Athenian View of Human Nature

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The course of history has shown that during times of confusion or disaster, people's true human nature emerges. Unlike the view of Gandhi, in these moments humans behave violently and are concerned with self-interest, supporting the Athenian's view of human motivation. In the History of the Peloponnesian War, Thucydides gives ample support of this view of human nature. Generally regarded as one of the first true historians, he wanted to view the world as it really was and firmly insisted on sticking to the facts. Thucydides subjected human nature to an extremely cold and reductive analysis, which could be regarded as pessimism, but he considered to be realism. Generally people want to maintain a positive self-concept of themselves which causes them to agree with the overly idealistic views of human nature, such as that presented by Gandhi. The Athenians held the belief that the three motives for human nature are security, honor, and self-interest, and these cause people to be inherently violent. When there is a breakdown of law and order, a state of unprecedented lawlessness occurs and during the confusion, people's values revert to a barbaric state. Gandhi, on the other hand, believed that humans act violently as a result of a war or disaster, but that their true human nature compels them to be peaceful. In other words, humans only act violently when provoked and when it is necessary for survival. Yet, the Athenians show that people become wild and violent during times of confusion, because their true human nature is allowed to emerge. "Then, with the ordinary conventions of civilized life thrown into confusion, human nature, always ready to offend even where laws exist, showed itself proudly in its true colors, as something incapable of controlling passion, insubordinate to the idea of justice, the enemy to anything superior to itself…" (p. 245) During the Peloponnesian War, Athens was struck by the plague, which caused widespread chaos and confusion. The...
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