Author Topic: Constrained and Unconstrained Views of Human Nature  (Read 281 times)

Rev. Edward Engelbrecht

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Constrained and Unconstrained Views of Human Nature
« on: May 06, 2022, 06:57:06 AM »
In my morning reading, I came across this passage about the thought of Thomas Sowell. It's from "The Continuing Importance of Thomas Sowell"  by Jason L. Riley of the Manhattan Institute and The Wall Street Journal (Imprimis, March 2022, Vol. 3, No. 3). It helpfully describes one reason for the continued left v. right struggle in American life.

Quote
Sowell says his favorite of his own books is A Conflict of Visions, in which he tries to explain what drives our ideological disputes about freedom, equality, and justice. He traces these divergent “visions,” or views of human nature, back at least two centuries, to thinkers like William Godwin, Immanuel Kant, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, down through John Rawls and today’s social justice advocates.

The conflicting visions he describes in the book are the constrained or tragic view of human nature and the unconstrained or utopian view. People with a more constrained view of the human condition see mankind as hopelessly flawed. They see inherent limits to human betterment. We might want to end war or poverty or racism, they say, but that’s probably not going to happen. Therefore, our focus should be on putting in place institutions and processes that help society deal with problems we’re never going to eradicate.

On the other side you have the unconstrained or utopian view of human nature, which rejects the idea that there are limits to what humans can achieve. This is the belief that nothing is unattainable and no trade-offs are necessary. According to this perspective, by utilizing the proper amount of reason and will power, we can not only manage problems like war, poverty, and racism, but solve them entirely.

Depending on which view they embrace, Sowell explains why two people, similarly well-informed and similarly well-meaning, will reach opposite conclusions on a whole range of issues including taxes, rent control, school choice, military spending, and judicial activism.

When Kant said that from the “crooked timber of humanity no straight thing was ever made,” he was exhibiting the constrained view. When Rousseau said that “man is born free but everywhere is in chains,” he was voicing the unconstrained view. When Oliver Wendell Holmes said his job as a judge was to make sure the game is played according to the rules, whether he liked them or not, it was a constrained view. When Earl Warren said his job as a judge was to do what he thinks is right, regardless of the law, it was an unconstrained view. This is the philosophical framework that explains Sowell’s writings on almost any topic.

Here is a link to the full article:
https://imprimis.hillsdale.edu/continuing-importance-thomas-sowell/
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Dan Fienen

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Re: Constrained and Unconstrained Views of Human Nature
« Reply #1 on: May 06, 2022, 10:54:10 AM »
"The perfect is enemy of the good," is an observation that in various forms has a long pedigree. As has the corollary that in striving for perfection we often end up worse off than before.


Jesus seemed to accept the constrained view when He observed that the poor you will always have with you. It should be noted that in saying that Jesus was not suggesting that since there will always be poor people, we shouldn't do anything to reduce poverty. More generally, the doctrine of original sin suggests that people are not in this life perfectible. Interestingly, there typically seems to be two reactions to that realization. One is the counsel of despair. We will never be perfectly good so why bother doing anything at all. The other is the determination to strive to improve and do better and derive satisfaction from anything done better or done well even though it is not perfect.


Perfectionism, the idea that human moral or spiritual perfection is attainable, has long infected Christianity, always with deleterious effects. The perfect is always the enemy of the good.
Pr. Daniel Fienen
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Rev. Edward Engelbrecht

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Re: Constrained and Unconstrained Views of Human Nature
« Reply #2 on: May 06, 2022, 03:13:09 PM »
Monasticism, sainthood, millennialism, post-millennial eschatology all have a strong home within Christian history and bear the marks of perfectionist, utopian thinking. The Christian left-wing bequeathed these ideals to the left. It's no mistake that a workers' paradise and social justice build their worldviews with biblical terms.

Yet, I think the doctrine of original sin is more reliably biblical and descriptive of human life. When I was teaching in Lithuania, one of the pastors gave me a paper he had written so I could review it. The topic was Sigmund Freud and his observation that there is something fundamentally wrong with human beings. Even Freud could see it at work in the people he analyzed.
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Dave Likeness

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Re: Constrained and Unconstrained Views of Human Nature
« Reply #3 on: May 06, 2022, 08:38:24 PM »
                               What Makes Us Human?

It is not our mind, but our HEART.  It is not our ability to think, but our ability to LOVE.


This is a quote from Henri Nouwen, a Roman Catholic Theologian