In the history of humanity, there were numerous questions the most brilliant scholars of all times were trying to answer. Among the most complicated and substantial questions was an issue of human nature, its origin and developmental implications. With each epoch, answers were becoming more and more diverse. Subsequently, in each epoch there were people who tried to summarize collected knowledge. In this context, the main aim of the current essay is to compare two theories of human nature. In this context, approaches of Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud are explored in respect to philosophers’ intelligence and far-reaching interpretation of human nature.
Contrasting of Marx and Freud, it is crucial to emphasis that both philosophers used the same theoretical basis for their theories but interpreted them in different manners. Both of them were materialists, determinists, religious skeptics and believed that science was the only thing to explain human existence in this world (Stevenson, 163). At this point, they went their own ways even in interpreting concepts mentioned above. In order to cut the long story short, from my personal perspective, Freud was smarter and thorough in his investigation of the topic. In the next paragraphs, I will explain why.
First of all, Marx’s comprehension of human nature through the mental activity was based on an ideological perception of society rather than on comprehension of an individual in that society (Stevenson, 174). In this context, he considered that all activities of human individuals are dictated by the structure of society, in which they lived. Although such approach would explain modes of behavior of people living in liberal democracies and totalitarian states, it would inevitably fail to explain why people equally struggle for freedom and equality of rights in both societies irrespective of political traditions (Baum, 67). Another failure, in this context, is that if all acts of an individual are socially conditioned and area actually social acts, then all members of society would have to be the same; thus, in such interpretations no place for individuality, genius, talent would be left. This, in its turn, contradicted with Marx’s idea that each individual had a talent for a certain productive activity (Stevenson, 171). Thus, his theory was self-rejecting.
On the other hand, the main strength of Freud’s approach was that he was not choosing between individual or social nature of human existence, he was studying the interconnection between an individual and the impact society had on his/hers development. Unlike Marx, Freud’s exploration of human nature was integral and all-inclusive. His philosophy of interconnectivity of surrounding environment and individual’s development were more critical and realistic than ideological struggle of social masses suggested by Marx (Stevenson, 165). Freud suggested the concept of psychosexual development of an individual, meaning that relationship with parents and surrounding environment in the early stages of human development result in further life activity of an adult (Baum, 69). From the perspective of philosophical dichotomy “idealist – realist”, Freud was more realistic than Marx mainly because he was not looking for the origins of human nature in social structures or productive conditionality of the past epochs like Marx did. Freud philosophy is individual-centric, while Marx’s society-centric (Stevenson, 173). While Marx seems to answer all the global tendencies of human development, Freud modestly suggested that the corner stone of human nature is combination of primeval/animal instincts, self-perception and social impact (Baum, 75). Thus, Freud used logical induction for his perception of human diagnosis as lack of harmony between three dimensions of human psyche. On the other hand, Marx was rushing from one topic to another without logical argumentation on their interconnectivity.
While Marx considered the main problem of humanity to be alienation of an individual from himself and nature, he could not really emphasize the essence of that alienation. In his argumentations, the source of an individual was society and society was made of individuals. He was letting out the natural factor of human development – human instincts of survival and sexuality. In Marx’s perception, nature was meant as an ideal human society where all individuals could use their talents (Baum, 73). In all his vague argumentations, he failed to explain human nature. On the other hand, Freud did not only explain human nature and reasons for certain patterns of human behavior; he applied his philosophy in practical treatments of traumas and neurotic states, while Marx was fighting against capitalism through the social rule without explaining human nature.
My personal attitude is that Freud was right in his philosophy of psychoanalysis and approach to the exploration of human nature. One cannot explain problems of society and humanity, when an individual, as building element of both, is not studied and entirely understood. I also agree that a human being and humanity are driven by integrity of conflicting strengths like animalistic desires for power, self-estimation and satisfaction of sexual pleasure; personal, logical self-comprehension and social perception of an individual and appropriateness of his behavior. Thus, I entirely agree with Freud that comprehension of society and humanity starts from self-awareness and self-knowledge. No one can tell an individual what is the best for him and how he should evolve unless he understands that. On the other hand, there is another reason why I prefer Freudian philosophy to Marxist one – I am an individualist and I believe in people’s diversity and uniqueness of existence. Thus, the idea of commonness and identical human beings reminds me of dull and colorless world, which in reality is bright and diverse. Although we all have common features of human beings, we also have our own diversity and ways to cope with personal demons of id. I think that among all theories of human nature, psychoanalysis was the most critical and realist one.
Baum, R.F. Doctors of modernity: Darwin, Marx, Freud. Chicago, IL: Open Court. 1999.
Stevenson, L. Ten Theories of Human Nature. 3rd Ed. Oxford, OX: Oxford University Press.