Advertisement

Philosophy & Technology

, Volume 25, Issue 4, pp 459–474 | Cite as

Human Nature: The Very Idea

  • Tim LewensEmail author
Special Issue

Abstract

The only biologically respectable notion of human nature is an extremely permissive one that names the reliable dispositions of the human species as a whole. This conception offers no ethical guidance in debates over enhancement, and indeed it has the result that alterations to human nature have been commonplace in the history of our species. Aristotelian conceptions of species natures, which are currently fashionable in meta-ethics and applied ethics, have no basis in biological fact. Moreover, because our folk psychology finds this misleading Aristotelian conception highly tempting, we are in fact better off if we refrain from mentioning human nature altogether in debates over enhancement.

Keywords

Human nature Enhancement Essentialism 

Notes

Acknowledgements

I am grateful to Luciano Floridi and two anonymous referees from Philosophy and Technology for their very helpful comments on this paper. I would like to thank Russell Powell in particular for incisive comments on an earlier draft. The research leading to these results has received funding from the European Research Council under the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013)/ERC Grant agreement no 284123.

References

  1. Atran, S. (1990). Cognitive Foundations of Natural History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  2. Atran, S., Estin, P., Coley, J., & Medin, D. (1997). Generic species and basic levels: essence and appearance in folk biology. Journal of Ethnobiology, 17, 17–43.Google Scholar
  3. Barker, M. (2010). Specious intrinsicalism. Philosophy of Science, 77, 73–91.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Briggle, A. (2010). A Rich Bioethics: Public Policy, Biotechnology and the Kass Council. University of Notre Dame Press.Google Scholar
  5. Buchanan, A. (2009). Human nature and enhancement. Bioethics, 23, 141–150.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Buss, D. (1999). Evolutionary Psychology: The New Science of the Mind. Allyn and Bacon.Google Scholar
  7. Daly, M., & Wilson, M. (1988). Homicide. New York: De Gruyter.Google Scholar
  8. Daniels, N. (2009). Can Anyone Really be Talking About Ethically Modifying Human Nature? In J. Savulescu & N. Bostrom (Eds.), Human enhancement. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  9. Darwin, C. (1877/2004). The Descent of Man, Second Edition. Edited and introduced by J Moore and A Desmond. London: Penguin.Google Scholar
  10. Devitt, M. (2008). Resurrecting biological essentialism. Philosophy of Science, 75, 344–382.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Devitt, M. (2010). Species have (partly) intrinsic essences. Philosophy of Science, 77, 648–661.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Dupré, J. (1981). Natural kinds and biological taxa. Philosophical Review, 90, 66–91.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Ereshefsky, M. (2001). The poverty of the Linnean hierarchy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  14. Ereshefsky, M. (2008). Systematics and Taxonomy. In Sarkar & Plutynski (Eds.), The Blackwell companion to the philosophy of biology (pp. 99–118). Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  15. Ereshefsky, M. (2010). What’s wrong with the new biological essentialism? Philosophy of Science, 77, 674–685.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Ereshefsky, M., & Matthen, M. (2005). Taxonomy, polymorphism and history: an introduction to population structure theory. Philosophy of Science, 72, 1–21.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Foot, P. (2001). Natural goodness. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Gelman, S., & Hirschfeld, L. (1999). How Biological is Essentialism? In S. Atran & D. Medin (Eds.), Folkbiology (pp. 403–445). Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  19. Ghiselin, M. (1997). Metaphysics and the Origin of Species. SUNY Press.Google Scholar
  20. Griffiths, P. (1999). Squaring the circle: Natural kinds with historical essences. In: R. Wilson (Ed.) Species: New Interdisciplinary Essays (pp. 209–228). MIT Press.Google Scholar
  21. Habermas, J. (2003). The Future of Human Nature. Polity.Google Scholar
  22. Harris, J. (2007). Enhancing evolution: The ethical case for making better people. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  23. Heyes, C. (2012). What’s Social about Social Learning? Journal of Comparative Psychology. In pressGoogle Scholar
  24. Hull, D. (1986). Human nature. PSA: Proceedings of the Biennial Meeting of the Philosophy of Science Association, 2, 3–13.Google Scholar
  25. Kass, L. (1998). The wisdom of repugnance: Why we should ban the cloning of humans. Valparaiso University Law Review, 32, 679–705.Google Scholar
  26. Kass, L. (2003). Ageless Bodies, Happy Souls. New Atlantis Spring Edition: 9–28.Google Scholar
  27. Lewens, T. (2007). Darwin. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  28. Lewens, T. (2009a). What is wrong with typological thinking? Philosophy of Science, 76, 355–371.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Lewens, T. (2009b). Enhancement and human nature: The case of Sandel. Journal of Medical Ethics, 35, 354–356.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Lewens, T. (2010). Foot note. Analysis, 70, 468–473.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Lewens, T (2012). Species, Essence and Explanation. Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences. In pressGoogle Scholar
  32. Linquist, S., Machery, E., Griffiths, P., & Stotz, K. (2011). Exploring the folkbiological conception of human nature. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, 366, 444–453.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Machery, E. (2008). A plea for human nature. Philosophical Psychology, 21, 321–329.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Okasha, S. (2002). Darwinian metaphysics: Species and the question of essentialism. Synthese, 131, 191–213.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Ray, E., & Heyes, C. (2011). Imitation in infancy: The wealth of the stimulus. Developmental Science, 14, 92–105.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Richerson, P., & Boyd, R. (2005). Not by genes alone. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  37. Sandel, M. (2007). The case against perfection: Ethics in the Age of Genetic Engineering. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  38. Savulescu, J., & Bostrom, N. (Eds.). (2009). Human enhancement. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  39. Shuster, S. (1987). Alternative reproductive behaviors: Three discrete male morphs in Paracerceis sculpta. Journal of Crustacean Biology, 7, 318–327.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Sober, E. (1980). Evolution, population thinking, and essentialism. Philosophy of Science, 47, 350–383.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Thompson, M. (1995). The Representation of Life. In R. Hursthouse, G. Lawrence, & W. Quinn (Eds.), Virtues and reasons. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  42. Thompson, M. (2008). Life and action: Elementary structures of practice and practical thought. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of History and Philosophy of ScienceUniversity of CambridgeCambridgeUK

Personalised recommendations