Everybody is all science-y about human nature these days. Insights into how and why people are the way they are gleaned from cutting edge neuroscience, evolutionary psychology, and other hard sciences have captured the public’s imagination. Pop science mags/websites are chock full of articles on the latest findings about the biological basis of human nature. The social sciences keep plugging away on the matter, too, trying to untangle the role that environment and upbringing play and whether there is such a thing as a common human nature that spans different eras and cultures.
When CivCon discussed the existence of a universal human nature in 2015 our discussion focused mostly on the science, if I recall right.
The idea behind Monday’s revisit is to make sure we don’t shortchange the 3,000 years of thinking about human nature that came before 21st century cognitive science. There are the major philosophers like Plato and Hume and their heirs. Political philosophers, including Madison and Jefferson, rooted their theories in particular views of human nature.
There is also religion. Don’t all of the major faith traditions have a conception of basic human nature? What is the Ten Commandments if not a statement about how people naturally will act if not deterred by authority? Isn’t Jesus saying that human empathy is malleable and expandable? Buddhists claim our nature is to suffer because we crave too much. You get the idea. And, yeah, the science is pretty cool, too. Maybe some of us know more about it than I do (It would be hard to know less).
Our meetings are getting pretty crowded these days. This is great in many ways, but maybe a bigger group needs to discuss a broad topic like this one within some sort of loose structure. So, after a brief intro I will ask sequentially about:
- You: What personal experiences have given you insights into human nature? Education. Family. Marriage/relationships. Parenting. Work. Worship/spirituality? Personal crises?
- Science: Anything cool you’ve read on biology etc. of human nature?
- Social science: Sociology, economics…
- Religion: What do religions assume about human nature and can faith/spirituality change it?
- Philosophy: Insights of major thinkers + different schools (like East/West or essentialist/nomological)
- Art: I forgot this one.
Here are some (optional as always) background things to ponder.
SUGGESTED BACKGROUND READING –
- The major approaches to conceiving human nature – Philosophical ones, different sciences, religion, etc. Very long but thorough.
- There is no real universal human nature.
- Wrong. Human nature DOES exist, say both modern science and philosophy. Recommended.
- Human nature according to:
- The single, huge difference between humans and animals.
- Why are humans so cruel to one another?
NEXT WEEK: Hail Me! If you were our dictator what would you decree?