Beginning with Socrates and ending with Dostoevsky, our study of literature regarding human nature this quarter was quite extensive. Of notable interest was the seeming drift toward pessimism as the years went on; Socrates and Plato were arguably the most optimistic, and then came the ever-pessimistic Machiavelli, and finally we ended up with Dostoevsky and Huxley, whose grim outlooks on human nature were somewhat unnerving.
First we covered Socrates by reading The Apology. This piece of literature was not actually written by Socrates, but it is all his content; it is actually a transcript of the trial of Socrates, written by Plato, who was his most prominent student. During his trial, Socrates acted as one might expect as philosopher to act; he was very frank, and presented many useful ideas which unfortunately went unheeded by his prosecutors. Socrates" philosophical ideas focused mainly on individuals; he stated that through reasoning and logic, a person can see the truth - the one "just" and "good" path. He was simply the catalyst in this reaction in that he aimed to get people thinking. Once they started thinking, Socrates reasoned that the innate goodness in them would take over and lead them down the right road.
Plato had similar ideas, but he embellished more in that he made it a responsibility not only of the individual, but of the community. In the Allegory of the Cave, Plato compares life to sitting in a dark cave, chained to everyone else, watching shadows on the wall. The "light" that Socrates spoke of would then be being freed from the chains and dragged out into the world, where the sun shines and all is right. This would of course be a shock at first, but eventually the individual would come to appreciate the humanitarian efforts of those who took him out of the cave. It would then be his responsibility and obligation to go back to the cave, no matter how unpleasant it might be, and help drag others into the light.