Human Nature

Written by: Published by:
Copyright holder:
Posted on:
Sir Grafton Elliot Smith
Sir Grafton Elliot Smith (1871 – 1937)
Leonard Huxley
Dr. Leonard Huxley (1860 – 1933)
Conway Memorial Lecture
Conway Memorial Lecture
Moncure Conway photo by Edward Steichen, 1907. Courtesy of Dickinson College.
Moncure Conway photo by Edward Steichen, 1907. Courtesy of Dickinson College.
Delivered at South Place Institute 17 March 1927. Chaired by Leonard Huxley and presented by Sir G. Elliot Smith.
Abstract

As modern knowledge of primitive peoples shows, man is basically peace-loving and generous, when free of incentives to aggression. Nature and environment are as important as nature in moulding personality and behaviour. The predominant peacefulness and co-operativeness of early man, in hunter-gatherer societies, are reflected in ancient beliefs about a golden age which was subsequently destroyed by the growth of social complexity. History shows that people became aggressive only in reaction to aggression by others, and because of the growth of agriculture, class divisions and authority-structures.

However, these facts do not mean that man, having become civilised and adapted to a complex way of life, can renounce complexity and return to a state of primordial simplicity. The key point about civilisation is that it should be guided by wise individuals. Under such guidance, it should re-awaken the capacities for geniality and mutuality which primitive societies displayed, so that these qualities can flourish under modern social conditions.

Share this