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Tuesday, December 9, 2014

On the perfectibility of human nature

It is time, on this view, that envelops everything else. It is the only feature of nature that enjoys absolutely the attribute of non-emergence.”

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Everything about the universe changes, evolves or emerges in time. Even the characteristics of changes change in time. And so do constructs of the mind (such as mathematics), as well as the laws of nature (as we presently intuit and deduce them). The single exception to universal change in time — is time itself.

Hence, "perfectibility" as a goal can be approached in principle to arbitrary precision — in time. But depending on the target of our ambition, the approach to its perfection may take any amount of time, from one Planck time up to the entire lifetime of the universe at its heat death, or in the event it changes into another form of universe in time.

Let's consider a thought experiment. Suppose we had an acceptable measure for the "purity of human kindness" (PHK), and the means to assess the appropriate PHK value for each individual now living and for all those who have lived during the past century. I assume that such a multitude of individuals (let's say ten billion humans) would display a range of PHK values. At one extreme we would group the likes of Mother Teresa. The opposite extreme would harbor monsters like Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Saddam, and others equally grotesque.

If we plotted this population of PHK values with respect to coordinate axes for the number of humans as a function of their PHK value-interval, we would visualize some form of a bell-shaped histogram, with Mother Teresa at the extreme tail of saintly beings, and at the opposite tail the monsters of humanity. The average Joe Sixpack would appear somewhere within the centrally located broad peak of the distribution.

With this lengthy introduction, I now turn to my main point of this post: How likely is it that human nature, which we both love and abhor, can be perfected within the lifetime of any organized society? Based on the available historical record, I don't believe there has ever been (to date, of course) an observable change in human nature, let alone a change for the better, which latter would be displayed as a skewing of our above-described plot in the direction of Mother Teresa.

So what can we surmise about the chances that any group of self-appointed individuals (even if all of them were on par with the likes of Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, et al.) could establish some form of utopia via centrally devised and promulgated policies (with the understanding that any such worldview relies unambiguously on the perfectibility of human nature)? I assert the chances are slim to vanishingly small.

Alternatively, we have in America a framework for societal organization that comprises: the rule of laws (stemming from a Constitutional social contract, which is amendable but not whimsically so); a tripartite representative government; the concept of personal property; and a free market economy. This framing was accomplished by a group of geniuses who by and large must have known implicitly that a utopia based on the hoped for perfectibility of human nature was a non-starter. There has been much historical evidence that the Framers were right. And there has been much more evidence that the so-called "perfectibility utopians" ushered in hellish monstrosities, without exception.
Post 2,490 On the perfectibility of human nature


  1. An interesting thought experiment, TBH.

    Tangentially pertinent to your question is the related question as to what combination of traits would equal perfection.

    Jeffery Hodges

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    1. Without meaning to sound flippant, I would say the combination of traits exemplified by the Saintly Mother Teresa or even the Omnibenevolent Jesus Christ. Those traits that emphasize what decent people the world over consider to be in accordance with the Golden Rule (along with all of its explicit and implicit corollaries): Do onto others as you would have others do onto you. Or, if you prefer it, Judaism's version: Do not do onto others that which you would not have others do onto you.

  2. I agree with you.

    Jeffery Hodges

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