Evolutionary Epistemology, Language and Culture

Volume 39 of the series Theory and Decision Library A: pp 259-281

Against human nature

  • Tim IngoldAffiliated withDepartment of Anthropology, University of Aberdeen

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Are cultural differences superimposed upon a universal human nature? The appeal to an essentialist concept of human nature is a defensive reaction to the legacy of racist science left by Darwin’s argument in The Descent of Man. Humans are made to appear different in degree from their evolutionary antecedents by attributing the movement of history to a process of culture that differs in kind from the biological process of evolution. The specifications of evolved human nature are supposed to lie in the genes. However, human capacities are not genetically specified but emerge within processes of ontogenetic development. Moreover the circumstances of development are continually shaped through human activity. There is consequently no human nature that has escaped the current of history.