• Jack Cummins
    493
    I am initiating this discussion in response to a comment I received in feedback to the thread I created on Jung's idea of the shadow. The writer queried my use of the term human nature, questioning whether it exists. I have to admit that I was making the assumption that however they may conceive it that philosophers begin from certain beliefs about human nature. As far as my current reading of posts on this site there is not much discussion about this area, with the exception of Gus Lamarch's theory of egoism.

    As far as I can see it ideas about human nature have always been central to philosophy, ranging from the thinking of Aristotle to the present day. Even the neuroscientists work from assumption about the importance of the brain and the biological thinkers explain behaviour in terms of chemicals, including hormones.

    When I think of my lectures I attend as a student I always remember Hobbes' assertion about life being, 'nasty, brutish and short.' In a way, this is a reflection about the human condition but it was written in the context of him drawing up the notion of the human contract and about how human beings behave and the need for regulation as we can be rather nasty if our behaviour is not controlled.

    I do come from a particular stance, influenced by the psychoanalytic thinkers, especially Freud and Jung. In this respect I do believe that in subconscious processes which I believe that people often are not always aware.


    However, while I am aware that many people reject the psychoanalytic theory, I am left wondering where the idea of human nature stands for philosophical debate. As far as I see human nature is a key element for thinking about human life ranging from writers from ancient thinkers, Christian thinkers to the theory of Darwin.

    So, what I am asking is whether there is a human nature? In this sense, I am also asking about whether there is a fixed nature or whether it can be altered. But firstly I am asking is the idea of human nature still a fundamental part of philosophy or has it been superseded by a more important agenda?
  • Daniel C
    81
    Thank you, Jack, for this thread - think it is a very important one if I understand your use of the concept of "human nature" correctly. Are you asking the following question: what is man in his unity and totality? What is his origin, essence and destiny? What is his place within the whole of reality? If this is your quest, you have succeeded in pointing out the major theme of philosophical anthropology. Is this what you actually have in mind with your question, or do you, perhaps, have something else in mind?
  • Gnomon
    1.1k
    The writer queried my use of the term human nature, questioning whether it exists. . . .Jack Cummins
    Of course, Human Nature doesn't "exist" in a materialistic concrete sense. It's a generalization, and an abstraction. So, it's not a testable empirical "thing" to be studied by scientists. But it's certainly amenable to philosophical study. "The writer" must be a hard Materialist, who doesn't accept immaterial things, such as Minds, to be Real. For them, the only things that "exist" are Atoms & Void. But Unfortunately, speculations on generalizations & universals are always somebody's Opinion, not hard facts. What's yours? :smile:

    According to Aristotle, the philosophical study of human nature itself originated with Socrates, who turned philosophy from study of the heavens to study of the human things. ...
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_nature
  • Jack Cummins
    493

    In the first place, I wrote this thread discussion because I was startled when a person queried me using the term human nature in another thread. I had been believing that however they conceived it that all philosophy begins with some premises about human nature. But it appears that the person who made the comment disputed this.

    I am interested in the origins, nature and future of humanity. My own philosophical interest is wide, but I have strong leanings towards the overlap between psychology and philosophy in understanding human nature. However, I do have an interest in anthropology, and anthropology does help us consider how there are differences and similarities between different cultures. This is useful for asking how fixed or variable human nature is.

    I may be accused of looking at life from too much of a broad angle rather than being more focused. My original degree was in Social Ethics, which was a combination of philosophy, social science and comparative ethical traditions. But I am interested in understanding life and human belief as fully as possible, with a view to how humanity survive in face of an uncertain future.
  • Wayfarer
    10.4k
    As far as I can see it ideas about human nature have always been central to philosophy, ranging from the thinking of Aristotle to the present day. Even the neuroscientists work from assumption about the importance of the brain and the biological thinkers explain behaviour in terms of chemicals, including hormones.Jack Cummins

    See if you can spot the implicit contradiction in this paragraph.
  • Jack Cummins
    493

    I am not sure if I am seeing what you are seeing.
    Perhaps it is like looking at one of those magic optical illusion pieces of art.

    I can see that I am saying that the various thinkers all begin from different premises about the human being, but the point I was making is that all models begin with a particular view of the human being.

    I have wondered if my statement about the neuroscientists and biologists could be the contradiction because neuroscience is a part of biology itself. Perhaps what I said makes it sound like the brain is separated with hormones raging in a course of their own making, although I am aware that they are all interrelated.

    Please put me out of my misery and tell me my contradiction.
  • god must be atheist
    2.4k
    See if you can spot the implicit contradiction in this paragraph.Wayfarer

    The biological thinkers? You mean that all others are also biological thinkers, all philosophers, etc.? Becasue they are thinkers based on a biological system or built?
  • god must be atheist
    2.4k

    In response to the OP: human nature is manifold, and that is why it appears to be a subject of philosophy: something that humans can't grasp yet, they leave it to be argued by the philosophers. In one way, philosophy is pre-science of the knowledge science has no basis to study with.

    But human nature has walked across the floor, so to speak. Pscyhology is the major science that deals with human nature, and secondly, we discovered the extreme importance of mutations and gene theory in the formation of individual's human nature. It is not vogue any more to talk about human nature among philosophers, because there is real, hard evidence out there that describes it supported by more evidence than what philosophy needs, and enough evidence to satisfy the validity of scientific scrutiny.
  • Wayfarer
    10.4k
    I have wondered if my statement about the neuroscientists and biologists could be the contradiction because neuroscience is a part of biology itself.Jack Cummins

    The point is, human nature is a 'holistic' notion. It is about the human as a whole, what is his/her underlying esse, nature, raison d'etre. Whereas neuroscience, endocronology and so on, are specialist disciplines that concentrate on one part or aspect of the human organism. So endocrinologists and neuroscientists needn't be concerned with 'human nature', although of course there's nothing stopping them from contemplating the question.

    A culture's conception of human nature is important in determining how it views the meaning and significance of human life. In many cultures there are mythological accounts of human nature which serve to illustrate some basic point about the human condition and the nature of human existence.
  • Jack Cummins
    493

    I am not a hard materialist and an obvious example of one would be the behaviourist psychologist B F Skinner.

    I am particularly very interested in both Freud and Jung. I am interested in the instinctual drives described by Freud, particularly the life and death instincts. I am not sure that the Oedipus complex is exactly true but I think it is a partial description of deeper archetypal truths. I accept the idea of the collective unconscious described by Jung but not as some supernatural pool but perhaps as a memory inherent in nature, along the lines described by Rupert Sheldrake in his idea of morphic resonance. In fact, I think Sheldrake may be a missing link in connecting psychology and biology.

    Human nature is such a vast topic and I would say that not just philosophers but every human being has some view on it because it is part of the way we understand the self and how to live. Of course, views about human nature can be seen as opinion, more especially when they are constructed in terms such as whether people are good or evil. The theories of human nature which are founded in science are grounded in evidence but even scientific models are only models.

    Perhaps one fairly good model is the triangle of needs described by Maslow, which starts from the basic survival needs, moving upwards to the social needs, with the need for self-actualization at the top. This model is fairly diverse because it incorporates all the different layers.

    I would say that any model of human nature needs to be able to take on board the many facets of the human condition. But my main argument is that however grand or smart a theory is, some kind of view of what a human being is central. In other words, the very concept of human nature in it a fluid but not fixed sense, cannot be redundant.
  • Jack Cummins
    493

    I am completely in agreement with a holistic picture of human nature of life personally, and in the reply I was just writing I suggested Maslow as being a useful model, but we could also point to the whole systems point of view, such as that put forward by the physicist Fritjof Capra.
  • Jack Cummins
    493

    As I have just said to Wayfarer I am in favour of a holistic model, or systems view of life.

    However, I still believe that the idea of human nature is useful even in the light of scientific developments. I think it is easy for philosophy to get carried away with the scientific discoveries, especially quantum physics, and almost get blinded by the light to the point of missing the shadows. I don't think we can be expected to accept scientific truth as a replacement for the whole concept of human nature, because to do so would be to dismiss the basics of philosophy going back to the ancient thinkers.
  • Pinprick
    456


    I believe it’s me you’re referring to, so I’ll try to explain my thoughts more fully than I did in the other thread. Personally, I want to believe in human nature, emphasis on want, but I’m skeptical. Also, what I mean by human nature would be some trait, or characteristic that all humans share regardless of their environment, culture, sex, etc. I would also consider human nature to be immutable. That said, the issue to me is how you can go about separating nature from nurture, so to speak. Humans necessarily exist within an environment that shapes them. That’s basically the premise of evolution. If human nature existed, then it would imply that there is some part of all of us that our environment does not affect. I fail to see what this part of us is, or even possibly could be, so I doubt it’s existence.
  • Jack Cummins
    493

    What you have explained is different to what I thought you meant, but nevertheless my supposition of what you meant lead to a thread in itself. The subject of human nature was due for discussion and what you are saying now adds to the debate.

    I thought that you were coming from the point of view of thinking that human nature is an unnecessary construct whereas you think it is immutable, but think that the role of nurture is the main issue. I can see where you are coming from because we are definitely not isolated cells of consciousness. Most of the psychologists do think that the socialisation process of supreme importance. Of course, we could say that genetic factors play a role too.

    I think that the nature vs nurture debate is a very important aspect of the debate about human nature, but the topic has many facets because it is central to who we are.

    I do have a question about the immutabilty, whether human nature is nature or nurture. If it is part biological or shaped by the environment is it not the case that we are different from people from earliest times. I am not saying that they were less evolved because it may be the case that they were sensitive in ways beyond our capabilities but were they the same or different from us? I suppose I am just wondering about the core constructs of what it means to be a human being and whether this is distinct from the culture in which the person belongs.
  • Gnomon
    1.1k
    As I have just said to Wayfarer I am in favour of a holistic model, or systems view of life.Jack Cummins
    Are you familiar with the Santa Fe Institute in New Mexico? It's a think-tank and research center for Complex Adaptive Systems. And that includes humans. It consists of a variety of physical scientists, but their common approach to their subjects is Holism, rather than Reductionism. A more technical term for that kind of science is "Systems Theory".

    You seem to be familiar with Fritjof Capra, and his book, The Systems View of Life. But a more recent advocate of non-reductive science is Stuart Kaufman. His 2016 book, Humanity in a Creative Universe, may be considered a technical treatise on Human Nature -- covering subjects like Free Will, and the Mind-Body problem. Like Capra, he is not afraid to risk his considerable scientific credentials, on taboo topics for reductive materialistic attitudes. And his book frequently crosses the line between hard science and soft philosophy. So, while it may be interesting for the philosophically inclined, some may criticize its forays into imagination and speculation -- to call it "fact free". And they may complain that Holism opens the door to Mysticsm. But, I'm willing to take that chance, in order to put human nature under the microscope. :smile:


    Stuart Kauffman : We really did create a new science. It seems "fact free," as John Maynard Smith said, because we were finding not efficient cause laws, but kinds of what might be called just math or formal cause laws.
    https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/cross-check/scientific-seeker-stuart-kauffman-on-free-will-god-esp-and-other-mysteries/
  • Jack Cummins
    493

    Thanks for giving me the details because it sounds interesting.
  • Valentinus
    839

    One element in Jung's writings that I haven't seen observed enough is the primacy of personal experience. To hear an agent, you must give them agency. Listening is only possible with respect.
    What are the requirements of witnessing?
  • Pinprick
    456
    I thought that you were coming from the point of view of thinking that human nature is an unnecessary construct whereas you think it is immutable, but think that the role of nurture is the main issue.Jack Cummins

    Just to clarify. I’m skeptical that human nature exists. That is, I’m doubtful that there is some universal trait that we all share, and that is immutable. I think this because nurture seems to affect all traits, thereby making all traits mutable. However, thinking of humans as having a nature may be useful to help us understand ourselves. It may be a useful fiction, at best.

    Of course, we could say that genetic factors play a role too.Jack Cummins

    Aren’t our very DNA shaped by evolution as well?

    If it is part biological or shaped by the environment is it not the case that we are different from people from earliest times.Jack Cummins

    We are certainly different from our ancient ancestors. I think there was a time when humans were not even conscious, for example. Also, I think one thing to keep in mind is that evolution is slow. So, Jung or Freud may be correct about “human nature,” but only during a certain period of time. But I would bet that if they had solely looked at our ancient ancestors, and tried to derive a theory of human nature from them, that their theories would be very different from the ones they came up with. It may very well be that humans currently have a shadow side in the Jungian sense, but perhaps 500,000 years ago they did not.

    I suppose I am just wondering about the core constructs of what it means to be a human being and whether this is distinct from the culture in which the person belongs.Jack Cummins

    I think being a human is different for each human. But I would say that the most universal aspect of being human is our ability to adapt. However, I would say that this ability is again determined by our existing in an environment that demands it. Which means that if our ability to adapt was not beneficial for our survival, we would never have developed the ability in the first place.
  • TheMadFool
    7.9k
    For what it's worth, my two cents...

    I remember, vaguely, a forum member stating not that human nature exists/doesn't exist but that the very notion doesn't make sense. Unfortunately, I seem to have forgotten faer argument.

    My own beliefs on the issue follow...

    It appears that a certain conceptual framework, to wit, a quantitative one, is being applied to humans to give legitimacy to the concept of human nature. For instance, if some one claims that human nature includes characteristics like loving, noble, friendly, discreet, and so on, the implicit assumption is that all these need to be qualified with the adverb "generally" or the phrase "most humans are" i.e. any and all accounts of human nature are statistical arguments, quantitative.

    If so, let's do what should be obvious viz. look at human nature from a qualitative perspective. When we do this, we see that for every possible characteristic present there's an opposite of that characteristic present too. If there are humans who are loving there are humans that are hateful, for those who are noble there are the ignoble, friendly people are offset by hostiles, the discreet have to put up with the rash, and so on. To make the long story short, human nature, from a qualitative standpoint, doesn't make sense for every trait seems to be paired with an anti-trait and these cancel each other out leaving nothing by way of a residual trait/anti-trait, of this interplay of opposites, that we can then call human nature. The bottom line is that, qualitatively, there's no such thing as human nature.
  • JackBRotten
    15
    Your view of “human nature” as something that exists as a “fixed” and “unalterable” structure of perceptual cognition easily falters under the mounting history of a fluidly changing cognitive and societal existence. Our “nature” wasn’t always as it exists today. As such it cannot be “fixed”.
  • Jack Cummins
    493

    I don't know if you were replying to what I said or someone else's comment on this thread because you did not address anyone. I don't think I or the other people writing are actually saying that human nature is unalterable. If you were going by the last comment I made I was merely addressing this part of the debate as expressed by Pinprick's comment about the nature vs nurture debate. If you look at the thread discussion in full you will see that it is looking at the whole question about whether the use of the term human nature is helpful.
  • TheMadFool
    7.9k
    Your view of “human nature” as something that exists as a “fixed” and “unalterable” structure of perceptual cognition easily falters under the mounting history of a fluidly changing cognitive and societal existence. Our “nature” wasn’t always as it exists today. As such it cannot be “fixed”.JackBRotten

    Well said. I've always wanted to, when and If I get the time and provided I still feel as enthusiastic as I was on the day the idea popped into my mind, categorize philosophy, among other things, into dynamic and static.

    If a philosophy is dynamic then its constructed in way that it changes, adapts rather, to what time and the world throws at it. Dynamic philosophy keeps up with the latest fashion trends in philosophy, never becoming outmoded, forever relevant so to speak.

    A static philosphy would be one that's insensitive to changing times, it's rigid and inflexible, it lacks any adaptive features, its liable to lose its relevance in a couple of years and decades, and some timespans may involve even thousands of years. The point is, it's not a question of if but when they join the club of dead and buried ideas.
  • Unlucky Devil
    3
    I accept the idea of the collective unconscious described by Jung but not as some supernatural pool but perhaps as a memory inherent in nature, along the lines described by Rupert Sheldrake in his idea of morphic resonance. In fact, I think Sheldrake may be a missing link in connecting psychology and biologyJack Cummins

    I may be mistaken, but it sounds like your leaning towards the idea of memetics i.e the idea that there are codified memories passed on within the gene pool. I have often considered the idea that various primal instincts displayed in our species such as the fight or flight response are a memetic memory inherited through our ancestry to serve as an aid for survival.

    If by human nature we aim to look at the behavioural characteristics which are shared by the species then we could argue that it is our primal instincts and urges which we recognise as being present in the entire species, such as the fight or flight response that make up our nature and everything else about an individual is a result of how we are nurtured.
  • Daniel C
    81
    Jack, I must congratulate you, because I discern something of the true philosophical spirit in your writing, the one taking us back to Socrates where he declares that he knows nothing and wants to learn, in other words a spirit of humbleness. This example set by that great mind is today still just as valid as it to used to be when he was still alive, but, alas, how do we have to search to find it in our contemporary world!
    Regarding psychology: it is one of many of the newer sciences that developed out of philosophy and its origin can perhaps be traced back to Wilhelm Wundt (1832-1920) with his pragmatic approach to human behaviour / conduct viewing it as a phenomenon which can be objectively measured.
    However, in an attempt to comment on some of the aspects raised in your question on human nature, I will have to refer to anthropology, and more specifically philosophical anthropology. In this branch of philosophy the emphasis is not on empirical-factual scientific data about certain aspects of a human being, eg medical science, specific social customs of various groups of people, but rather on trying to understand man as man in distinction of other existing things.

    Let's take a few examples from the history of philosophy where attempts were made to answer this fundamental question about man. Please take note that this is nothing more than a superficial attempt to point out certain different positions - of course it does not pretend to be anything more.

    1) Naturalism: man is nothing more than a segment of nature, a highly developed animal in spite of the fact that he is intellectually so much more/higher developed than the highest developed animals.
    2) Idealism: man is a conscious thinking being, essentially rational.
    3) Existentialism: a being caught up in a never ending "religious" struggle in freely choosing and becoming what he can be. Related key themes: anxiety, subjectivity, alienation, absurdity, authenticity.
    4) Marxism: man is primarily a labourer: physical labour being the only way leading to the fulfillment of his physical needs with all other needs being denied or rated as inferior.
  • Jack Cummins
    493

    I think you were probably replying to what I wrote on the thread on Jung's shadow.

    I do agree that Jung does not write much based on his personal experience, except in his autobiography, Memories, Dreams and Reflections. I think that his rather detached style of writing was the fashion of the time and I would prefer the role of witness to be included.

    However, I am sure that some people have written from the witness stance in response to his writings, or we can do it ourselves. Anyway, I am not sure it would give more credibility to his argument because hard, quantitative evidence is the preferred trend in psychology today.
  • Jack Cummins
    493

    I am glad that you can see that we are probably a bit different from our earliest ancestors. But of course, it is hard to know how much because as you point out evolution is a slow process.

    The question is how will we evolve in the future?
    I have read that many children being born now do not have their original set of wisdom teeth and have an extra artery in the arm. I am not sure how much difference that will make. But I have also read, but not sure of the evidence, that children born now have more junk DNA activated. That may make some difference as some scientists have suggested that what was thought to be junk DNA may contain content for the development of psychological and emotional life.
  • Jack Cummins
    493

    I definitely think that too much generalisations about 'human nature' are not particularly helpful. There are many differences between individuals. When I argue that the concept of human nature is still important I am looking more at basic model structure, like the instinctual drives and, dare I say it, basic archetypes, which I am sure that many hard materialists would dismiss as fantasies. But even the materialist have their fantasies, though they may think them to be unreal.

    I most certainly agree with you that a static philosophy would be unhelpful for 'changing times' as you say. Perhaps the art is to be able to blend the truths of past ages with contemporary knowledge and insight. Hopefully we do not have to wait until the philosophers are dead to buried to be able to acknowledge their value.
  • Jack Cummins
    493

    I am afraid that I am not a biologist so cannot really explain how instincts and drives work. Even Freud had a conflict about whether instincts and drives are different. And, as one writer commenting on the thread I started on Freud, his whole theory of sexuality was a bit limited by him not having the knowledge about hormones which we have acquired.

    I think that from a the standpoint of philosophy it is important for us to become as knowledgeable as possible about recent scientific studies. However, I do not think philosophy should be just demoted as an unnecessary body part to thought, like an appendix which can be removed.

    Anyway, I have never seen any comments by you on this website so far, so my guess is that you are new, so I hope that you find interesting discussions and of course you can initiate ones of your own.
  • Jack Cummins
    493

    I like your little sketch of the various positions of philosophy. I hope that other people see it, so it might be helpful for you to squeeze it into another thread at some point, because you may capture a wider audience than those who have read this particular thread.

    I find the whole area of philosophical anthropology fascinating and I do hope to read more, although I already spend so much time reading. I would encourage you to contribute this perspective as it has been sadly lacking in many areas of recent debate and I am sure it could be extremely valuable.
  • jamalrob
    2.8k
    Marxism: man is primarily a labourer: physical labour being the only way leading to the fulfillment of his physical needs with all other needs being denied or rated as inferior.Daniel C

    There may have been Marxists who believed this, but Marx certainly did not. "Marx held a consistent view that our human nature was expressed in a drive to spontaneously and creatively produce products in a manner that is conducive to social and individual satisfaction."

    Marx's view of human nature
    Marx's theory of human nature
  • JackBRotten
    15
    “...I am also asking about whether there is a fixed nature or whether it can be altered.”

    Asking such a question is indicative of perceptual consideration. My choice in verbiage of stating “Your view...” does possess a nature of linearity. As such, the confusion I perceive you had experienced was understandable.
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