Can Nature Be the Standard for Human Conduct? Exploring the Concept of Freedom

Lucas Charbonnier

Hatched by Lucas Charbonnier

Feb 02, 2024

6 min read


Can Nature Be the Standard for Human Conduct? Exploring the Concept of Freedom


The question of whether nature can serve as the norm for human behavior has long been a topic of philosophical debate. In this article, we will delve into the perspectives of various philosophers and examine the concept of freedom in relation to this question. By exploring the ideas of Locke, Hobbes, Épictète, and others, we hope to gain a deeper understanding of the complex relationship between nature and human conduct.

The Modern Natural Law: Locke's Right to Property and Hobbes' Social Contract:

In the realm of modern natural law, two prominent thinkers emerge: John Locke and Thomas Hobbes. Locke argues that the right to property is a fundamental aspect of human nature. According to him, individuals have the inherent freedom to acquire, possess, and use property as they see fit. This perspective aligns with the notion that nature can be the standard for human conduct, as it acknowledges the natural inclination towards ownership and self-preservation.

On the other hand, Hobbes presents a different perspective on the possibility of a social contract based on human nature. He believes that human beings are driven by self-interest and a desire for power, making it necessary for a governing authority to maintain order and prevent chaos. While Hobbes acknowledges human nature as a driving force, he emphasizes the need for external regulation to prevent the negative consequences of unchecked freedom.

The Ancient Conception: Harmony and Living According to Nature:

In ancient philosophy, the concept of living in harmony with nature emerges as a central theme. Philosophers like Épictète argue that living according to nature serves as an ethical safeguard against excessive behavior. They believe that the highest form of human life lies in accepting and rediscovering this natural order within oneself.

By aligning one's actions with the natural order, individuals can find fulfillment and lead virtuous lives. This ancient perspective highlights the potential for nature to guide human conduct, emphasizing the importance of self-reflection and introspection in achieving a harmonious existence.

Freedom: Liberation from Constraints and Alienation:

The concept of freedom encompasses the idea of liberation from constraints. While external constraints, such as physical laws, can limit human possibilities, true oppression and servitude arise when constraints come from others or society. Simone de Beauvoir, for example, explores the transformation of biological constraints into societal oppression in her work "The Second Sex."

Moreover, freedom can be understood as the power to do what one desires, contrasting with oppression, enslavement, and alienation. However, the nature of human freedom is a subject of debate. Is it absolute or merely relative? To conceive of human freedom as absolute implies that individuals can transcend the laws of nature and escape determinism. This perspective raises questions about the role of the mind or soul in relation to the body.

The Paradox of Free Will:

The idea of free will, often associated with absolute freedom, involves the power to choose and create oneself. This metaphysical notion is paradoxical and incomprehensible. Some philosophers argue that this absolute freedom can be experienced and known without proof, relying on a sense of certainty. However, this certainty does not guarantee protection against illusions. One must consider the possibility that choices may be influenced by unknown causes.

Furthermore, how can individuals escape the multiple influences of the world they inhabit? Human beings are not impervious to external causes but rather conditioned and determined by various natural factors. This realization leads to the understanding that freedom is not an innate given but a gradual conquest that requires knowledge of the determinisms, causalities, and influences that impact our lives.

The Relationship Between Freedom and Law:

At first glance, freedom may seem incompatible with constraint. Submitting to rules or societal prohibitions can be perceived as a loss of freedom. However, the question arises: should freedom and law be seen as opposing forces? It becomes evident that individuals are more free in a society governed by laws. Political freedom, the focus here, is only possible or guaranteed when limited by legal frameworks. The law allows different freedoms to coexist without destroying one another. In an ideal scenario, the law is democratically determined in a state governed by the rule of law. As Émile-Auguste Chartier puts it, "obedience to self-imposed law is freedom." This implies that freedom is not about doing whatever one pleases but rather acting with determination, which is a significant sign of freedom.

Can Freedom Be Proven?

Proving freedom requires eliminating all possible doubts and providing certainty. Two types of proof exist: immediate proof based on evidence perceived through the senses and demonstrative proof based on logical reasoning. However, can freedom, by definition, escape necessity and depend solely on itself, be proven? How can something as internal as the will or the mind be exhibited or demonstrated? Are we condemned to believe in a perpetually doubtful freedom? Perhaps, instead of proof, we should consider signs of freedom.

Looking Beyond Proof: Signs of Freedom:

Rather than seeking irrefutable proof of freedom, we can examine signs that point to its existence. These signs may include the ability to make choices, exercise autonomy, and act in alignment with personal values and principles. The experience of freedom may not be a matter of logical deduction but rather a subjective awareness of one's capacity to shape one's life and make meaningful decisions. By focusing on these signs, we can embrace the complexity of freedom and explore its manifestations in our lives.


The question of whether nature can be the norm for human conduct remains a complex and multifaceted topic. By exploring the perspectives of various philosophers and examining the concept of freedom, we have uncovered insights into the relationship between nature and human behavior. While no definitive answers have been reached, we have gained a deeper understanding of the nuances and complexities involved.

Actionable Advice:

  • 1. Reflect on the influence of external factors: Take time to consider the various determinisms, causalities, and influences that shape your actions and choices. By understanding these influences, you can gain greater awareness of the factors that impact your freedom.
  • 2. Embrace self-imposed laws: Recognize that true freedom lies in the ability to create and follow self-imposed laws. This entails aligning your actions with your values and principles, allowing you to act with determination and purpose.
  • 3. Seek subjective signs of freedom: Rather than searching for irrefutable proof, focus on the signs of freedom in your life. Pay attention to your ability to make choices, exercise autonomy, and act in alignment with your values. Embrace the subjective experience of freedom and explore its manifestations in your daily life.

In conclusion, the question of whether nature can be the standard for human conduct and the complexities of freedom continue to challenge our understanding. By exploring different perspectives and reflecting on our individual experiences, we can navigate these complexities and strive for a more harmonious and liberated existence.

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