Philosophers, politicians, and writers throughout all of the western world and
across all of our written history have discovered the importance of knowing human nature. Human nature is responsible for our definitions of abstract concepts that are surprisingly universal across the western world like justice, equity, and law. Human nature must also be carefully studied in an effort to understand, obtain, or maintain power within society. Finally, human nature must also be carefully understood so as to protect it from being manipulated and to understand its place in society.
In ancient Greece, Aeschylus sought to define for the people of Athens the part of
human nature that necessitates justice and power. At the end of his series of plays in the Oresteia, Aeschylus tells the story of Orestes and the progression of justice. The final play, The Eumenides, ends with a struggle between different definitions of justice. Orestes is a youth charged with matricide which is punishable by death according to the Furies and the traditional method of restoring equity. Athena, however, offers a form of justice that considers the context of a person’s actions when restoring equity. In the case of Orestes, the context of his case is the guidance given to him by Apollo and the wrongs that he had suffered as a result of his mother, Clytaemestra. Athena’s understanding of human nature is that the ideas of compassion and empathy coexist with the concept of justice in the minds of most people. As a result, Athena establishes a jury comprised of the peers of Orestes so that they may judge him with understanding for both the context of Orestes’s actions and the need for justice for the death of Cl...
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...ssful and that followers must be taught to fear their ruler in order to be judged good citizens. Even Aeschylus wrote that humans must fear a higher power and order for them to act righteously. Finally, Hannah Arendt writes that the ability for human nature to be manipulated in an effort to spread hypocrisy leads to destruction. Because all applications of justice begin with human nature and ideals that are supposed common to all people, human nature must be constantly studied in order to gain a better understanding of justice, law, and power.
Aeschylus. Oresteia. Chicago: U of Chicago, 1953.
Arendt, Hannah. The Portable Hannah Arendt. New York: Penguin, 2000.
Machiavelli, Niccolo. The Prince. Indianapolis: Hackett, 1995.
Somerville, John and Ronald E. Santoni. Social and Political Philosophy. New York: Anchor Books, 1963.
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