• bloodninja
    308
    This relates to the recent discussions around human nature and morality.

    It seems to be the case that the majority of people on here don't think there is a "human nature" as such. And it also seems to be the case that there are a lot of people on here who care about ethics.

    BUT If there is no human nature, then in what are our moral theories grounded? This is my first question.

    Me personally, I see morality as the glue that keeps culture/society from falling apart. I think the virtues and vices are grounded in how our cultures are organised, and how they function. Is this arbitrary? Not really. However, I think it does entail that I am a cultural relativist.

    My second question: If there is no human nature to ground ethical theory, then what other ethical position is left but cultural relativism?
  • SophistiCat
    1.4k
    It seems to be the case that the majority of people on here don't think there is a "human nature" as such.bloodninja

    Really? What do you mean by "human nature," anyway? What would be the difference between possessing and not possessing "human nature?"
  • Cavacava
    2.4k
    What would be the difference between possessing and not possessing "human nature?"

    Man has a history, which I think encompasses his nature;
  • T Clark
    4.2k
    Me personally, I see morality as the glue that keeps culture/society from falling apart. I think the virtues and vices are grounded in how our cultures are organised, and how they function. Is this arbitrary? Not really. However, I think it does entail that I am a cultural relativist.

    My second question: If there is no human nature to ground ethical theory, then what other ethical position is left but cultural relativism?
    bloodninja

    To make sure you and I are talking about the same thing. Here's a definition I got off the web - "the general psychological characteristics, feelings, and behavioral traits of humankind, regarded as shared by all humans." I would add that it should be hardwired. There from the beginning before any social influence. Is that what you mean?

    By that definition, I think science has established there is definitely a human nature. I'm sure people will disagree. The big one that comes to mind immediately is the brain and mind structure that supports language. I also think our sociality, the fact that we like each other, is built in. Babies recognize human faces from a very early age. There is evidence that babies are making judgments about what's right and wrong and human agency from an age of 3 or 4 months.
  • Galuchat
    792

    After reading Edward O. Wilson's, On Human Nature, I adopted this definition of human nature: human genetic predispositions. These predispositions produce the psychological characteristics and behaviour common to all humans, being innate.

    Also, Paul Bloom (Yale University), a moral psychologist, has specialised in research on morality in babies.
  • T Clark
    4.2k
    After reading Edward O. Wilson's, On Human Nature, I adopted this definition of human nature: human genetic predispositions.Galuchat

    I don't disagree with that definition. I think for the purposes of this discussion we are talking those aspects of human nature that affect behavior and mind.

    Also, Paul Bloom (Yale University), a moral psychologist, has specialised in research on morality in babies.Galuchat

    I'll add that to my reading list. It's getting pretty long.
  • Galuchat
    792
    I edited my comment after your reply.
  • T Clark
    4.2k
    I edited my comment after your reply.Galuchat

    I wasn't confused by the way you wrote it originally. I just wanted to make sure we all agreed that we were focusing on one aspect.
  • bloodninja
    308
    What do you mean by "human nature," anyway? What would be the difference between possessing and not possessing "human nature?"SophistiCat
    I think for something to count as human nature it has to be something innate while simultaneously pointing to or articulating what is fundamentally distinctive about us (so DNA is completely useless). Examples of this innate human nature are Plato's tripartite theory of the human soul, Aristotle's claim that man is the rational animal, Chomsky's ideas about language, perhaps Nietzsche's the will to power, etc. The difference between possessing an innate nature and not is that if the former is true then we can ground our moral claims and give them strong normative force. If the latter is true, and there is no innate human nature, then it appears that we have nothing to ground our moral claims in so they have weak normative force; we would be a social construction just like the socially constructed moral claims. Morality would be completely meaningless and arbitrary. To the question why be good? there would be no sufficient answer. I hope this clears things up :)
  • t0m
    319
    The difference between possessing an innate nature and not is that if the former is true then we can ground our moral claims and give them strong normative force. If the latter is true, and there is no innate human nature, then it appears that we have nothing to ground our moral claims in so they have weak normative force; we would be a social construction just like the socially constructed moral claims. Morality would be completely meaningless and arbitrary. To the question why be good? there would be no sufficient answer.bloodninja

    You might like Rorty. He tackles exactly this in C,I, and S. We can understand ourselves as groundless. We simply want a certain kind of society, one that maximizes freedom and minimizes cruelty, for instance. I don't find Rorty completely convincing, but he tackles exactly the issue you mention.

    I would say that the content of the idea of "man" or humanity involves "his" nature. But part of this content is the knowledge that man is the self-transcending being. While his animal foundation is more or less fixed (till he rewrites his genes), his "cultural" or symbolic nature is an "anti-nature" or a potentially permanent revolution. Hegel comes to mind. Philosophy must lag behind a history that is still in progress. Similarly Dasein's individual "nature" remains open while a particular Dasein is still alive, still evolving. So humanity is a "big" Dasein whose story is still in progress. Thus humanities "nature" is not fixed. We have to wait and see, except you and I presumably won't be around long enough. Even then, the aliens who might excavate our bombed-out planet will never be done fixing what we were, for they would have to be done fixing their own nature. The past is "certain but indeterminate."
  • Samuel Lacrampe
    889

    If by 'human nature' you mean that all humans share some same essential properties, then yes, morality presupposes there being a human nature, for the following reasons:

    (1) Morality implies voluntariness, and voluntariness implies free will. Thus if morality applies to all humans, then all humans must possess free will.
    (2) Morality is also called practical reason, which implies reason in general. Thus if morality applies to all humans, then all humans must possess reason.

    And lo and behold, the essence or nature of humans is traditionally: an animal with reason and free will. Note, this may not be the only part of human nature, but it is a part of it.
  • Rich
    3.2k
    BUT If there is no human nature, then in what are our moral theories grounded?bloodninja

    If there is a common denominator it appears to create, explore, and learn, and developing a consensus of values to direct this purpose as a group is the what can be called a community morality. However, it does change all of the time depending upon the community and the individuals in the community. So it is very changeable.
  • SophistiCat
    1.4k
    I think for something to count as human nature it has to be something innate while simultaneously pointing to or articulating what is fundamentally distinctive about us (so DNA is completely useless).bloodninja

    I wonder why you think that "DNA completely useless," but let's set aside DNA for a moment. DNA is a specific biological mechanism of inheritance and expression of traits. All we really need to know is that there are inherited traits that humans express at variance with other animals, that set us apart as a distinctive species. Is that all that you are saying? That's rather obvious, and I can't imagine anyone denying it.

    Examples of this innate human nature are Plato's tripartite theory of the human soul, Aristotle's claim that man is the rational animal, Chomsky's ideas about language, perhaps Nietzsche's the will to power, etc.bloodninja

    If I understand you correctly, you are referring to general features of human psychology ("psyche," "spirit," "soul," etc.). And to say that people have "human nature" is just to say that there are such generalizable characteristics that are shared by all, or almost all people. Is that about right? That too seems pretty uncontroversial, as long as you don't get into specifics. Does anyone really deny that?

    The difference between possessing an innate nature and not is that if the former is true then we can ground our moral claims and give them strong normative force. If the latter is true, and there is no innate human nature, then it appears that we have nothing to ground our moral claims in so they have weak normative force; we would be a social construction just like the socially constructed moral claims. Morality would be completely meaningless and arbitrary. To the question why be good? there would be no sufficient answer. I hope this clears things upbloodninja

    No, sorry. Here you are just restating your original thesis: that HN (whatever that is) is a necessary precondition for genuine morality. If HN is as I understood you to mean, then HN is such an obvious and uncontroversial fact, so bound up with our background knowledge about the world and ourselves, that it is hard to even separate it out, so that we could evaluate its specific relationship with morality. You may as well say that for there to be human morality there have to be humans.
  • Marchesk
    3.6k
    Really? What do you mean by "human nature," anyway? What would be the difference between possessing and not possessing "human nature?"SophistiCat

    The idea of human nature is that human beings are born predisposed to certain behaviors and attitudes, or predispositions, in the generalized sense. As opposed to being born blank slates and being formed entirely by the environment. So the whole nurture versus nature debate, but for the human species and not just individuals.

    But it's admittedly a nebulous, generalized concept. I would say that human beings have a sort of general nature that differs from other animals in some ways. For example, we weren't born dogs, as a dog trainer might tell a human who's treating their dog like a child.

    Or take Project Nim, where a human mother attempted to raise a baby chimp along with her children as part of a study on to what extent Chimps could learn language. It didn't turn out so well, because well, chimpanzees have different abilities and predispositions to humans, despite their similarities to us.
  • Marchesk
    3.6k
    hat too seems pretty uncontroversial, as long as you don't get into specifics. Does anyone really deny that?SophistiCat

    Pretty sure some people have sided rather strongly with the environmental side of the debate when it comes to human behavior and mental characteristics. The concern is that the EO Wilson's and Stephen Pinker's are advocating biological determinism and social darwinism. Alos concerns over sexism and racism.
  • SophistiCat
    1.4k
    Right, I understand and agree. But the nature vs. nurture debate is not really about whether people have any mental traits and predispositions in common with each other and at variance with other animals - the debate usually concerns the degree to which our predispositions are innate, how flexible they are, how important their role is, etc.
  • T Clark
    4.2k
    I think for something to count as human nature it has to be something innate while simultaneously pointing to or articulating what is fundamentally distinctive about us (so DNA is completely useless). Examples of this innate human nature are Plato's tripartite theory of the human soul, Aristotle's claim that man is the rational animal, Chomsky's ideas about language, perhaps Nietzsche's the will to power, etc. The difference between possessing an innate nature and not is that if the former is true then we can ground our moral claims and give them strong normative force. If the latter is true, and there is no innate human nature, then it appears that we have nothing to ground our moral claims in so they have weak normative force; we would be a social construction just like the socially constructed moral claims. Morality would be completely meaningless and arbitrary. To the question why be good? there would be no sufficient answer. I hope this clears things upbloodninja

    It's funny. As I write above, I see this as an issue that can be explained by our physical nature and you focus more on our minds, perhaps our souls, but we come out in very similar places about how it affects our idea of what it means to be human.
  • T Clark
    4.2k
    If there is a common denominator it appears to create, explore, and learn, and developing a consensus of values to direct this purpose as a group is the what can be called a community morality. However, it does change all of the time depending upon the community and the individuals in the community. So it is very changeable.Rich

    I agree with what you're saying. Are you implying that our morality is not dependent on our human nature?
  • T Clark
    4.2k
    All we really need to know is that there are inherited traits that humans express at variance with other animals, that set us apart as a distinctive species. Is that all that you are saying? That's rather obvious, and I can't imagine anyone denying it.SophistiCat

    I don't disagree in general, but we should acknowledge that we share much of what we call human nature with other animals. I'm reading "The Feeling of What Happens" by [forgot name]. The most interesting thing he's said so far is that consciousness reflects connecting our higher brain processes with a non-conscious self-regulating processes in our bodies which can be thought of as an image of ourselves, which he characterizes as a person within a person. That person is primarily in the "primitive" parts of our brain that we share with many other animals.
  • T Clark
    4.2k
    Pretty sure some people have sided rather strongly with the environmental side of the debate when it comes to human behavior and mental characteristics.Marchesk

    I've talked with a lot of parents who share an experience I had with my own children - they were themselves from the second they were born. Obviously they develop as they get older.

    This is a very interesting discussion.
  • SophistiCat
    1.4k
    I don't disagree in general, but we should acknowledge that we share much of what we call human nature with other animals.T Clark

    Come now, you won't say that nothing distinguishes our cognitive faculties from those of other species, or that there is a smooth transition? But sure, we ought to have a lot in common with other animals, and psychology should not be an exception. I would be careful about the theory of the "primitive brain" overlayed by higher functions though - I understand that contemporary science paints a more complicated and nuanced picture. It's "almost" as if there was no general architectural plan at work, and things rather developed in a messy ad hoc fashion.
  • T Clark
    4.2k
    Come now, you won't say that nothing distinguishes our cognitive faculties from those of other species, or that there is a smooth transition?SophistiCat

    No, I'm not saying that, but we share much, most, of our nature with animals.

    Smooth transition? I think there is continuity between other animals and ourselves. Yes, we are different, but not different in kind. I don't buy "What a piece of work is man, How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty, In form and moving how express and admirable, In action how like an Angel, In apprehension how like a god, The beauty of the world, The paragon of animals."

    I would be careful about the theory of the "primitive brain" overlayed by higher functions though - I understand that contemporary science paints a more complicated and nuanced picture. It's "almost" as if there was no general architectural plan at work, and things rather developed in a messy ad hoc fashion.SophistiCat

    The guy who wrote "The Feeling of What Happens," Antonio Damasio, is a well-known and respected neuroscientist. Whether or not he is completely right, I don't think we need to be "careful" of his theory.
  • Galuchat
    792
    No, I'm not saying that, but we share much, most, of our nature with animals...Yes, we are different, but not different in kind. — T Clark

    These are absurd statements for anyone who has even casually observed the behaviour of wolf packs, wildebeest herds, starling flocks, etc., or noticed that human beings are different in kind by virtue of possessing the faculty of language (and the capacity for verbal modelling that affords).

    If you want to persuade me that animals have a language faculty, please produce examples of animal technology similar in kind to human technology. Sure, chimpanzees and dogs have been in space, but they haven't been issuing instructions at mission control. So get serious, and don't waste anymore of my time with this bullshit.
  • bloodninja
    308
    If HN is as I understood you to mean, then HN is such an obvious and uncontroversial fact, so bound up with our background knowledge about the world and ourselves, that it is hard to even separate it out, so that we could evaluate its specific relationship with morality. You may as well say that for there to be human morality there have to be humans.SophistiCat

    Sorry but I have to disagree. Historically, there have been different and conflicting ways that we have understood our own humanity. That our cultural self-interpretation has changed over time, shows that any concept of human nature is highly controversial. Moreover, for a feature to count as human nature, it's not sufficient for that feature to be shared by all, rather it must be innate and it must articulate the being of the human (I hope I haven't made things murky by bringing in being, but being is what this discussion is about, not psychology, or soul, but the being of the human). The general feeling I get from culture today, for example, is that we are fundamentally social/cultural constructions, which is the antithesis of human nature because a social construct is not innate and seems potentially (though not necessarily) arbitrary.

    You might like Rorty. He tackles exactly this in C,I, and S. We can understand ourselves as groundless. We simply want a certain kind of society, one that maximizes freedom and minimizes cruelty, for instance. I don't find Rorty completely convincing, but he tackles exactly the issue you mention.t0m

    Thanks for the suggestion. I have never read Rorty, but I definitely will do. He was interviewed in a Heidegger documentary I watched recently. I really liked his demeanor. BTW I'm quite busy with a another project at the moment. I probably won't be ready to discuss The Concept of Time for another two weeks if that's cool? I plan to read bits and pieces of different texts to try to understand it...

    It's funny. As I write above, I see this as an issue that can be explained by our physical nature and you focus more on our minds, perhaps our souls, but we come out in very similar places about how it affects our idea of what it means to be human.T Clark

    If by soul you mean being. :)
  • Rich
    3.2k
    Only to the extent that we are trying to figure out how to live as a community. It is part of the process of discovery.
  • T Clark
    4.2k
    These are absurd statements for anyone who has even casually observed the behaviour of wolf packs, wildebeest herds, starling flocks, etc., or noticed that human beings are different in kind by virtue of possessing the faculty of language (and the capacity for verbal modelling that affords).Galuchat

    Of course some human capabilities are different from what other animals have. The question that divides us is whether the capacity for language, self-consciousness, opposable thumbs - makes us different in kind. You say yes, I say no.
  • T Clark
    4.2k
    If by soul you mean being.bloodninja

    Whenever this kind of issue comes up, I bring out my list. Thank you for the opportunity to do that now.

    Identity, self, soul, mind, ego, heart, self-awareness, consciousness, self-consciousness, spirit, me, myself, I, will, being, psyche, character, personality, essence, brain, mentality.

    Please pick one or more.
  • Hachem
    384
    I would like to put forward a claim I have defended in other contexts:

    "Rationality is a form of emotionality"

    I mean by that that through experience we learn that the world, physical and social, is governed by rules, and that it is in our interest to at least know and understand them. If not follow them,

    Those rules get an emotional charge attributed to them, and we tend to favor some rules above others.

    I do not believe there are separate functions that distinguish man from animal.

    I would consider the difference rather as a result of the interaction of two levels:
    emotion and memory.

    It would take us too far and I won't try to prove it, simply posit it as an unproven opinion:

    There are no programs in the brain, the whole brain is different kinds of memories, guided by different kinds of emotions.
  • T Clark
    4.2k
    Moreover, for a feature to count as human nature, it's not sufficient for that feature to be shared by all, rather it must be innate and it must articulate the being of the humanbloodninja

    Do you mean it can't be something we share with other animals? If so, I strongly disagree. Our sociality is a huge part of our nature, but the same can be said for chimpanzees. It seems likely, he said without knowing what he's talking about, that that characteristic comes from the same place, the same physical structures in the brain.

    The general feeling I get from culture today, for example, is that we are fundamentally social/cultural constructions, which is the antithesis of human nature because a social construct is not innate and seems potentially (though not necessarily) arbitrary.bloodninja

    In my view, the characteristics that make it possible for us to develop social/cultural constructions are inborn and part of human nature.
  • Hachem
    384
    I would like to clarify a possible misunderstanding.

    I do not deny the existence of rationality. I am just placing it in a continuum of emotions, many we share with animals.

    I do not believe in the dichotomy emotion/ratio.

    At the same time, we need the world to be rational.

    Just look at a lab mouse in a maze, trying to make sense of the intentions of the psychologist!
  • Bitter Crank
    8.8k
    It seems to be the case that the majority of people on here don't think there is a "human nature" as such.bloodninja

    I don't know whether this is true or not, but for some people "human nature" is the hinge on which swings the question of whether we can be more peaceful, more caring, more constructive, more etc. OR whether we're doomed to outbursts of war, cruelty, destruction, and so on. It's the basis of the "constructionism vs. essentialism" debate.

    It seems to me evident that humans have a nature, just as it is evident that wolves and apple trees have a nature. One of our problems -- problems that wolves and apple trees don't have -- is that we are capable of contriving very destructive behavior which, had it been unmanaged, would have extinguished us quite a while back. It may yet extinguish us.

    Morality is our necessary "crowd control" system. It's our built in (we have to learn it) self-control mechanism. "Built in" but not pre-programmed. It has to be taught and learned. But "taught and learned" doesn't preclude a built in, biologically based capacity for crowd-control and self-regulation.

    Psychopathy is a proof of how our morality works. People who are extremely psychopathic don't seem to be able to make the neural (biological) connection between "do this and do not do that" and punishment. Most people learn this as children -- because they are predisposed to learn it. Psychopaths can't.

    Morality among peoples seems to have a fair amount of commonality. A fair amount, only. We are capable of classifying some pretty ghastly behavior as moral.
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