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Does human nature exist?

It would seem that there are animal, vegetable and inanimate natures which determine how an entity is. Is there also a human nature? Does it aid or go against experience and logic to say that human nature does or does not exist?

As words can be used in different ways, I would clarify that the word nature is used in two ways; First, to speak of nature in terms of the commonality of all of existence. (The wind, the botanical world, the sun, biological processes etc. etc. ) This is not the sense of the word that I am asking of in this discussion.

The Second sense is to note what would specify something. This is the sense of the word for this discussion. It would be of subsistent quality(s) which adhere(s) as a specifying set of characteristics and define a being according to his capabilities and the purpose towards which he exists.

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  • Sep 20 2012: Many times in these TED conversations, someone will begin or end an argument by using the phrase "its human nature." When used in this way, "human nature" is a model of humans and human behavior that we have consciously and unconsciously built in our brains.

    Consider the process of building this model. New born babies will respond differently to humans than to non-humans. (Human nature is obvious.) So to some small extent, our understanding of "human nature" is inborn. From day one forward every single interaction of a baby with a human contributes to building this model of "human nature." Some children who are raised in a completely positive environment will trust any adult. These children must be taught to distrust strangers. Children raised in very negative environments find it very difficult to learn to trust anyone. So at a very young age, our models of "human nature" can be very diverse. (We all disagree with each other.)

    So now we are scientific minded adults, and we are trying to discern what is the actual nature of humans. A big part of that challenge is to become aware of how much of our individual model is unconscious. Part of that challenge is to carefully define the terms we use. Part of that challenge is to recognize how small is our personal experience of humans, compared to the population of the globe.

    There are two basic aspects of defining the nature of an entity. First, what similarities do all humans share. Second, what are the differences between humans and other entities. We should be able to make two lists, and that would define human nature. Unfortunately, this approach is very frustrating when applied to humans, because humans are very diverse and have much in common with other animals. Computer programs and crows can solve problems that science once thought only humans could solve.

    One of the basic tenets of science is usefulness. Of what use is a definition of "human nature"?
    • J Ale

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      Sep 21 2012: "So now we are scientific minded adults, and we are trying to discern what is the actual nature of humans. A big part of that challenge is to become aware of how much of our individual model is unconscious. Part of that challenge is to carefully define the terms we use. Part of that challenge is to recognize how small is our personal experience of humans, compared to the population of the globe."

      Well, now you start to lose me because if we seek understanding of what is unconscious then we seek understanding of what is inaccessible. I don’t think this is a part of human nature that we can speak about. It would be pure conjecture with no experience to stand upon. Yes, though. Defining is good.

      The smallness of our personal experience can be problematic because it can take many people and many discussions to amalgamate the knowledge. That said, even though all are taught by others, one small man can make a world of difference. Cf. great inventors, philosophers etc.
    • J Ale

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      Sep 21 2012: "There are two basic aspects of defining the nature of an entity. First, what similarities do all humans share. Second, what are the differences between humans and other entities. We should be able to make two lists, and that would define human nature. Unfortunately, this approach is very frustrating when applied to humans, because humans are very diverse and have much in common with other animals. Computer programs and crows can solve problems that science once thought only humans could solve.

      One of the basic tenets of science is usefulness. Of what use is a definition of "human nature"?
      "
      I am seriously impressed with this paragraph. You are speaking of the nature of definition which is to offer the specific difference of an object in a particular genera. So the genera would be found in the similarities and the most specific difference would be found in the differences between human and other entities.
      I do not think it is so hard though, or frustrating. Try this on for human nature…Human nature is a rational animal. That definition would line up with reality and would insert well into the discovery of compatible ethical systems, metaphysical understanding and various philosophies of life such as politics.
      Now we do part ways with your last 3 sentences. First of all Crows nor any other animal every “solves” something unless what you mean is a pure use of the power of physical estimation whereby a crow, or a human for that matter, simply figures how to physically manipulate. I am thinking of the little toy with the metal ball that you have to get in all of the holes. There is no real reasoning involved. It is all estimation of balance and distance etc. So, a crow could do something similar . If hands were not needed
    • J Ale

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      Sep 21 2012: . And it can remember to…hence maybe an obstacle of having to remember where a seed was planted. Animals have memory. But solutions whereby an understanding of something occurs is purely human.
      And as regards science, the tenet of usefulness should not be a tenet. That is a reduction of science and a modern development. All science first began in wonder with the world. To divorce the scientist from the idea of what something is, is to cause his work to be exactly what you suggest it is…an object of use which prejudices the observational motives of a scientist. Pure use is unreasonable. It is a dogmatic, predefined position by people who hold a nominalistic idea of reality. this is where the “usefulness” of human nature arrives. To know how to interact with it and what to expect from it. I will give you an example. A misunderstanding of the nature of irrational animals has led to the current craziness where if some people could, they would make it an imprisonable offense to kill an animal or its young. And, they would be all for extending rights to animals which are useless to that animal. However, they would have no problem in allowing the destruction of an unborn human.
      Another example is the reduction of something to how it may be used. An understanding of human nature prevents humans from being used because of the ramifications of what it means to be rational…which is, because of that rationality, immortal.
      • Sep 23 2012: Just a couple quick points.

        The comment about crows has an historical context. At one point thinkers thought that humans were unique in our problem solving ability, and suggested to define man as the problem solving animal. Since then we learned that crows, among other animals, can solve problems. Check out these videos: http://www.youtube.com/watch?NR=1&feature=endscreen&v=1RI7-fDLaqU
        I found that through Google, crow solves problem.

        Of what use is a definition of "human nature"?

        This question was meant literally. Once you have a definition of human nature, what will you do with it? For example, how do you expect to apply this knowledge to problems of politics or romance? How do you expect the definition to be helpful. If you have a good understanding of how the definition will be used, it will help you develop a better definition. (Some philosophical problems can be effectively approached from the perspective of an engineer.)

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