Human Nature: What Is It?

Human Nature
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We will try and respond to your request as soon as reasonably practical. When you receive the information, if you think any of it is wrong or out of date, you can ask us to change or delete it for you. Christian Jarrett. His next, on personality change, will be published in Brought to you by Curio , an Aeon partner. Edited by Pam Weintraub. Or are we, deep down, wired to be bad, blinkered, idle, vain, vengeful and selfish? We view minorities and the vulnerable as less than human. One striking example of this blatant dehumanisation came from a brain-scan study that found a small group of students exhibited less neural activity associated with thinking about people when they looked at pictures of the homeless or of drug addicts, as compared with higher-status individuals.

Another study showed that people who are opposed to Arab immigration tended to rate Arabs and Muslims as literally less evolved than average. That sense is heightened if the child perceives that the person deserves the distress. A more recent study found that, by age six, children will pay to watch an antisocial puppet being hit, rather than spending the money on stickers.

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Human nature is a bundle of characteristics, including ways of thinking, feeling, and acting, which humans are said to have naturally. The term is often regarded. But what about the more subtle concept of human nature? That is more controversial. Some deny it exists, preferring to believe that we can be anything we want.

We believe in karma — assuming that the downtrodden of the world deserve their fate. The unfortunate consequences of such beliefs were first demonstrated in the now classic research from by the American psychologists Melvin Lerner and Carolyn Simmons. In their experiment, in which a female learner was punished with electric shocks for wrong answers, women participants subsequently rated her as less likeable and admirable when they heard that they would be seeing her suffer again, and especially if they felt powerless to minimise this suffering.

Since then, research has shown our willingness to blame the poor, rape victims, AIDS patients and others for their fate, so as to preserve our belief in a just world. By extension, the same or similar processes are likely responsible for our subconscious rose-tinted view of rich people. We are blinkered and dogmatic. Brought to you by Curio , an Aeon partner.

Philosophy of Human Nature

Although no single set of studies can provide a definitive answer—no matter how many experiments were conducted or participants were involved—this research suggests that our intuitive responses, or first instincts , tend to lead to cooperation rather than selfishness. Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplement. Various views of human nature have been held by theologians. We use our own and third-party cookies to offer you a pleasant experience and display to users advertising related with your preferences, based on analysis of your browsing habits. No one has to wish for it. Mend your broken fences and feel the weight lifted off your shoulders. Newgrange was always a ceremonial center for the Neolithic people of Ireland.

Edited by Nigel Warburton. What makes this strange is that, not only does the new attitude run counter to much of the history of philosophy, but — despite loud claims to the contrary — it also goes against the findings of modern science.

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This has serious consequences, ranging from the way in which we see ourselves and our place in the cosmos to what sort of philosophy of life we might adopt. Our aim here is to discuss the issue of human nature in light of contemporary biology, and then explore how the concept might impact everyday living. The existence of something like a human nature that separates us from the rest of the animal world has often been implied, and sometimes explicitly stated, throughout the history of philosophy.

The Epicureans argued that it is a quintessential aspect of human nature that we are happier when we experience pleasure, and especially when we do not experience pain. In contrast, many contemporary philosophers, both of the so-called analytic and continental traditions, seem largely to have rejected the very idea of human nature.

We beg to differ. What exactly does science tell us about the idea of a human nature? From Charles Darwin onward, the scientific consensus has been pretty clear: we are but one species among millions on Earth, members of a not particularly numerous branch of the tree of life, endowed with unusually large and structurally complex brains.

Our particular lineage gave origin to the species Homo sapiens at least , years ago, resulting from a long evolutionary period, which unfolded over millions of years from the point of divergence from our most recent common ancestor with the chimpanzees, our closest phylogenetic cousins. Put that way, it would seem that biology does indeed do away with any idea of human nature: whatever characteristics our species possesses are the result of a continuous process of evolutionary differentiation from other species of primates, and there is no reason to believe that such process is over, or will be any time soon.

In light of this, we think that the picture emerging from evolutionary and developmental biology is — contrary to the widespread opinion among contemporary philosophers — one that very much supports the notion of human nature, just not an essentialist one.

Human nature: how normative might it be?

Human nature is best conceived of as a cluster of homeostatic properties, ie of traits that are dynamically changing and yet sufficiently stable over evolutionary time to be statistically clearly recognisable. These properties include characteristics that are either unique to the human species, or so quantitatively distinct from anything similar found in other animals that our version is unquestionably and solely human.

Take language, for instance. But no other living species has anything even remotely like human language, with its complex grammar and high levels of recursion where a linguistic rule can be applied to the results of the application of the very same rule, and so on. Other animals, such as octopuses, have large, complex brains and nervous systems, but no other animal has both the size relative to the body and especially the structural asymmetry and layering of the human brain; for instance, its enormously developed frontal cortex, which is in charge of reward, attention, short-term memory tasks, planning and motivation.

The list could go on and on, but the basic point is that it is fallacious to state that there are no fundamental differences between humans and other animals just because the boundaries are fuzzy and dynamic over evolutionary time. But I know it when I see it. We all know it when we see it.

Now, if human nature is real, what are the consequences from a philosophical perspective? Why should a philosopher, or anyone interested in using philosophy as a guide to life, care about this otherwise technical debate?

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T he temptation to link existentialism with the idea of a tabula rasa is understandable. We had lost all our rights, and first of all our right to speak. They insulted us to our faces … They deported us en masse … And because of all this we were free. Even Simone de Beauvoir thought he took it too far, particularly when he told her that her seasickness was all in her head. I, on the other hand, claimed that stomach and tear ducts, indeed the head itself, were all subject to irresistible forces on occasion.

This is human nature: perpetually seeking to escape our natural condition, to transcend — surpassing the given — towards self-chosen, concrete goals.

To be human is to live in ambiguity because we are forever caught in a tension between the facts of our lives and the will to overcome them. Biology might seem to offer a simple explanation for some limitations. This is both a wrong and a harmful way to think about our nature. Historically, women have been defined primarily by the same biological functions they share with other animals, tethered in myths about femininity, and robbed of the opportunity to transcend.

Natural obstacles provide a different sort of limitation. It might be absurd for de Beauvoir to persist with sailing if she vomits constantly, but giving up on her goals because of seasickness is stupid, too. To transcend is to recognise our resistances and failures, and to rebel against them creatively.

What Are We Like? 10 Psychology Findings That Reveal The Worst Of Human Nature

This perspective matters because it emphasises that, while there are fixed elements to our being, we are not fixed beings, since we are or ought to be free to choose our projects. Neither biology nor natural obstacles limit our futures to a great extent, and how we live out our human nature will vary because we give different meanings to our facticities.

An authentic life is about acknowledging these differences, and stretching ourselves into an open future. It does not follow that this openness is unlimited or unconstrained.

We are limited, but mostly by our own imagination. For the Stoics, human nature circumscribes what humans can do, and what they are inclined to do. An interesting contrast here is provided by a philosophy that is in some respects very different, and yet shares surprising similarities, with existentialism: ancient Greco-Roman Stoicism , which has seen a remarkable revival in recent years.