Re: individuals, social systems, neoliberalism

Sun, 27 Apr 1997 22:07:19 -0400 (EDT)
Andrew Wayne Austin (

On Mon, 28 Apr 1997, Bruce McFarling wrote:

> 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
> successes.

Tadpoles losing tails and human beings developing language are two
completely different things. Tadpoles are genetically programmed to lose
their tails. This is an empirical fact. It is not a fact that human beings
are genetically programmed to use language; it is only a theory. Tadpoles
do not learn to lose their tails. Homo sapiens learn to use language.
Since it is a fact that tadpoles are genetically programmed to lose their
tails, the reasoning detailing this development is teleological, but not
illegitimately teleological. Since human beings are not genetically
programmed to use language (the genetic theory of language acquisition has
not been positively demonstrated), it is illegitimately teleological to
make this argument. Teleologies are not in and of themselves fallacious.
Teleologies that assume a necessary cause based on the existence of the
effect *without* empirical support for this *are* fallacious. I am quite
correct in this, Bruce. If you can demonstrate to me that language
acquisition is the unfolding of a genetic program you will have
demonstrated a legitimately teleological process. But until then,
speculation can legitimate neither yours nor Richard's teleology. On the
other hand, we *do* know that language acquisition is a learned ability.
Therefore, my argument is the only argument so far presented with an
empirical base and nonteleological reasoning.

> 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"?

There could be human behaviors that are not learned. I am not setting up a
nonfalsifiable proposition. I was very clear about that. There is no
semantic trick. If a human behavior can be demonstrated that was not
socially created then I may accept this as an example of 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.

If you define lack of hard-wired behaviors as automatically meaning
relatively increased capacities. This is a difficult task since the
biological systems being compared vary tremendously in levels of

> 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.

Biologically given and socially given are different things. If the
character of being human is in part biological then this must be
demonstrated, but if we do not make the distinction I am arguing for then
there is no way to tell. So far, what I see as human as distinct from
animal, is that human is social. Elevating those characteristics we share
with animals to the level of human nature simply because we have are
animals too is a false conflation. This means that human nature involves
skin, hair, gonads, ears, etc. This is not what we mean by human. Human is
physical only in our objectifications (we humanize). I reserve
characteristics like skin, hair, etc. as elements of our natural being,
not our social being.

Andrew Austin