Why the historian David Wootton thinks we should question our assumptions about human psychology.
A new book by David Wootton, a British historian of ideas, argues that the second interpretation has prevailed in the West and that it has permeated every aspect of our lives. Today, we take it for granted that humans are hardwired to pursue power, pleasure, and profit. According to Wootton, this isn’t true at all.
In fact, he argues, this view of human nature is an invention of modernity, handed down to us by influential Enlightenment philosophers like Adam Smith, Machiavelli, and Thomas Hobbes. Wootton believes this cultural revolution overturned an entirely different way of thinking about human behavior and morality and replaced it with what he calls “instrumental reasoning or cost-benefit analysis.”