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Defining Human Nature, Sympathy in Human Rights Issues, Uncertainty in Critical Thinking, and Equality and Empathy

Updated on September 3, 2017

What is Human Nature?

Human nature refers to the characteristics, emotions and behavioural traits all humans are thought to have. Throughout history, the cause of these characteristics, what these characteristics are, and the question of whether humans do share similar characteristics have sparked numerous debates in social sciences.

The nature versus nurture debate argues what factors or forces shape human behaviour (Heywood 2004, p.17). Nature advocates claim the development of humans is predetermined by their DNA. Nurture advocates argue humans are influenced by their social environment or experiences (Heywood 2004, p.19). The debate of whether humans are naturally competitive or cooperative interrelates with politics, economics and social organisations (Heywood 2004, p.23).

Another behavioural debate concerns whether humans are more influenced by their intellect or their instinct. Hobbes proposes that humans are driven by non-rational feelings such as fear (Heywood 2004, p.22) while rationalists believe humans are rational creatures, guided by intellect and a process of argument (Heywood 2004, p.21).

The “individual” is also a significant concept regarding human nature (Heywood 2004, p.26). The argument of the “individual” claims humans have independent identities and are unique (Heywood 2004, p.26-27). Supporting the concept of humans being cooperative, the “individual” argument also claims humans naturally believe despite differences, everyone is connected by “their moral worth, their personal identity and their uniqueness” (Heywood 2004, p.27). Since there are not any confirmed theories within the human nature debate, what is believed to make up a human’s nature continues to be theoretical. Nonetheless, human nature is clearly a concept concerned with the psychological and social qualities that characterise humankind.


Heywood, Andrew 2004, Political theory: an introduction, 3rd edn. Palgrave Mcmillian, New York.

Steven Pinker on Human Nature

What is Sympathy?

The understanding between people; common feeling, and the formal expression of pity or sorrow for someone else's misfortune.

An Example of How Sympathy can be used in Human Rights Issues: Refugees

Exercising sympathy towards refugees can make a much-needed difference to their lives. Due to the fear of terrorism, many Australians recent refugees. Because of this, the government can keep refugees in squalor conditions in refugee camps in Manus and Christmas Island. If most Australians sympathised with refugees and acknowledged the political strife they try to escape from, mass action could be taken to demand a fairer treatment of refugees.


What is Critical Thinking?

According to, it the objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgement. It is mainly the use of facts to come to a conclusion.

CRITICAL THINKING - Fundamentals: Introduction to Critical Thinking [HD]

How Uncertainty Affects Critical Thinking

The role of uncertainty changes depending on one’s personal framework. Uncertainty can be caused by the lack of information on a subject and one can become confused by conflicting perspectives on a matter. If one is not used to dealing with certain situations, they may become uncertain of how they approach it. There may not be a single right answer, even though the final decision may come with numerous ethical ramifications (Philip; Lee 2005, p.2).

The main issue of uncertainty is how you cannot know the outcome until after the choice is made. This can make one more susceptible to the first opinion they hear. This causes them to make uninformed decisions without considering other options. In a workplace environment, uncertainty can cause friction between team members (Verkerk; Lindeman; Maeckelberghe; Feenstra; Hartoungh; De Bree 2004, p.33) Quandary Ethics is also another issue that can arise from uncertainty (Philip; Lee 2005, p.2).

This is when the moral or ethical agent thinks everyone’s choice is equally valid because they feel one opinion is not better than the other (Philip; Lee 2005, p.2).However, uncertainty can drive an individual to search for an answer. Critical thinkers attempt to avoid these dilemmas by searching for different perspectives on a matter. They attempt to find what others have written and experienced to benefit from their insight (Philip; Lee 2005, p.2).

Critical thinking can also be guided by criteria that allow a decision to be compared against alternatives. A criterion allows the moral or ethical agent to establish a logical process that balances reason with emotion. This avoids the moral or ethical agent from succumbing to quandary ethics (Philip; Lee 2005, p.2).


Verkerk, Marian; Lindeman, Hilde; Maeckelberghe, Els; Feenstra, Enne; Hartoungh, Rudolph and De Bree, Menno. ‘Enhancing reflection: an interpersonal exercise in ethics education’. The Hastings Centre Report, 43.6 (Nov-Dec 2004): pp. 33-34.

Wilkins, Lee & Phillip Paterson 2005, Media ethics: issues and cases, (5th Edition) McGraw Hill, New York, pp1-7 and 90-94.

What is Quandary Ethics?

Ethical dilemmas, also known as moral dilemmas, are situations in which there is a choice to be made between two options. None of the chosen options fixes the issue in an ethically acceptable manner.

Using Critical Thinking in Human Rights Issue Example: Flint Michigan Disaster

Water is a human necessity in terms of survival. The right to access clean drinking water should not be limited to one’s culture, social status, power or privilege. However, the fact residents of Flint have not had access to clean water and sanitation since 2014 suggests otherwise. Facts on the matter assist in highlighting the severity of the issue and expose the disconnect between what should be a human right and what is considered the law. According to the United Nations (UN), this issue illustrates the suffering caused by failing to recognise that water is a human right and from not ensuring that basic services are provided in a non-discriminatory manner. This is also supported by statistical data released by the UN. The recent decline of federal funding in the United States for water and sewer systems has disproportionally affected poorer cities; 41.5 percent of Flint’s residents live below the poverty line, and 56.6 percent are African-Americans (Flint Michigan Crisis ‘Not Just About Water,’ UN Rights Experts Say Ahead of President Obama’s visit, 2016).

In my opinion, this demonstrates how facts play a pivotal role in exposing issues that may not be on the surface, including the imbalance of power and classism. For example, Governor Rick Snyder caused this issue by switching water sources from Lake Huron to the Flint River to save money. Since the water was not treated with an anti-corrosive agent and was 19 times more corrosive than lake water, this caused the water to qualify as toxic waste (How Michigan’s Elimination of Democracy Poisoned a City, 2016). The way the law protects Snyder from prosecution, while residents of Flint continue to suffer from lead poisoning, suggests there is an imbalance of power. I also believe if this crisis was to occur in a middle-higher class area, this would have been resolved.

I consider values such as empathy and humanity are needed to recognise how poorly these residents have been treated. Without these values, it is difficult to care for this issue from a privileged standpoint. Those who would be privileged in this scenario are those who have access to clean drinking water and those in power, such as Snyder. However, I do not believe culture has a prominent place in this issue as I believe this is a matter of political corruption and public safety and health.

Reference list:

United Nations 2016, Flint Michigan Crisis ‘Not Just About Water,’ UN Rights Experts Say Ahead of President Obama’s Visit, United Nations, New York, viewed 14 July 2017, <>

Andrea Newell 2016, How Michigan’s Elimination of Democracy Poisoned a City, Triple Pundit, California, viewed 14 July 2017, <>


How is equality and equity are different from one another?

Equality is the state of being treated the same way, while equity is the act of treating different groups differently to create a level playing field. For example, equality is everyone getting the same amount of medication.

Equity is everyone getting the right dosage to help them function. It is logical for resources should be given to humans depending on their need to give everyone the same opportunity.


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