Editor's comment

In some respects, Freud's picture of human nature is more devastating to human self-esteem than Darwin's theory of a common ancestor of apes and humans.

Humans are animals with inborn biological "drives" for sex and aggression. Every person is subject to unconscious mental processes that are capable of influencing behavior. Freud changed the view of human nature from that of a rational being to a complex animal of primitive urges, desires and emotional preferences barely kept under control by peer pressure and the repression of society.

The unconscious is such an important part of one's existence that to follow the philosophical injunction and really "know thyself" is not possible.


Freud, Sigmund, Excerpts from his writings
(sources The Nature of Man; ed Fromm and The Idea of Man; Matson) [abstract– 340 words]— the essence of human nature

The deepest essence of human nature consists of self-preservation, aggression, need for love, and the impulse to attain pleasure and avoid pain.

It may be difficult, for many of us to abandon the belief that there is an instinct toward moral and intellectual perfection in human beings. I have no faith, however, in the existence of any such internal instinct and I cannot see how this benevolent illusion is to be preserved.

The development of human beings requires no different explanation from that of animals.

In human beings the tendency to aggression is an innate, independent, instinctual disposition and this opposes civilized behavior. There is hostility of each one against all and of all against each one. As a result, a fellow human being is not only a potential helper or sexual object, but also someone who tempts them to satisfy their aggressiveness on him, to humiliate him, even to cause him pain and to kill him. Homo homini lupus. (Man is a wolf to man.)

The mass of people are lazy and unintelligent. The give up their instinctual behaviors only through the influence and example of their leaders and fear of punishment rather than through reason.

Civilization’s unceasing suppression of instinct results in tensions that betray themselves in the most remarkable phenomena of reaction and compensation. In the domain of sexuality, where such suppression is most difficult to carry out, the result is seen in the reactive phenomena of neurotic disorders.

The fateful question for the human species seems to me to be whether and to what extent their cultural development will succeed in mastering the disturbance of their communal life by the human instinct of aggression and self-destruction.

Man's intellect is almost powerless in comparison with his instinctual life. The voice of the intellect is a soft one, nevertheless it does not rest until it has gained a hearing. This is one of the few points on which one may be optimistic about the future of mankind, but it is in itself a point of no small importance.