Tag Archives: human nature

David Reich

The genomic evidence of the antiquity of inequality—between men and women, and between people of the same sex but with greater and lesser power—is sobering in light of the undeniable persistence of inequality today. One possible response might be to conclude that inequality is part of human nature and that we should just accept it. But I think the lesson is just the opposite. Constant effort to struggle against our demons—against the social and behavioral habits that are built into our biology—is one of the ennobling behaviors of which we humans as a species are capable, and which has been critical to many of our triumphs and achievements. Evidence of the antiquity of inequality should motivate us to deal in a more sophisticated way with it today, and to behave a little better in our own time.

David Reich, Who We Are and How We Got Here: Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past, New York, 2018, p. 246

Jon Elster

Cela fait 25 siècles que les gens essayent de comprendre le comportement humain ou la nature humaine – disons depuis le temps d’Aristote ou de Platon. Pourquoi le dernier siècle ou la dernière décennie seraient-ils privilégiés ou plus intéressants ? Y aurait-il plus de génies ou de grands penseurs ? Il n’y a aucune raison de le penser, et de fait c’est faux. Il suffit de lire Montaigne, Aristote, La Rochefoucauld, Tocqueville, Proust, pour ne citer qu’eux : ils débordent d’hypothèses.

Jon Elster, in Marc Kirsch, ‘Entretien avec Jon Elster’, La lettre du Collège de France, no. 21 (December, 2007), p. 44

Adam Smith

All for ourselves and nothing for other people, seems, in every age of the world, to have been the vile maxim of the masters of mankind.

Adam Smith, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, London, 1776, bk. 3, ch. 4

Louis Kaplow and Steven Shavell

[C]onsequentialists generally have not systematically elaborated how an ideal moral system should be specified; instead, they have tended to be reactive, offering rationalizations of existing moral rules or responses to particular conundrums put forward by critics. For example, consequentialists sometimes invoke various assumptions about human nature to explain certain imperfections in the moral system or to make sense of particular, problematic examples. Yet, no matter how plausible such arguments are in a given context, one is left wondering whether the consequentialist’s assumptions are employed consistently across contexts, and, more fundamentally, what would be the conclusions if one thoroughly investigated the assumptions’ implications.

Louis Kaplow and Steven Shavell, ‘Human Nature and the Best Consequentialist Moral System’, Discussion Paper No. 349, Harvard Law School, p. 3

Steven Pinker

The taboo on human nature has not just put blinkers on researchers but turned any discussion of it into a heresy that must be stamped out. Many writers are so desperate to discredit any suggestion of an innate human constitution that they have thrown logic and civility out the window. Elementary distinctions—”some” versus “all,” “probable” versus “always,” “is” versus “ought”—are eagerly flouted to paint human nature as an extremist doctrine and thereby steer readers away from it. The analysis of ideas is commonly replaced by political smears and personal attacks. This poisoning of the intellectual atmosphere has left us unequipped to analyze pressing issues about human nature just as new scientific discoveries are making them acute.

Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature, New York, 2002, p. x

Craig Stanford

[T]he antioevolutionary forces of creationists have all along argued loudly that biology has nothing whatever to teach us about humanity. They put their money where their mouths are, fighting a relentless and often successful political battle to cast a shadow over evolutionary fact in the name of theological politics. Their ranks in the fight against science have been joined, ironically, by some scholars in the social sciences and humanities who consider scientific theories to be just social constructions of reality, rather than descriptions of reality itself. They reject the idea of a human nature for altogether different reasons than creationists do, feeling that science may be just a political tool of white male scientists. These scholars tend to be horrified by people like me, who look for intersections of biology and culture, and often find them. Since the most important questions in the human sciences arise from these intersection points, I find the anti-biological approach, whether outright creationist or clothed in the intellectual garb of science-is-just-another-culture, to be appallingly shallow and intellectually nihilist.

Craig Stanford, Significant Others: The Ape-Human Continuum and the Quest for Human Nature, New York, 2001, p. xiv

Loyal Rue

To take Darwin seriously means, among other things, to place the study of human nature squarely within the context of evolutionary biology—which the social sciences have consistently failed to do.

Loyal Rue, ‘Sociobiology and Moral Discourse’, Zygon, vol. 33, no. 4 (December 1998), p. 526

George Bernard Shaw

Man is not yet an ideal creature. At his present best many of his ways are so unpleasant that they are unmentionable in polite society, and so painful that he is compelled to pretend that pain is often a good. Nature, also called Providence, holds no brief for the human experiment: it must stand or fall by its results. If Man will not serve, Nature will try another experiment.

George Bernard Shaw, Back to Methuselah, London, 1945, preface

Julian Huxley

There have been all the applications of science, leading to a new and more comprehensive view of man’s possible control of nature. But then there was the rediscovery of the depths and horrors of human behaviour, as revealed by Nazi extermination camps, Communist purges, Japanese treatment of captives, leading to a sobering realization that man’s control over nature applies as yet only to external nature: the formidable conquest of his own nature remains to be achieved

Julian Huxley, New Bottles for New Wine, London, 1957, preface