In 1782 Pestalozzi wrote in a letter: “The only book that I have studied for years is the book of man, on him and on experience about him and of him I found all my philosophy”. Pestalozzi explored what the nature of a human is and developed his theory of society, politics, theology, psychology and education from the idea of human nature that he had in his heart.
The following are Pestalozzi’s fundamental ideas about human nature:
- The nature of man is not a uniform thing; it has tensions and contradictions within it. This nature has two definite sides: ‘sensual’ nature and ‘higher’ nature.
- Sensual nature consists of the basic instincts that humans and animals have in common. (Pestalozzi sometimes calls sensual nature ‘animal nature’). These instincts are mainly there to satisfy the needs of the body and so preserve the individual and the human race. They also make humans want to do things that make them feel happy.
- Higher nature is what lifts humans to a level above animals. This higher nature consists of the ability to perceive truth, to show love, to believe in God, to listen to one’s own conscience, to do justice, to develop a sense of beauty, to see and realise higher values, to be creative, to act in freedom, to bear responsibility, to overcome one’s own egoism, to build a social life, to act with common sense, to strive for self-perfection. A ‘divine spark’ can be seen in this nature and this is what causes man to be the image of God. For this reason, Pestalozzi often calls this higher nature the ‘inner’, ‘spiritual’, ‘moral’ or ‘divine’ nature.
- Animal nature and higher nature are interrelated, like a fruit and its seed. These two sides of human nature are very different from each other but they are connected because the higher nature unfolds and develops out of the lower animal nature. The higher nature is permanent and cannot be destroyed; the lower, sensual nature is temporary and can be destroyed. It is the task of education as far as possible to cultivate what is low in order to bring it to the higher level.
- The process described above unfolds in a three-step course of development; from the natural state through the social state to the moral state.
- In the natural state animal nature dominates; higher nature is dormant, like a seed. Curiosity, for example, is part of animal nature, but in higher nature it can develop into a genuine interest in truth. Indolence originates in the tendency to avoid discomfort, but at the same time it is the natural basis for impartiality.
- Theoretically there are two natural states – the unspoiled natural state and the spoiled natural state. One has to distinguish between these two:
- The unspoiled natural state can only be imagined. It is the state when we live completely in the moment and there is a perfect balance between everybody’s needs and the fulfilment of everybody’s needs. As in the Garden of Eden before the Fall.
- Only the spoiled natural state can really be experienced. When a human takes action to fulfil the needs he experiences in the unspoiled natural state, he cannot help being selfish, and in taking action spoils the unspoiled state. Sometimes a human does more than what is needed to satisfy his needs, for example, by becoming greedy and eating more than he needs.
- As beings of the natural state humans assert themselves, are egotistical, look to their own advantage and are compelled by natural instincts. They can be called works of nature.
- As beings of the social state humans are part of a social system, the advantages of which they would like to enjoy. But the system only makes these advantages possible as long as the individuals do not refuse to be part of it, despite any frustrations they may have in being part of the system. People are therefore works of society too.
- As a moral being – a ‘work of himself’ a human being renounces egotistic claims, strives for the well-being of others and perfects himself by developing all the natural powers and faculties that help him to work for others.
- A purely natural kind of existence, which is free of social institutions and which can in fact only be imagined
- An existence in which people follow their own selfish desires and show no consideration for the purpose of socialisation
- A restrictedly egotistical kind of existence, which, by acknowledging the social purpose, sees to the legitimate care of oneself
- A moral kind of existence, in which the human lifts himself above egoism and aims at self-perfection, which involves making other people happy.