Re: Irony and Human Nature (re: Austin & Sanderson)

Wed, 23 Apr 1997 11:20:55 -0400 (EDT)
Andrew Wayne Austin (

On Wed, 23 Apr 1997, Richard K. Moore wrote:

> I interpret these to be claims about what human nature is, ie:
> (a) It is human nature to be born into a society which has social
> systems and to be socialized to those systems. It is human
> nature for this socialization to be accomplished, in part,
> by constraints on choices available to the individual.

How is this a part of human nature? Nature concerns our physical
constitution, that which arises physiologically, biologically,
genetically. Nature also involves a set of processes, or behaviors if you
will, that would be uniquely human, but not derived from society, such as
an instinct. An example of human nature would be humans building houses
without being taught how by society. This would be an instinct. That
humans built houses as opposed to beaver dams would differentiate human
nature and beaver nature.

As for the form of your argument, there are deep problems of logic. A Homo
sapiens would not have to be born into society. A Homo sapiens could be
born in the wild, raised in a box completely cut off from society. If the
fact of being born is human nature then the term "human nature" is
meaningless. Nature only means anything at all when it is contrasted with
things that are not natural, i.e., social. Human being is a social fact,
not a natural fact. Human being might not have even occurred, and yet Homo
sapiens could still exist. Human is the socialization outcome, as opposed
to Homo sapiens, which is the biological constitution. Your argument here
is entirely tautological. You make this mistake throughout the post.

> Again, I see claims about the nature of human nature:
> (b) It is human nature to use practical thinking - to learn schemes
> and proceed heuristically. It is typical of human nature not to
> employ subtle reasoning skills.

I have made no claims of human nature. I said that human beings are
typically not rational thinkers. This is because they have been socialized
into another system cognitive structuring and processing. Perhaps I
should have said "generally" rather than typically. It is typical because
rationality is a rare cognitive pattern in a field of many cognitive
patterns. Because nonrational thinking processes are typical does not mean
they are not learned. What you have provided for us here is a classical
example of the inability of some human beings to employ the rational logic
of modus tollens.

> >More importantly, individual behavior can only
> >be understood in social contexts, and this means starting with the social
> >system first.
> Here I see:
> (c) Human nature is to be understood in a social context, especially
> in the interaction between an individual and the social systems
> of a particular society.

Human nature is by definition not a social context. Human nature, if you
could provide an instance of it, would be a natural context, and the
context would be the biological system itself, not the larger set of
social relations in which that individual exists.

> Austin, evidently, chooses not to perceive his claims as being descriptions
> of human nature. I'd say that's not a rational choice, but rather a
> heuristic he's adopted to help discount the notion that there is a "human
> nature" in debates he participates in. Thus he reveals his (non-rational)
> human-ness, consonant with the very human nature he implicitly identifies.

I think you have missed the barn by about a mile in your interpretation of
my "implicit formulation."

> I happen to agree with Austin's implicit formulation. The three tenets
> (a,b,c) above, it seems to me, are a substantial start toward
> identifying the major characteristics of human nature. Already in these
> first three principles it becomes clear that human nature and social
> systems can only be understood when they are understood together. They
> recursively influence and determine one another. Human nature is
> social.

If human nature is social then why differentiate between the nature and
the social? This question is irrelevant. The conflation of terms produces
a self-sealing argument as egregious as Sanderson's. This is a hopeless

> If one wants to understand elephant nature, one starts (ala Austin) by
> understanding the social context - females and young travel in groups,
> adult males travel alone, etc. Attempts to discover elephant nature in
> zoos failed, naturally, because they started with the invalid assumption
> that elephant nature was capable of being expressed by a lone individual
> (or perhaps pair), and outside of natural habitat.

So by beginning with the social, not the natural, elephants were
understood. This argument only works if you divide social and natural. In
fact, in your post your conflation of natural and social is only
rhetorical, and in making the arguments that follow from the logic of my
initial post on this matter you are forced to use my assumption of the
distinction between social and natural even though you explicitly deny it!
Talk about irony!!

> If one wants to understand electron nature, one must also understand proton
> and atom nature. The nature of the PARTS and of the SYSTEM are understood
> all together or not at all.

> As Austin points out, there are some interesting points of logic and pardox
> to be considered. I believe his view goes something like this:
> There cannot be a human nature because individual behavior
> is always socially determined.

I didn't say individual behavior was always socially determined. Did I? If
I did, I didn't mean to.

> There is an implicit, somewhat behaviorist, assumption in such a view:
> Human nature, if it exists, would exist in an individual
> prior to societal influences.

There is no way a particular behavior socially inculcated could be an
instance of human nature. Only behaviors arising *naturally* would be
instances of nature. If you could demonstrate that people build houses not
because they learned how, but because it was naturally occurring, I would
grant you an instance of human nature.

> This is the same kind of erroneous assumption that blinded science to true
> animal nature prior to modern field ethology. Regarding this assumption,
> let me comment in Austin's own words: "On what theoretical and empirical
> grounds is this assertion made? None are given." Human nature expresses
> and discovers itself in interaction with society. It cannot be taken in
> isolation, just as lung nature is meaningless without air.

I do not shoulder the burden of proof in this case. If the positive claim
is made that there is human nature, then the burden of proof rests
entirely on those making such claim. I cannot prove the non-existence of
something. This is a nonfalsifiable proposition and your request is out
of order. What you are asking is akin to asking me to disprove God. I do
not have that burden (thank God!). I have not been convinced yet of a
single instance of human nature. But I am open-minded about it.

> >Capitalism was forced on the world's majority. It slowly evolved because
> >people resisted it for centuries. And they still do. People seek to go
> >past capitalism.
> This may be Austin's most relevant conclusion, as regards WSN. I fully
> agree with him here, but must point out that "people seek" is an implicit
> reference to a "people nature".

I should have said *some* people seek. It is self-evident that there are
many people who like things just the way they are. That some people seek
to go past capitalism (like me) is not an implicit claim to human nature.
My aversion to capitalism was learned through experience. It was not
naturally arising.

> >To say that rationally is inherent in the human actor is to suggest
> >that rationality is a part of physical nature. This means that other
> >animals could be rational actors. How is it possible for a cat to act
> >rationally?
> It is fitting to close with the above example of multi-non-sequitor
> illogic, which is easily understood as a very human non-rational attempt to
> establish debating territory, and to take up swords against "reactionary
> criminology, neoclassical liberalism, and neoconservative moral
> philosophy".

Does it not follow from the premises that if rationality is inherent in
humans, then we are supposing it to be part of physical nature. Since
human beings are also animals, is it not possible that other animals could
be rational actors, as well? My argument is speculative and sarcastic, but
nevertheless logical. I wish I could say the same for Richard Moore's.

At least he agrees with the correct position.