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Author Topic: Human Nature?  (Read 14931 times)
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« Reply #60: June 15, 2009, 01:52:33 am »

I would argue that in many circles it is. It seems hard to establish a position that  that discounts the existence of some set of qualities/capacities that is common to all humans (although not necessarily all homo sapiens, as there can be a difference). True, it may turn out not to be very interesting or directly enlightening, but I would say that it is commonly accepted as existing.

And I would argue that it isn't.  The fact that there exists someone that does not believe in a human nature, not to mention it is also a central tenet in existentialist philosophy, and most probably others, means it shouldn't be treated as a fringe idea or simple misunderstanding of the term and what it implies.  You mention you are interested in the philosophies of the ancient Greeks, should I assume the reason you think we have this fundamental human nature is due to the Platonic idea of forms?  Even then, this is getting even further into your belief system than I care to delve.  What I'm doing is making it clear how if you're going to posit fundamental traits, you must then give proof as to why even those exist in the first place before attempting to define "human nature" as if it already existed or fundamental characteristics that this relies on in the first place, which is why I was saying if you want to approach this from the Greek's p.o.v. I would appreciate consistency in the thread instead of name dropping sans substance.

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I think that that is a very fair point to challenge. I'm pretty sure that there has been a lot written suggesting that human nature is poorly understood/unable to be understood/is not what it is commonly understood to be/etc.. I'm not sure that this provides a basis for discounting its existence though.

I've written many times why I think the misunderstanding of the term only highlights how unnecessary the term is in the first place.  The idea of what it is is if not misunderstood, then flawed.  Starting out a thread saying "what is it" exemplifies the compound question fallacy.  The better question would be "what do we see exhibited by all to make us think it exists," and if we can't even come to a consensus on how it should be defined, this implies the true nature (heh) of this phrase, that it's ambiguous, abstract, figurative, contextual, and ultimately useless.

Quote
Intending no offence to any of us that have participated so far, but I suspect that it says more about us and our differing backgrounds than about the topic itself Wink

How can you even say we have fundamental qualities yet the minute someone disagrees with you it's a matter of social relativity?  Perhaps there are no fundamental qualities?  

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Once again, it's not obvious to me why this should be so. I have little-to-no idea of the internal workings of my body, what nutrients it must have and which are possible, but superfluous, etc.

Any biology book can tell you that, and they all agree.  Too bad there's no such consensus on human nature.

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To a large extent, that is the purpose of this thread Smiley I must admit that the origin question doesn't interest me a lot.

I thought it did me, until I realize that these kinds of conversations are fruitless.  I will probably not continue with this unless someone is responding to a question I directly asked them.

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I'm not sure where the poetic bit fits in, or how it relates to the other questions. If it weren't within the quotation marks, it would be tempting to see it as a sarcastic critique on a position rather than an analytic one on the argument. Given that I doubt you intended it as such, I'm at a bit of a loss what to do with it Smiley

I guess the idea was lost on a few people, but it was more to entertain myself.  Anyway what I meant with that is I want people to ask themselves "Am I saying a lot of b.s. that sounds important or does nobody get it anyway?"  And yes I was critiquing this entire argument, including myself.  


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« Reply #61: June 15, 2009, 02:44:44 am »

Getting back to the original question...

What is Human Nature? I see many claims made about it, both positive and negative (e.g. resentment, rationality, capacity for love, etc.), but rarely a clear explanation of why or how something is universally a component of the homo sapien makeup. Part of this is probably that I parse 'xyz is just human anture' as 'all homo sapiens share quality xyz (to some degree).

My question is what makes something 'human nature'? What sort of things are included and why? Does saying that something is human nature mean that all humans exhibit it? Are those that don't in some way abnormal? (I'm sure you get the drift)

I guess one thing that's become clear to me is that I reject the idea of "human nature" as something that's too flexible or meaningless because people keep trying to use logical fallacies and the concept of "human nature" to prove things. My gut reaction what "human nature" means is something like "a collection of behaviors which a significant fraction of people share, although not everyone will have everything, and the fraction does not have to be 99% or even 50%." Since I'm a scientist who doesn't deal with human subjects, in a field that is more likely to deal with statistics than determinism, I like to give non-concrete answers that allow for variation in the population. None of these behaviors in isolation or even in subsets define whether or not someone is human, because that would, for instance, rule out people who have no behavior whatsoever (e.g. someone who is born brain-dead). At a certain point, the definition of humanity goes beyond behavior and into biology. But what this also means is that if someone fails to have certain behaviors, they're still human--whether the rest of us like it or not. I guess one of my pet peeves is when someone truly horrible is in the news (for instance, Josef Fritzl) and someone comments that this individual is not human because his behavior is so far outside the scope of 'normal' (statistically probable?) behavior that it's unbelievable, and I just don't think it's healthy to hear of someone doing something wretched and then try to disown them as being human. It just seems like denial that such behaviors can exist within the 6 billion people on the planet, and it's just a one-time fluke. But anyway, I guess I'm straying a bit from the question.

Hmmmmm. I am perfectly ready to say that SAYING it, in the way we usually say it, is indeed just hot air. But this has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not there IS such a thing. Which question is it that you're asking - what it might really be, or what we mean when we say it - or both? They're quite separate, to my mind.

"Human nature" IMHO has become a conversational shorthand for "People are like that" which really means "The people I hang around with (or watch on TV, or whatever) are often like that, and when they aren't like that, I'm usually not paying attention." Wink For instance, I wish I had a nickel for every time I've heard some variation of the "Boys are attracted to girls, girls are attracted to boys, it's human nature" type of statement. (Hmmm... Robert Heinlein probably did get a nickel for... um, never mind. Cheesy) Would this leave me out of humanity? Depends on how we interpret the statement. Several options:

1. "Humans were created such that boys are..." etc. This makes me someone who is either by nature inhuman, or - perhaps wilfully - "going against nature". Kewl. Grin

2. "In my culture, the acceptable paradigm for human sexuality is that boys are..." etc. This is a more flexible statement and doesn't actively exclude me, but neither does it include me.

3. "A statistical majority of humans are 'programmed' such that boys are..." etc. This a least openly admits that the population is being defined by its majority, not by its totality.

This gets into what some of the dangers are, and I very much agree. The same logical fallacies often apply to arguments about gender/sexuality as they do to humanity as a whole. I'm used to getting into online discussions about feminism, and one of the things that often comes up is a discussion of what are feminine traits, should we reject this social construct because it is devalued, or embrace it and give them equal value to masculine ones, etc. And one argument that I'm used to hearing goes something along the lines of, "I'm a woman, and I don't like stereotypical feminine things like [housework], but I prefer stereotypically masculine ones like [bulldozers], so I'm not feminine." And my response to that is usually, "Well, I'm a woman, and I don't like [housework] either, and I like [bulldozers], so can't femininity encompass [bulldozers] as well, even if it's not in the stereotype?" The same could be said for "human nature"--unless some people are being taught by extraterrestrials, can't anything a human does be said to be part of human behavior, even if it is uncommon?

Have I made the definition sufficiently broad as to render it virtually meaningless yet? If so, success. Sweet!


My personal take?

I did my undergraduate work in a very cool little Humanities program that allowed for a considerable degree of self-design, where we sometimes joked about the incredibly broad scope and content of our work. If (we reasoned) you work at an Engineering degree to learn how to be an engineer, and a History degree in order to become a historian, then perhaps you take a Humanities degree in order to learn how to really be human. And so what "human nature" meant to us was the "broad-brush" traits that shape history: curiosity and inventiveness; lust and ambition; the ever-shifting dynamic of freedom-versus-security; and the like.

Would I defend this definition? Depends on the conversation.

Please avoid defending it here, or you may anger at least one person* who vehemently believes that engineers, and scientists, and people who never had a chance to get a degree, and even lawyers Wink are just as "real" humans as folks with degrees in the humanities.

*It may be true that this one person's ex once called them an "emotionless robot", but that's just a nasty rumor, really. Tongue
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« Reply #62: June 15, 2009, 02:52:37 am »

Getting back to the original question...

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Please be aware we ask you to reply to one post at a tiem. multiple consectutive posts are fine. This is just to allow the thread of conversation to be follwed more clearly.
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« Reply #63: June 15, 2009, 03:21:16 am »

I've added emphasis in two places in the above quote. The first is the enquiry that interests me in the current discussion (which is not to devalue the second). The second is the material that I would normally associate with the bread and butter of Personal Psychology. It's a facinating area that is closely related to the areas of applied philosophy that attract me (such as ethics and 'the good life'), but I see it as being built on the first enquiry, which is one that I need to pursue further.

I thought the latter part of his paper applied not only to the topic of this thread but also the gist of my previous post.  Gave me a bit of a grin when I found it.

The span between my thoughts and some of the other ideas here is being created by the difference separating  the schools of philosophy, psychology and sociology .  Each school has it's sticking points, but as evidenced in this thread only one of them has made the decision that it can stand alone.  It's one of the reasons I enjoyed the only philosophy class I ever took. Building logical arguments and defending them to the death was challenging and even fun for me, but only for one semester.

You know I have to throw a parting point out there, don't you?  The biggest reason this thread goes on in an unsettled fashion is that each of us is expressing our opinion based not only on our knowledge of the topic, and schools of study, but also on our cultural background and the characteristic human natures of our individual cultures.  It's a simple concept to understand, but not a simply diagrammed argument.
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« Reply #64: June 15, 2009, 06:17:14 am »



When I say I am interested in and influenced by the philosophy of the ancient Greeks I am thinking  of philosophers such as Aristotle, Plato and Cicero and others. Not so much the content of any of their individual philosophies, but rather broad approach to the question.

For example, an issue that has come up in this conversation several times is that many things are not universal within the species Homo Sapien. The approach that these philosophers seem to have taken to such an issue is to say “if we remove all such things from the definition, what are we left with?”. I am comfortable that the answer may be nothing. I also realise that there are a range of schools of thought that have attacked the question before and that their conclusions are all worthwhile components of an understanding of both the term and the thing of itself. I am interested in what people here have to say on the issue and have found the contributions to date to be informative, interesting and educational. The fact that they have some have been impassioned reassures me that it is a topic that matters to at least some people here.

Another example would be that many of the Greeks and Romans seem to have differentiated between the human animal (i.e. Homo Sapien) and that which we mean when we say human. They were comfortable defining these things separately and did not see doing so as imputing an argument for treating individuals as any less worthwhile should they qualify as a human animal, but not as a human in the common sense. I have the feeling that I explained that very badly and can read it several ways that I'm not completely happy with, but this is the umpteenth revision and it's giving me the S#$%s, so I'm going to leave it as is and clear up any miscommunication later Smiley

I realise that I have put little out there in terms of what I actually think and that I have been argumentative (I hope politely and productively so:)). My thinking here is that I want to here other people thoughts more than I want to hear their reactions to mine. I'm also not as clear in my thinking in this area as I have been at other points in my life, which makes it hard for me to maintain the sort of coherence that I prefer to maintain when arguing for a particular view.

That said, in response to your pointing out the lack of substance on my part to date Smiley Some candidates that are at the level that I am thinking of are that humans reason (Vague term I know, but its components are a thread of their own Smiley), that humans seek, recognise and create pattern, that humans experience at least two states of consciousness (waking/sleeping) and others of similar ilk.

The questioning and 'argumentativeness' has been more about probing for more information, seeing if a particular perspective that is causing me to question a point causes the originator of the point to do so too, and an attempt to coral what can be a meaninglessly broad concept (as others have pointed out) down to a scale that is meaningful. That may be an inherently pointless attempt.

It may be that once we pare back those things that cannot be necessarily human that there is nothing left, or that what is left is largely uninteresting. I used to think I knew, now I don't – so I started this thread to explore it. It has helped focus my thoughts significantly (for which I would like to thank all and sundry). Certainly, it is clear that a better question would have been “What, if anything, is human nature?”. You suggested that there may be no fundamental qualities and you may be right. I find it impossible to get my head around that idea, which means that I am not hearing what people are saying, that I have some learning to do, or that there are some fundamentals (however uninteresting).

I didn't mean to imply that any disagreement with me was a matter of social relativity. I meant to communicate that it is a potentially very broad area to which people come form many backgrounds and that there are a range of valid ways of approaching the question. I started the thread hoping to explore one, but have spent little time doing so in favour of learning quite a lot about how other people see the concept in other contexts. I was trying to say that it shouldn't surprise me that in a few posts each we would not yet have arrived at a stable basis for conversation that suits enough people to have one. A lot of philosophical discussions seem to have a significant up front investment in understanding how the participants use and understand particular terms and concepts and in coming a to workable shared understanding of same for the purpose of the matter at hand. I just figured we were still at that bit Smiley
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« Reply #65: June 15, 2009, 06:20:53 am »

Any biology book can tell you that, and they all agree.  Too bad there's no such consensus on human nature.

I see a difference here. It seemed to me that you were arguing that if there is a human nature then humans must have direct knowledge of same by dint of personal experience. They would just know what it is infallibly, because they were human. It seems to me also that by that logic simply being human and having internal organs should give me direct knowledge of them also by personal experience.
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« Reply #66: June 15, 2009, 08:19:56 am »

Since we are all human, shouldn't we have an understanding of what a "human nature" is?  If any being could understand it, (better than the gods, at least) it should be humans themselves.

I was just going back over some early and mid Stoa philosophers and something in Panaetius reminded me of this. He held that it was in the nature of a person that they are able to know their own nature and that that nature may differ between individuals. I'm sure he would have found some way to argue that that nature necessarily aspired to Virtue, but (other than that bit) is that anywhere near the right ballpark?
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« Reply #67: June 16, 2009, 03:33:43 pm »

I realise that I have put little out there in terms of what I actually think and that I have been argumentative (I hope politely and productively so:)). My thinking here is that I want to here other people thoughts more than I want to hear their reactions to mine. I'm also not as clear in my thinking in this area as I have been at other points in my life, which makes it hard for me to maintain the sort of coherence that I prefer to maintain when arguing for a particular view.

...

The questioning and 'argumentativeness' has been more about probing for more information, seeing if a particular perspective that is causing me to question a point causes the originator of the point to do so too, and an attempt to coral what can be a meaninglessly broad concept (as others have pointed out) down to a scale that is meaningful. That may be an inherently pointless attempt.

While I appreciate the Socratic gadfly technique when it is useful, in this case it was inherently pointless as you were asking me to prove the nonexistence of something, which is fallacious.  Now that you have realized you are making a positive claim, a lot of this hot air can be cleared away to get to something meaningful, which is to validate your claim with examples.  I already achieved what I set out to do in this thread, which was to point out that the use of the term is in and of itself meaningless unless there is a consensus on what it means first.

Quote
It may be that once we pare back those things that cannot be necessarily human that there is nothing left, or that what is left is largely uninteresting. I used to think I knew, now I don't – so I started this thread to explore it. It has helped focus my thoughts significantly (for which I would like to thank all and sundry). Certainly, it is clear that a better question would have been “What, if anything, is human nature?”. You suggested that there may be no fundamental qualities and you may be right. I find it impossible to get my head around that idea, which means that I am not hearing what people are saying, that I have some learning to do, or that there are some fundamentals (however uninteresting).

I think it's unfortunate that you think if there are no fundamental qualities then there is nothing left, because that negates any human experience as meaningless sans a unifying principle.  In that case may I suggest that people trying to create their sense of order in their lives can be that unifying principle, even if their idea of order can be considered chaotic by others.  This is just a suggestion, I'm not arguing this as an overarching truth as I recognize there cannot be one Truth for everyone.  But you may also consider the freedom inherent in being able to define humanity by your own actions, rather than subscribing to a philosophical definition that somebody arbitrarily decided, then died.  Humanity is a living, morphing creature, and as such, must adapt to its own fresh ideas.

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« Reply #68: June 16, 2009, 03:35:27 pm »

I was just going back over some early and mid Stoa philosophers and something in Panaetius reminded me of this. He held that it was in the nature of a person that they are able to know their own nature and that that nature may differ between individuals. I'm sure he would have found some way to argue that that nature necessarily aspired to Virtue, but (other than that bit) is that anywhere near the right ballpark?

I just meant that after a few thousand years of existence, if human nature was such an obvious thing, defined by our fundamental traits, we might have come to an agreement by now, since we have had ample time to digest our actions and have people who specialize in just this thing, such as historians, philosophers, psychologists, etc.  It was a shitty argument and I have no problem throwing it out.
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« Reply #69: September 04, 2009, 09:25:03 pm »

And I would argue that it isn't.  The fact that there exists someone that does not believe in a human nature, not to mention it is also a central tenet in existentialist philosophy, and most probably others, means it shouldn't be treated as a fringe idea or simple misunderstanding of the term and what it implies.  You mention you are interested in the philosophies of the ancient Greeks, should I assume the reason you think we have this fundamental human nature is due to the Platonic idea of forms?  Even then, this is getting even further into your belief system than I care to delve.  What I'm doing is making it clear how if you're going to posit fundamental traits, you must then give proof as to why even those exist in the first place before attempting to define "human nature" as if it already existed or fundamental characteristics that this relies on in the first place, which is why I was saying if you want to approach this from the Greek's p.o.v. I would appreciate consistency in the thread instead of name dropping sans substance.

I've written many times why I think the misunderstanding of the term only highlights how unnecessary the term is in the first place.  The idea of what it is is if not misunderstood, then flawed.  Starting out a thread saying "what is it" exemplifies the compound question fallacy.  The better question would be "what do we see exhibited by all to make us think it exists," and if we can't even come to a consensus on how it should be defined, this implies the true nature (heh) of this phrase, that it's ambiguous, abstract, figurative, contextual, and ultimately useless.

How can you even say we have fundamental qualities yet the minute someone disagrees with you it's a matter of social relativity?  Perhaps there are no fundamental qualities?  

Any biology book can tell you that, and they all agree.  Too bad there's no such consensus on human nature.

I thought it did me, until I realize that these kinds of conversations are fruitless.  I will probably not continue with this unless someone is responding to a question I directly asked them.

I guess the idea was lost on a few people, but it was more to entertain myself.  Anyway what I meant with that is I want people to ask themselves "Am I saying a lot of b.s. that sounds important or does nobody get it anyway?"  And yes I was critiquing this entire argument, including myself.  



Human nature is a simple and easily comprehended thing that can be summed up in one simple phrase: "Do as thou will shall be the whole of the law." Old Al really knew what he was talking about when he spewed forth that little gem, because it is the only rule that encompasses all of what humanity may do. The good, altruistic, vile, despicable, clear, shaded, and inexplicable things that spring forth from the creations of men fall under the authority of this undeniable law.
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« Reply #70: September 04, 2009, 10:43:19 pm »

Human nature is a simple and easily comprehended thing that can be summed up in one simple phrase: "Do as thou will shall be the whole of the law." Old Al really knew what he was talking about when he spewed forth that little gem, because it is the only rule that encompasses all of what humanity may do. The good, altruistic, vile, despicable, clear, shaded, and inexplicable things that spring forth from the creations of men fall under the authority of this undeniable law.

I don't understand how you construe your uncle's statement as an explanation of human nature.  To me it looks like just another sound bite.  Having a quotable quote is not really the same as having a definition, and definitely not the same as an explanation.

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« Reply #71: September 04, 2009, 10:48:10 pm »

I don't understand how you construe your uncle's statement as an explanation of human nature.  To me it looks like just another sound bite.  Having a quotable quote is not really the same as having a definition, and definitely not the same as an explanation.

Uh, that is actually a quote from Aleister Crowley.  I haven't read up on that quote in a while so I'm not sure what the meaning of it is suppose to be.
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« Reply #72: September 04, 2009, 11:10:50 pm »

Human nature is a simple and easily comprehended thing that can be summed up in one simple phrase: "Do as thou will shall be the whole of the law." Old Al really knew what he was talking about when he spewed forth that little gem, because it is the only rule that encompasses all of what humanity may do.

Do? But isn't this a thread about what people 'are'?
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« Reply #73: September 04, 2009, 11:27:59 pm »

Uh, that is actually a quote from Aleister Crowley.  I haven't read up on that quote in a while so I'm not sure what the meaning of it is suppose to be.

Yeah, I know.  I'm very familiar with Crowley.  I just get irritated by the 'Uncle Bucky', Uncle Gerry', 'Uncle Al', 'Auntie Doreen', etc.  I am also familiar with the whole 'love under will' thing and don't see it as any kind of explanation of human nature.  A philosophy of living, maybe even a spiritual directive, but I can't see anything about human nature in it.  Quotes make me cranky.

Did I mention I'm trying to quit smoking?

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« Reply #74: September 05, 2009, 01:29:43 am »

 Quotes make me cranky.

Did I mention I'm trying to quit smoking?


I'd like to see someone quote an anti-smoking soundbite at you.  Grin
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