TED Conversations

Ryan Alexander

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Do humans have a "Human Nature" or are our behaviors motivated by our cultural backgrounds?

I have this conversation with thinkers all the time. In my opinion any beginning philosopher must identify their idea of human nature before they can move forward with their idea's about the world or about an ideal world.

Some individuals that I have talked to though have brought up the point of nature versus nurture. That possible fact that the ideas of the west that humans need instant gratification, are greedy and selfish may only apply to societies that allow this ideology to flourish and prosper.

So, I guess the real question is...is human behavior motivated by a universal "human nature" or is human behavior learned through culture? Are we really all that different?

I personally don't believe so.

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    Jul 2 2012: our behaviors motivated by our culture, because our culture defines what is right and what is wrong,you have to follow the right way to get more oppotunity to propagate your gene._propagating gene is our Human Nature...am i right?
    • Jul 2 2012: There are many behaviors that come before culture. Think about a baby: grasping, suckling, crying and doing these things to fill selfish needs like nutrition. Surviving is beneficial for evolution. If a life form does not survive long enough to reproduce then they likely will not continue as a species, and traits that do not kill us (in a way that stops proliferation) replicate. Survival behavior is something that continues throughout our lives and we incorporate our culture into it.
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        Jul 3 2012: i believe we are talking aout humanbeing's behaviors which seperate us from animals...
        • Jul 3 2012: That’s an interesting perspective on the subject :-) I didn’t realize that was what you meant, nor had I looked at it from that perspective -- "human nature" as a term for an Identity shared only by humans. This is a broad and interesting topic. There are many things we share with the other animals (mainly other mammals, with respect to behavior/culture), but there are also many differences.

          Even apes and monkeys develop a cultural sense of right and wrong, and in order to be accepted into their culture they have to abide by this (different packs have different cultures). The ones that abide are seen as more attractive and get more opportunity to propagate their genes (this also happens with humans, as you noted). Distinctly, humans form more complex “ideals” which may or may not override their more primitive behaviors, and make mating more than just a right from opportunity. These ideals are often tied to culture :-)

          My interpretation of the subject presented is: Do humans have inherent behavioral habits (often called "human nature"), which may or may not be distinct to humans. Or, do humans learn all of their behavioral habits through cultures that have developed over time?

          Both: We develop some routine behaviors though our cultures, but there are also behaviors that we do naturally. There are so many of us that, through breading, we have developed a broad and mixed variety of natural behaviors. Take aggression for example: Just like other animals there are humans that have (naturally) more and less active areas of the brain that stimulate and inhibit aggression.

          Human children also have a long period of brain development which requires longer periods of care and nurturing from their parents. This long period allows parents and cultures to influence, mold, and teach greater control over these natural behaviors as the brain develops. Humans are very fortunate to develop this way, because it allows us to more easily become more than just our genes.
        • Jul 3 2012: *continued

          Among other things, this allows us to have larger functional societies, because through this process (and others -- some of which are shared with other animals) we can shape our behaviors more.
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        Jul 4 2012: thank you for your responses.sure we have a lot of natural behaviors which are sharing with animals ,and we developed many nurtural behaviors as individuals. and we also have some natural behaviors which inherit from the cultural behaviors ,like smile ,language ,walk ... i think all the behaviors motivated by genes' desire to survive and improve

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