Today’s meaning of human nature is the complete opposite to the meaning in ancient Greek or Rome. Both interpretations make sense and are valid. Yet, they lead to different meanings for “living according to nature.” But, they are not mutual exclusive. Actually, I think both meanings belong together. I think we need both meanings to live happy and good lives!
A scorpion wants to cross a river but it can’t swim. He asks a frog for help. The frog is afraid, “you will sting me!” “I will not sting you. If I did, I would drown!”
In mid river the scorpion stings the frog. Dying, the frog asks, “why?”
“Because that’s my nature,” said the scorpion.
– The fable of The Scorpion and the Frog
We can’t escape our nature!
The Two Meanings of Human Nature
We humans are made with the ability to think rational, which is one of the core maxims of stoicism. This ability is what distinguishes us from animals. Thus, many stoic techniques and advice explain how to act more rational. Or, how to avoid negative feelings that lead to animalistic behavior.
The stoic meaning of human nature emphasizes reasoning. It emphasizes our rational nature.
When we speak today about human nature we emphasize our biological behavior. We compare ourselves with animals. We look back at our earliest ancestors to explain our irrational behavior. Our diet is a great example. Many diet-plans claim to be the best because they imitate our ancestors diets. Another example is bias. These “bugs” in our mind make less sense today but can be explained with our ancestors.
Todays meaning of human nature is a look back at our ancestors. Today we emphasize our biological nature.
“Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better. ” – Albert Einstein
Why Did Stoicism Neglect Todays Notion Of Nature
I don’t have a certain answer but a theory. I think that the Stoics didn’t focus on our biological nature because they lived much closer to our ancestors. Let’s compare the lives of our ancestors with the Greek/Roman lives and ours today.
How Our Ancestors Lived
Our ancestors lived in small communities of about 150 people. They worked, physically hard, outside in nature. They ate unprocessed healthy foods. They had nothing to distract them. Survival was their priority.
How Ancient Greeks And Romans Lived
Most Greeks and Romans were farmers and lived in the country side in villages. Some lived in cities, like Athens or Rome. Almost all had physical hard work, outside in nature. They also ate unprocessed healthy foods. They had few distractions. Survival was also their priority.
How We Live Today
Today most of us live in cities, with a population greater than 1 million. Almost everybody works at a desktop; manual labor is dying out. We eat (too much) processed food. Advertisement, messages, and the entertainment industry are constantly distracting us. We actually have to train focus. Cars and factories pollute the air we breath. Survival is no longer our priority. Instead, we focus on our ego.
During stoicisms period or prosperity live was much closer to our ancestors. In strong contrast, we live in a world faraway from our ancestors. Our lives are completely different compared to our ancestors. Stoics didn’t emphasize our biological notion of nature because they lived closer to it. There was no need to emphasize todays notion of nature.
“He who has so little knowledge of human nature as to seek happiness by changing anything but his own disposition will waste his life in fruitless efforts. ” – Samuel Johnson
Stoic Mindset Embraces Both
I think both our rational nature and biological nature are equally important! I think we need both meanings to live happy and good lives. StoicMindset embraces both meanings. Thus, we get a new meaning for living according to nature.
The True Meaning Of Living According To Nature
Living according to nature means to live according to our biological nature AND to become our highest rational self.
Every day we should (try to) be rational and reasonable. At the same time we should take care of our biological needs.
What do you think? What is the meaning of living according to nature? Let me know in the comment section below!