Re: individuals and systems

Thu, 24 Apr 1997 14:31:07 -0400 (EDT)
Andrew Wayne Austin (

All biological systems feed and reproduce. This is not human nature. It is
also not selfish behavior. Water runs downhill. Is this selfish behavior?
One might say that Homo sapiens behave in ways to protect themselves. This
is reflex. All animals do this. So how is this uniquely human nature? Some
point out that Homo sapiens will also sacrifice their interests in the
interests of others. This is the refutation of Sanderson's argument.
Indeed, it seems tautological to point out that society would not exist at
all if it were not for altruism, and a lot more of altruism than
selfishness. But altruism is still not an instance of human nature.
Neither is selfishness, self-preservation, nor sexual reproduction. We are
not "built" these ways. In a previous post Sanderson tried to redefine
altruism as self-interest by pointing the long range benefits of altruism,
and then defining this as self-interested behavior. In his most recent
post he says that both competition and cooperation are instances of
self-interest. This is exactly the problem I have pointing out; it is a
very basic logical error. This creates a self-sealing argument in which
all behavior can be rationalized as rational. Sanderson has made his
argument seemingly impregnable by rendering an ironclad tautology. To
demonstrate an instance of human nature, Sanderson must produce a behavior
that is unique to Homo sapiens and that manifests without learning (the
positive demonstration of a human instinct). It should also be universal
both geographically and temporally, unless it can be demonstrated that
there are distinct human types with distinct human natures. Moreover,
self-interest as broadly defined by Sanderson cannot be a sufficient basis
for social order. If all animals act to preserve self, and this is defined
as self-interested behavior, and there are many species of animals that do
not behave socially, then Sanderson's argument is in some trouble.
Examples of social behavior among less complex biological systems, such as
bees, always run into a snag; 70% of bees are loners.

Andrew Austin