Socrates Exchange: Are human beings violent by nature?

Jan 10, 2011

When we look at the nightly news or study history we might easily come to this conclusion. We have armies and police forces, lawyers and judges, in order to protect us from each other. Is all of this violence a result of something inherent in human nature or the human condition? Or is violence exacerbated by society, for example through violent entertainment or by encouraging competition in all aspects of life? Is it possible to imagine a world without violence? But, is violence always a bad thing? Think of all the examples where it seems that violence was instrumental in bringing about something positive: the American Revolution, the Civil War, or the Allied fight against the Nazis. On the other hand, would we be better off following the example of individuals like Jesus, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King Jr., and practicing non-violence? In order to settle these questions it may be necessary to get a clear view of what we are talking about when we discuss violence. Can we define what we mean by violence?


  • Ed McGushin, professor of philosophy at St. Anselm College