is not a truth that is hard to comprehend if we consider what makes ”evil” actions happen. We can explain all the bad and evil actions with external influences. Arrogance results from the superior feeling shaped by social stereotypes; Deception is done out of fear or greed; Greed stems from the materialistic and consumeristic culture; Ego is based on unrealistic self-perception; Envy occurs when society defines certain things as desirable; Hatred is the outcomes of conflicts and pain. All those bad characteristics are not what people are born with. And the existence of guiltiness and bad feelings is evidence that we are inherently good. Because we know that things such as lying and bullying are bad and are against our nature, we feel sorry and have remorse. 

Yale University’s Infant Cognition Center, or baby lab, found babies younger than one would play with kind puppets rather than rude puppies. They also like the puppy that punishes unkind puppets. Since the results show babies favor kind puppies disproportionately, humans are very likely to be inherently good. This study result also reveals that humans are not born neutral because if humans are neutral, then babies would not e able to choose between kind and mean puppies or the two puppies would have been chosen with similar probability. “We are naturally moral beings, but our environment can enhance – or sadly, degrade – this innate moral sense,” according to Paul Bloom, Yale’s Brooks and Suzanne Ragen Professor of psychology. That means even when the environment induces bad decisions, the moral goodness of humanity is still innate. Though it might be degraded, it is still here. 

Video Quiz: Do babies see good and evil? - CNN Video

Many argue that wars and political conflicts, as well as colonization and imperialization, show humans are inherently evil. However, I agree with Jean-Jacques Rousseau, an 18th-century philosopher, on that it didn’t have to be this way” and “it wasn’t always so”. According to AIA News, he used “travelers’ reports of indigenous American peoples” to show that “humans could live a peaceful and fulfilling life, bound together by communal sentiments which kept our competitive and egoistic desires in check.” It is modern society’s private property, economic interdependence, and inequality that turned strong communal social bonds into competitions and boundaries.

Man is naturally good
University of Idaho

Another evidence that shows human nature is not full of greed or ego is people’s insatiable desire for possessions. This might sound counterintuitive. But let me explain. The rise of consumerism makes people buy things no longer on a need basis. Many pursue wealth and frame. Many studies have shown that people with more money and fame are not happier than normal people. A writer for Insider interviewed 21 self-made billionaires and found that money doesn’t change your ability to be happy. This is because greediness for luxury, entertainment, or money is incompatible with human nature, which, in actuality, pursues sustainable happiness from doing good things. Studies found that good family and relationships, meaningful work, and positive thinking make people happy, according to Joyful Days. Therefore, humanity has to be inherently good because doing virtuous behaviors make us happy and satisfied. It should be emphasized that being inherently good does not mean people cannot make bad decisions. 

The Insatiable Consumer • Die Bärliner
Die Barliner – Bard College

Some critiques point to robbers, killers, gangsters who do not feel bad for hurting others. However, according to Psychology Today, a lack of guilt and remorse is one characteristic that experts have used to diagnose psychopathy. Therefore, they cannot be considered normal people. Also, those kinds of psychological illnesses are likely caused by external factors like child abuse or bullying. Thus, they are exceptions that are invalid to prove all humans are inherently evil.

When discussing this issue with my sister, she points out that people know killing animals is bad but we still eat meat and that makes us inherently evil. I concede that killing animals is cruel. However, it is also true that humans are biologically coded to desire meat for survival. It is a physical need, rather than about moral instinct. Another person told me that wars take place because humans have an evil side. However, war is actually “a culturally learned practice, a form of collective violence rather than a manifestation of an individual-level aggressive instinct”, as Denis Bašić, an Affiliated Lecturer at the Jackson School of International Studies, argues. Individuals do not want to fight another nation randomly because killing others makes them happy. They are always driven by nationalism or other sentiments evoked by propaganda and yellow journalism.

In short, average people are born with an innate sense of good and bad and tend to favor the former. Though circumstances and the system/society we are born into are often oppressive and nurture selfishness and material obsession, it is absolutely necessary and legit to remain hopeful of humanity.

Breaking news: People are inherently good, nonviolent - CNN


Check out the other Opinions on Debatable Issues:

-Helicopter Parenting v. Free-Range Parenting: Which is better?

-On the whole, peer youth juries in schools are not effective towards helping juvenile delinquents.

-Iligalize Corporal punishment of minors in all homes and schools in America!

– Presidents should be allowed only 16 executive orders and 10 pardons in a term.

-The World Needs the International Monetary Fund.


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