Arguing About Human Nature : Contemporary Debates book cover
1st Edition

Arguing About Human Nature
Contemporary Debates

ISBN 9780415894401
Published March 19, 2013 by Routledge
616 Pages

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Book Description

Arguing About Human Nature covers recent debates--arising from biology, philosophy, psychology, and physical anthropology--that together systematically examine what it means to be human.  Thirty-five essays--several of them appearing here for the first time in print--were carefully selected to offer competing perspectives on 12 different topics related to human nature.  The context and main threads of the debates are highlighted and explained by the editors in a short, clear introduction to each of the 12 topics. Authors include Louise Anthony, Patrick Bateson, David Buller, John Dupre, Paul Griffiths, Sally Haslanger, Richard Lewontin, Ron Mallon, and E.O. Wilson. Contributors Rachel Cooper, Nancy Holmstrom, Kim Sterelny, and Elizabeth Cashdan provide brand new chapters in these debates. 

Suggested Reading lists offer curious readers new resources for exploring these debates further.  Arguing About Human Nature is the first volume of its kind, designed to introduce to an interdisciplinary student audience some of the most important arguments on the subject generated by scientific research and philosophical reflection.

Table of Contents

Section 1: Human Nature and Evolution Topic 1: Evolution and human nature 1.1. Excerpts from On Human Nature E. O. Wilson 1.2. On human nature D. L. Hull 1.3. Excerpts from Adapting Minds David J. Buller 1.4. A plea for human nature Edouard Machery 1.5. What is a human universal? Human behavioral ecology and human nature Elizabeth Cashdan Topic 2: A Stone-Age Mind? 2.1. Evolutionary psychology: A primer Leda Cosmides and John Tooby 2.2. The basic components of the human mind were not solidified during the Pleistocene epoch Stephen Downes Topic 3: Innateness 3.1. Core knowledge Katherine D. Kinzler and Elizabeth S. Spelke 3.2. What is innateness? Paul E. Griffiths 3.3. Innateness in cognitive science Richard Samuels Topic 4: Genetic Determinism 4.1 Genetic influence on human psychological traits: A survey Thomas J. Bouchard 4.2. Behavioral development and Darwinian evolution Patrick Bateson 4.3. Battling the undead: How (and how not) to resist genetic determinism Philip Kitcher Section 2: Human nature and Human Diversity Topic 5: Human Universals, Individual Variation and Cultural Variation 5.1. Excerpts from Human Universals Donald Brown 5.2. The weirdest people in the world? Joe Heinrich, Steven J. Heine, and Ara Norenzayan 5.3. On the universality of human nature and the uniqueness of the individual: The role of genetics and adaptation James Tooby and Leda Cosmides 5.4. Culture and cognition Daniel M. T. Fessler and Edouard Machery 5.5. Exceprts from Not by Genes Alone Peter J. Richerson and Robert Boyd 5.6. The informational commonwealth Kim Sterenley Topic 6: Social Construction 6.1. The politics of menopause: The "discovery" of a deficiency disease Frances B. McCrea 6.2. The looping effects of human kinds Ian Hacking 6.3. The odd couple: The compatibility of social construction and evolutionary psychology Ronald Mallon and Stephen Stitch Topic 7: Human Genetic Diversity 7.1. The apportionment of human diversity Richard Lewontin 7.3. Human genetic diversity: Lewontin’s fallacy A. W. F. Edwards 7.4. Genetic structure of human populations N. A. Rosenberg Topic 8: Races 8.1. A social constructionist analysis of race Sally A. Haslanger Individual ancestry inference and the reification of race as a biological phenomenon Dan Bolnick Topic 9: Sex 9.1. Excerpt from The Evolution of Human Sexuality Donald Symons 9.2. Excerpt from Human Nature and the Limits of Science John Dupré 9.3. Same-sex sexual behavior and evolution Nathan W. Bailey and Marlene Zuk Section 3: Human Nature and Normality Topic 10: Health 10.1. Health as a theoretical concept Christopher Boorse 10.2. Against normal functions Ron Admunson 10.3. Mental Health and Disorder R. C. Cooper Topic 11: Politics and the Concept of Human Nature 11.1. A fatal attraction to normalizing Anita Silvers 11.2. "Human nature" and its role in feminist theory L. M. Antony 11.3. Is human nature important for feminism? Nancy Holstrom Topic 12: Trans-humanism 12.1. Ageless bodies, happy souls: Biotechnology and the pursuit of Perfection Leon Kass 12.2. In defense of posthuman dignity Nick Bostrom

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Stephen M. Downes is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Utah.

Edouard Machery is Associate Professor of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Pittsburgh.


This collection is a parachute onto the front lines of the nature-nurture debate. By far the most up-to-date, balanced, and encompassing reader on the all-important topic of human nature.

Jesse Prinz, Professor of Philosophy, CUNY Graduate Center

A cornucopia of crucial and adversarial approaches to the scientific foundations of our contemporary grasp on whether, to what extent and exactly how heredity, development and social learning interact to produce human nature. One could as easily spend an introductory term or a scholarly lifetime working through some or all of this vast but thoughtful anthology.

Alex Rosenberg, Professor of Philosophy, Duke University

From classic evolutionary psychology texts on human nature to some of the most exciting modern day treatises on innateness, Downes and Machery's latest collection is sure to become a classic in cognitive science.

Laurie Santos, Associate Professor of Psychology, Yale University

Astonishingly, the claim that all humans have something in common is currently one of the most controversial claims a scientist can make.

If you find this as puzzling as I do, Machery and Downes’ Arguing About Human Nature will help you to understand what all the fuss is about. Its collection of new and classic essays on the human nature controversy reveals why studying ourselves is one of the most difficult scientific challenges of all.

Clark Barrett, Associate Professor of Anthropology, University of California, Los Angeles

This collection is a delight. The essays are smart and clear and accessible, from some of the best scholars around, and the topic is the deepest of them all—what it is to be human. I would highly recommend it to anyone interested in seeing how scientists and philosophers can work together to help answer the questions that matter the most. 

Paul Bloom, Professor of Psychology and Cognitive Science, Yale University

"The anthology 'Arguing About Human Nature' provides the most comprehensive selection available on philosophical anthropology."

Davide Vecchi, Fellow, Konrad Lorenz Institute