Re: individuals, social systems, neoliberalism

Mon, 28 Apr 1997 10:44:23 +1000
Bruce McFarling (

At 02:22 PM 4/27/97 -0400, Andrew Austin wrote:

>> Or consider man's language-learning cognitive apparatus. This is
>> biological, but it only finds expression through society. Again,
>> biological considerations lead to society as the minimal system that can be
>> usefully studied. A person raised in isolation by wolves is a person
>> deprived of experiencing his nature.

This is exactly the example which came to my mind while reading
what had come before in this post (I had not read the post to which it
was replying).

>This is an illegitimately teleological argument, Richard. "A person raised
>in isolation by wolves is a person deprived of experiencing his nature."
>This is a logical fallacy. I won't address illogical statements.

It is *not* teleological. The "language learning cognitive
apparatus" (isn't there some better name for this?) does require
language using members of the population in order to be fully
expressed. I believe we may therefore safely assume that language
using of some form developed prior to the species of primate that
developed this adaptation to language using. But it is no more
teleological than to say that tadpoles lose their tales and develop
legs in order to get about on land: what the development anticipates
is *past generational* reproductive successes, not *future* reproductive

> As for the "language-learning" cognitive apparatus, language is about
> the closest thing to an example of human nature that I have seen. But I
> am still not convinced. First, we need to throw learning out as an
> example of human nature. Biological systems learn. Nothing unique about
> that.

We also have to throw it out because learning _sui generis_ is
just an abstraction that we use to cover a variety of learning behaviors.
Unless we are going to fall back into a "blank slate" model of human
nature, "learning" is inadmissably broad.

> Furthermore, learning is a capacity, not an instinct. Learning is
> not a behavior. We learn behaviors.

So first "human nature" is narrowed down to behaviors, in order
to permit a clear distinction to be made, and then behaviors are learned,
so there is no "human nature"? Capacities that are distinctly human would
satisfy the "permitting a clear distinction" criterion, without emptying
the category "human nature" by means of splitting hairs. And on the face
of it, it seems that the more "K" success species (as opposed to "r"
success species) tend to have more of their nature in terms of capacities,
rather than in terms of hard-wired behaviors.

Finally, if the discussion is "human nature" as opposed to
"social nature", then it is a bit strained to insist that the human
nature be *uniquely* human nature. It remains biologically given as
opposed to socially given, whether it is uniquely human or something
common to all primates, or all mammals, or all chordata, or all whatever.


Bruce McFarling, Newcastle