Toward a Science of Human Nature

From Rationally Speaking

Human nature is certainly not a sharply defined concept, nor does it have to be. If one accepts the evolutionary view of things, than one does expect fuzzy boundaries for pretty much everything in biology, including whatever characteristics are supposed to be species specific. Nonetheless, I maintain that to reject talk of a human nature out of hand, as especially continental philosophers have been doing (think of the historic debate between Noam Chomsky and Michel Foucault, not to mention my Stony Brook colleague’s attitude), is fundamentally misguided. Recognizing a “nature” to humanity does not imply some sort of rigid determinism about human behavior. Talk of human nature also does not entail a silly form of reductionism that trivializes the complexity of human culture. Then again, to reject the idea of human nature despite the advances of science means trivializing the biology of being human, and we do that at our own peril. The Delphi oracle’s imperative was to know thyself, and that knowledge surely must include a hefty contribution from biology.


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