What Is Human Nature Definition?
Samuels argues that there are four theoretical roles that human nature fulfils. These are: an organizing role, descriptive functions, causal explanatory functions and taxonomic functions.
The latter entails two questions: the properties that figure decisively in explanations and the conditions that individuate a species specimen. The answers to these questions depend on how the concept is construed.
Definition of human nature
A further reason for the impasse is a deeper ambiguity in the use of human nature. The term can pick out either the properties that individuate organisms as members of the species Homo sapiens or the characteristics that define a higher-level entity that includes all those specimens. The former option, which philosophers call a causal conception of human nature, characterises those factors that interferingly influence the range of similarities and differences between individual organisms.
Machery defends a nomological conception of human nature, which he thinks withstands the criticisms that are usually levelled at an essentialist view. This would imply that human nature is a set of pervasive and robust causal nexuses between antecedent and consequent properties that distinguish humans. It is a concept similar to the ones we might find in nature documentaries or in mere list conceptions such as Hume’s. But, unlike those concepts, this one would have explanatory power. This is because the causal mechanisms are intrinsic to the human mind.
Biological nature of humans
One of the reasons why it is important to unpack this package and understand what the term “human nature” actually picks out is that it is often used to make normative claims. In particular, it is claimed that human nature is a set of properties that determine whether or not an organism belongs to the species Homo sapiens. These properties also play a role in shaping the morphological and behavioral characteristics of that species.
Machery suggests that this nomological approach to human nature satisfies many of the roles that the concept was originally intended to fulfil. However, he points out that it fails to identify the properties that are essential to belonging to the human species.
He proposes an alternative that he calls the pattern of trait clusters in extant possible life histories as a more suitable account of human nature. This view identifies the causal connections between antecedent and consequent properties, such as having been exposed to benzene or experiencing abuse.
Moral nature of humans
The notion of human nature continues to generate lively philosophical debate. Its critics claim that it is incompatible with evolutionary biology, while its defenders argue that it is scientifically respectable and meaningful. Whether this debate can be resolved depends on how the concept is understood or defined.
A common approach to the notion of human nature is a nomological one, in which the concept picks out the traits and dispositions that distinguish humans from other species. However, Machery points out that this concept is problematic in several ways. First, it can be overinclusive. For example, a belief that water is wet cannot be considered part of human nature because it is not an intrinsic trait. Second, it can be a source of confusion between explanatory and descriptive properties. Finally, it can lead to false or misleading generalizations about humans. A more promising idea is a causal conception of human nature, which identifies the genetic and environmental resources that enable varying life histories in different individuals.
Social nature of humans
Moreover, some philosophers have taken the expression “human nature” to be synonymous with a particular kind of causal nexus. Such a nexus is one that is common to all humans, regardless of their culture or background. In other words, it is a set of pervasive and robust causal connections that can be discerned through the scientific study of human beings.
However, there is a problem with this view. Because the scientific study of human beings is focused on contemporary humans, this nexus cannot be used to explain properties that are temporally restricted. In other words, a human’s explanatory human nature at one point in time can be radically different from the human’s explanatory human nature at another time. This is known as the nomological problem. Machery points out that the nomological concept of human nature fails to fulfil many roles that it is expected to perform in science and philosophy. However, he argues that it still fulfils some important ones.