link: American Constitution                                                                                                        

                                   PHILOSOPHY OF THE AMERICAN CONSTITUTION:

                                        A DICHOTOMOUS VIEW OF HUMAN NATURE

 

theme: Education in context of cultural beliefs... cultural values... 'cultural context'. American education in context of dichotomous view of human nature as reflected in the American Constitution. Philosophy of the Constitution: balanced government is required to control people's freedom to pursue their self-interest.

 "From a humanistic standpoint there is a serious dilemma in the philosophy of the Fathers, which derives from their conception of man. They thought man was a  creature of rapacious self-interest, and yet they wanted him to be free -  (Photo: Dr.Martin Luther King)  free in essence, to contend, to engage in an umpired strife, to use property to get property. They accepted the mercantile image of life as an eternal battleground, and assumed the Hobbesian war of each against all; they did not propose to put an end to this war, but merely to stabilize it and make it less murderous. They had no hope and they offered none for any ultimate organic change in the way men conduct themselves. The result was that while they thought self-interest the most dangerous and unbrookable quality of man, they necessarily underwrote it in trying to control it. They succeeded in both respects: under the competitive capitalism of the nineteenth century America continued to be an arena for various grasping and contending interests, and the federal government continued to provide a stable and acceptable medium within which they could contend; further it usually showed the wholesome bias on behalf of property which the Fathers expected. But no man who is as well abreast of modern science as the Fathers were of eighteenth science, believes any longer in unchanging human nature. Modern humanistic thinkers who seek for a means by which society may transcend eternal conflict and rigid adherence to property rights as its integrating principles can expect no answer in the philosophy of balanced governmment as it was set down by the Constitution-makers of 1787". (Richard Hofstadter 'The Founding Fathers: An Age of Realism' in Horowitz, R.H. (Ed) The Moral Foundations of the American Republic. Charlottesville, VA: University Press of Oceania 1986 p. 73)

internal logic of the constitution is built on false premise concerning human nature...

         balanced government to curb self-interest...

         confusion about moral education...

 nineteenth century...

        humanistic thinkers...      holistic perception of human nature... 

implications for education...  

Internal logic of the Constitution is based on a false premise: ego-centric self-interest as characteristic of human nature (dichotomus view) The value system of the American nation was founded on the ideas of John Locke.

 "Hobbes and Locke refuted Descartes' concept of innate ideas and maintained that there was nothing in the mind that was not first in the senses. At birth, the human mind was, in Locke's famous phrase, a 'tabula rasa', a blank tablet upon which ideas were imprinted through sensory perceptions. This notion served as the starting point for the mechanistic theory of knowledge, in which sensations were the basic elements of the mental realm and were combined into more complex structures by the process of association." 67)  Applying Newtonian mechanics to the sciences of human nature and human society, "Locke developed an atomistic view of society, describing it in terms of its basic building block, the human being. ...he attempted to reduce the patterns observed in society to the behavior of its individuals. (69) ...Locke's analysis of human behavior was based on that of an earlier philosopher, Thomas Hobbes, who had declared that all knowledge was based on sensory perception. ...Locke compared the human mind at birth to a 'tabula rasa', a completely blank tablet on which knowledge is printed once it is acquired through sensory experience.... the mind is like a blank page and experience writes on it... According to Locke, 'natural laws ' were those which existed before any government was formed. Natural laws included the freedom and equality of all individuals as well as the right to property, which represented the fruit of one's labor. Locke's ideas became the basis for the value system of the Enlightenment and had a strong influence on the develoment of modern economic and political thought. The ideals of individualism, property rights, free markets, and representative government, all of which can be traced back to Locke, contributed significantly to the thinking of Thomas Jefferson and are reflected in the Declaration of Independence and the American Constitution.(Capra The Turning Point)

Locke's ideas contributed significantly to the thinking of Thomas Jefferson and are reflected in the Declaration of Independence and the American Constitution of 1787.

The internal logic of the Constitution is based on the false premise which is inherent in a dichotomous perception of the nature of the human personality or 'human nature'...

The values of the eighteenth century Enlightenment had a profound influence on the development of modern economic and political thought.

The makers of the Constitution - the American 'founding fathers' -  envisioned a humane and democratic society which was attainable through a rational understanding of human nature ... In spite of the more optimistic view of human nature the founding fathers adopted the view of Thomas Hobbes that the human being is a naturally dangerous 'creature of rapacious self-interest'. Hobbes invented the notion of 'social Darwinism'. They believed that even so in accordance with natural 'laws', all human individuals have an equal 'natural right'... they should have the 'freedom' to engage in .... to contend and to fight in the battle... supervised conflict... to use property to get more property... of 'competitive capitalism'.

All individuals should have the 'natural right' to be free to engage in competition. Furthermore they believed that the natural human rights to this kind of 'freedom' and 'equality' were 'unalienable God-given rights' but that they should be subject to control.

American Constitution is based on the philosophy of balanced federal government to control freedom  With a natural rights philosophy to accomodate their dichotomous view of human nature, the makers of the Constitution founded a 'balanced federal government' with a bias for property... The purpose was to provide a stable medium within which individuals could compete for property with property..;  They accepted the Hobbesian war of each against all and assumed that life was an endless battleground. They did not propose  or even hope to put an end to this war. They only wanted to stabilize it and keep it under control. They offered no hope for any ultimate organic change in human behaviour. They made no provisions for people who were able to change their behaviour. As a result, even though they thought that self-interest was a very dangerous aspect of human behaviour, in trying to control it they necessarily supported it. They were able to succeed on both counts. as a means to compensate for the right of every human individual to pursue their needs of 'rapacious self-interest' ... describes the characterisic motivation by deficiency of human needs for security and self-esteem - the 'ego needs'... 'deficit-motivation'. Deficit motivation is not to be confused with the natural yearnings of human nature for the value-life... metamotivation for self-realisation or 'self-actualisation'... Self-actualisation depends on freedom as 'freedom of conscience' or 'true freedom'... 'inner freedom'.

 The dichotomous view of human nature is the source of confusion about 'moral education' ... see 'problem of ethics' in the 'traditional paradigm'... 'moral development' in terms of 'sociocognitive stages' in the 'holistic paradigm'..

They advocated their 'natural rights philosophy' together with a system of checks and balances as the basis for the Constitution.

Nineteenth century  During the nineteenth century, the American nation continued to operate in the framework of competitive capitalism. The federal government continued to provide a stable and acceptable medium within which the various grasping and contending interests could contend. Furthermore it usually showed the bias for property which was predicted by the founding fathers.

Modern humanistic thinkers are looking for ways to transcend the endless conflict and the rigid adherence to property rights as integrating principles in the philosophy of balanced government as it was set down in 1787 by the makers of the American Constitution. The false notion of freedom as pursuit of self-centered self-interest... ambitions, leisures... leads to disorder, confusion, conflict which need to be resolved with laws and restrictions to limit the damage. As a result nobody is free because everybody’s life is circumscribed by the negative consequences of everyone else pursuing self-interest. It is people’s desires and images... a product of their conditioning... which are motivating them and such motivation is the expression of the lack of freedom... not liberating.

 Holistic perception of human nature  From the standpoint of a 'holistic perception' of the human individual, there is a serious dilemma in the philosophy of the Constitution which is derived from the dichotomous perception of human nature.

 Implications for education  Human nature is potentially good. The actualisation of the potential for goodness is 'self-actualisation. Self-actualisation is a function of development of moral consciousness or 'conscience'. Development of conscience depends on education which provides the right conditions for growth education i.e. education for the whole person or 'holistic education'. The absence of right conditions for growth results in 'neurotic development' or 'neurosis'. Neurosis is the source of destructive behaviour (including 'rapacious self-interest') i.e. human wickedness or 'evil'.

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References:

Capra, Fritjof. The Turning Point

 Hofstadter, Richard. 'The Founding Fathers: An Age of Realism' in Horowitz, R.H. (Ed) The Moral Foundations of the American Republic. Charlottesville, VA: University Press of Oceania 1986