Are we all naturally good?

In these times of massacres, attacks, wars and tragic news, ensuring the preeminence of goodness in man sounds like a provocation. To the psychologist Jacques Lecomte, who supports this thesis, answer a psychoanalyst and two philosophers.

Christilla Pellé-Douël

"The human being has potential for goodness as well as for cruelty, beside potentially aggressive tendencies (which I do not seek to deny) are present, and more importantly , tendencies to empathy, to altruism, to cooperation. " Such a statement today has something to surprise! Yet this is the thesis defended Jacques Lecomte, doctor in psychology, in Human Goodness .

Difficult at first glance to adhere to it: how not to immediately have in mind the recent attacks, the genocides, Cambodia in Rwanda, the extermination of the Jews, the refinement of sadism and cruelty, the imagination without limits to inflict suffering on others? How can one speak of kindness naturally present in men when it suffices to observe a playground, where humiliations and malice are exercised to the full?

How can one not bear in mind Darwin's work on the survival of species, or Konrad Lorenz's on the natural history of evil? How can one ignore Freudian theories on the impulses of life and death, or the analysis of the philosopher Hannah Arendt about the banality of evil? One could thus accumulate the examples of spontaneous violence, of desire to make suffer ...

The return of Rousseau

And yet, Jacques Lecomte is not the only one to make emerge the idea - Rousseauist -, supported on psychological and behavioral studies - such as Douglas Fry's 2005 ( The Human Potential for Peace , Oxford University Press, 2005), the fundamental presence of altruism and empathy in humans. The whole current of positive psychology and authors such as the doctor and psychotherapist Thierry Janssen go in this direction. It would be comforting to opt for this hypothesis. But is it possible?

"Yes, violence is a default answer"

Jacques Lecomte, PhD in Psychology

"The binary opposition between good and evil is excessive, and the human being has potential for both. But the potential for kindness and empathy is more important than the other way around.Studies have shown that babies who are just starting to walk, as young as 1 year old, can spontaneously help adults in difficulty to open Neurobiology shows that there are brain areas of satisfaction and reward that are activated when one is generous.

Conversely, areas of disgust and dislike are when we face an injustice. Mirror neurons make us feel pain in others. On this substratum come education, environment, culture. In human relations, violence is only a default attitude.

If one examines the war, the thesis that it is spontaneous for men is defeated. There is a real repugnance to killing in humans, and if it does, it usually leads to guilt. Hence the use of conditioning, training, drugs, alcohol, submission to authority to obtain violence.

What exists is the taste for action and the search for sensations, tendencies often associated with violence. It can be observed through video games: if we offer to young addicts games as active and full of sensations, but not violent, their satisfaction is equivalent or superior.

Yes, the taste for pure violence exists, but it affects only one or two percent of the population, among sociopaths. Man is not a wolf for man. "

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