By Veronica Emilia Nuzzolo,  Ph.D., CADC

good versus evilThe sixteenth century Puritan belief of original sin, the ideology that children are born evil and need to be civilized through harsh punishment and authoritative parental control,,

“Tabula Rasa” “blank slates,” Philosopher John Locke’s opposition to authoritarianism, the concept that human characteristics are attained through learning,,

Jean Jacques Rousseau, innate goodness, the rejection of Puritan belief, the rejection of Locke’s theories, the concept of inherent goodness. 

Innate goodness, the existence of evil, neither can be denied,, biblical concepts provide explanation for the existence of good and evil, but what secular concept can explain the existence of good and evil personalities.

Freudian theory, the unconscious, sex and aggression, attempts to explain but is not a predictor of behavior. Freud believed that all people are innately bad, the unconscious mind governs behavior and ones behavior is determined by the id, the ego, and the superego. The id (the pleasure principle), is dominant when we are born and the suppression by society of the animalistic instinct causes frustration and creates the  destructive, cruel, and selfish personality.

Refuting psychoanalytical theory, behavioral theorists suggest that innately good or bad is a learned characteristic. People are described in terms of the basic way they behave, behaviorists such as Watson and Skinner theorize that the first learned experiences in life are those that will shape the individual regardless of the unconscious mind or biological components. Behavioral theorists concur with the blank slate theory of development, and believe that one can be taught, molded, learn whatever one is introduced to, indicating that being innately good or bad is an outcome, a learned behavior.

The humanistic perspective, the “Third Force” unwilling to embrace Freudian or Behavioral theory, reject the theories of determinism, the unconscious instinctive forces, behaviorism, good behavior must be learned,  and believe in the innate goodness of humanity. In response to previous theories, humanistic theorists such as Rogers and Maslow contend that people are capable of and can increase self-understanding, good or bad, through the individual perception and interpretation of experience.The major premise of the Third Force is that people are basically good, people have an innate need to better themselves and the world, the premise of individual self-worth, the ability to overcome the negative aspects of life, and self-actualization.

Good versus Evil

Do we have a propensity to evil, are we born evil, or are we born inherently good?   Are personal beliefs of good versus evil just myths, or are we simply products of Darwinian theory and billions of years of evolution.

Humanistic theories reject the Christian belief that people are born evil.  Maslow stated “as far as I know we just don’t have any intrinsic instincts for evil.” (i) Carl Rogers stated, “For myself, though I am very well aware of the incredible amount of destructive, cruel, malevolent behavior in today’s world, from the threats of war to the senseless violence in the streets, I do not find that this evil is inherent in human nature (1982) (ii).”

The humanistic perspective continues to focus on the belief that development and innate good consist of elements comprised from the environment, the relationship between nature and nurture. Rogers (1982) “I see members of the human species, like members of other species, as essentially constructive in their fundamental nature, but damaged by their experience.” (i) This external factor, the environment, the world outside of the individual and all it entails.  This experience, this belief that social influence is a major contributing factor in development, the component that allows choice. The “Belief of Perfectibility of the Race” as Godwin suggested, that there are no innate principles, and therefore no original propensity to evil, he considered that “our virtues and our vices may be traced to the incidents which make the history of our lives, and if these incidents could be divested of every improper tendency, vice would be extirpated from the world.” (iii).

The theory of  choice the ability to possess free will.

And in the end… developmentalists will reject all religious, secular, and philosophic views of development, including the theory of free will.

Beginning with Baldwin the study of development is now pursued through new scientific methods. Baldwin suggested that traits are determinants of personality limiting one’s ability to have free will. This theory of determinism suggests that a person’s behavior is biological and that one genetically inherits traits, and that these biological traits will determine specific characteristic responses, personality.

Biological and trait theorists support the scientific process and contend that biology, genetics, hereditary traits, determine an individual’s development. From this perspective growth and development and your personality is genetically hard wired and determined for you. Biological and trait theorists continue to defend that innate good is a biological, inherent trait. Innate Good, predetermined, a biological trait that one may or may not possess.

Is this an affirmation that a propensity to evil exists within human nature?

(i) Welch, D., Tate, G.A., & Richards F. (1978). Humanistic Psychology (Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books, 1978), 11.
(ii) Rogers, C., (1982) “Notes on Rollo May,” Journal of Humanistic Psychology (Summer 1982): 8.
(iii) Godwin, W., (1793). Enquiry concerning political justice and its influence on modern morals and manners. London.

How to cite this article:
Nuzzolo, V. E. (2016).  Propensity to Evil.  Retrieved from,