One often reads about "human nature" or claims about humans having a nature. For example: it is often said that people are, by nature, greedy or violent or what have you.
Further, serious ethical claims are traditionally made in the name of human nature by claiming some actions "unnatural." On these boards and elsewhere, the common opinion is that homosexuality, for example, is "unnatural" and, thus, wrong.
Consider for a moment this propostion: Humans have no nature. What humans have is choice, freedom within the limitations of environment and inheritence. Or, as the philosopher Ortega y Gasset once wrote: "Humans do not have a nature. What humans have is. . . history."
This would mean we are mainly (auto)biographical beings, not biological ones.
What evidence would we have to make such a controversial statement?
What makes a human a human is what we have in common, not with other animals (biology) but with one another (culture). I may have a genetic inheritence closely related to all other mammals, for example, but that does not describe why I am not "just another mammal" -- a zebra or a primate or what have you.
Sure, I have similar or the same needs as other animals, but I have choice about the way I pursue these needs -- or even whether I pursue them at all, or whether I invent new needs and wants to substitute for the inherited ones (no one, biologically, needs to read or write or make art, for example; humans invented those needs and the means to pursue them).
So, what sets humans apart from the rest of reality isn't our nature, but the very un-naturalness of our being, the very artifical, cultural, free way in which we choose to live.
If this is true, one will have to do better when discussing ethics to determine whether something is right or wrong (such as homosexuality) than simply saying it's "unnatural." Human being is unnatural. Or, quoting Ortega again, "It is the nature of a human to have no nature."
What do you think and why?
I agree. Humans have choice, and are a product of their environment. However, I also believe that humans are born with certain traits passed from their parents that could strongly influence the choices they make.
Thank you for responding!
I would agree -- genetics most certainly is a reality.
However, this is part of the limitational environment, or "circumstance," within which we have areas of freedom. The areas of freedom, the areas of choice are, most properly, human.
Some people's areas of choice are severely limited as compared with other people's -- their opportunities for choice and repetoire of choices is extremely limited or stunted, but the trick there is: What do they do with that small area of choice available to them?
Much "everyday heroism" goes unnoticed, I think, if we look at people's struggles and choices in this light . . . and if we give people credit for achieveing what they do by choice, not by their genetic inheritence mechanically unfolding.
People are not machinery; they are even less animals. So while we have genetic, biological inheritences, it isn't what properly defines us: It's what we do with it.
Homosexuality would still be unnatural because it's a physical act that works against the body's setup, the way the muscles work. LOVING someone of the same sex isn't the same thing though.
I wonder if making music is a biological need for some. This whole idea is quite interesting, especially realizing as you point out, that most ideas of 'natural human nature' is vice. The only good thing I hear claimed of human nature is the mother instinct. Are there others I'm not thinking of?
i'm curious about that "muscles" comment. gay couples do a lot of the same things straight couples do. i won't go into it but one of them is a number...
I agree, homosexual is not biologically "natural," or it's possible to see it that way -- it's statistically abnormal; but then again, so is being left-handed and red-headed. However, my point is, nothing about being a human is natural, either. "Unnatural" does not equal "morally wrong."
tantrum, serious about which part? Homosexual sex being unnatural or loving someone of the same sex not being unnatural?
Never mind, it doesn't really matter since yes, I'm serious about both parts.
We just happen to be the highest species of animal. People put too much importance on our superiority over the lesser animals. That, in itself is "human nature." If there were another species smarter than us we would not be so smug.
Perhaps there are other species smarter than us, and more free. We have yet to explore the universe -- who knows what is out there?
But I'm not really aiming at smugness here -- I am suggesting that moral arguments that begin with "X is immoral because it is unnatural" are illigitimate. Because, to be human is to already be unnatural. The more human we are, the more further from nature we are removed -- culture and history come to take the place of nature for us.
But moral arguments are not always made by moral people. I have to disagree with "the more human we are, the more further from nature we are removed." I think the opposite is true in this case. Homosexuality is common in the animal world, it isn't just a human "immorality." Culture and history are part of our nature, perhaps in place of lost instincts.
We lost our instincts because we chose to domesticate them out of ourselves -- just as we de-nature certain animals by training and breeding them. They, culture and history, are human inventions.
Moral arguments are not always made by moral people. And scientific arguments are not always made by good scientists. This proves nothing except some people need to be ignored and we don't define a subject by those least qualified to propound it.
That, and ethics is an ongoing enterprise, something always in need of refinement and cautious review -- nature doesn't just hand it to us as it does our respiration. Human effort and choice alone sustains it.
I agree homosexuality is common in the non-human world. It is statistically not common, so many jump from that to arguing it is "wrong"; I am saying that is silly. What makes any sex act moral or immoral has much more to do with the type of relationship between the partners and what kind of people the relationship makes them than whether the sex act is "gay" or "straight."
oh! and then you wrote in the same post
'I wonder if making music is a biological need for some. This whole idea is quite interesting, especially realizing as you point out, that most ideas of 'natural human nature' is vice. The only good thing I hear claimed of human nature is the mother instinct. Are there others I'm not thinking of?'
Don't you think homosexuality is an instinct as well ? Or maybe you think it's a 'vice' !
No mater how many instincts we have (and it is entirely debateable how many there actually are and how strong), the question is: What do we do with their energy? If sex or even homosexuality is an instinctive drive for some, a quick survey of history will show that many people "handle" (so to speak) sexual impulses in a wide variety of ways (geeze -- there is no way to write that sentence without it sounding risque).
Even to the point of choosing to be celibate and using the sexual energy for other purposes (e.g. religious, meditative, vocational, etc.).
For an act to be a "vice," it must violate a "virtue" through excess or deficiency. Which virtue would a loving gay relationship, for example, violate?
I'm not going to deny the obvious to be politically correct, don't see why people feel that need. And there's no contradiction so there's no problem there either. Many people totally and truly love their friends, doesn't mean they have sex with them.
Tantrum, all I meant about the vice comment is that human nature seems to be always portrayed as something bad to be overcome. I don't believe that because compassion, bravery, generosity, all those things are human nature as well. I don't believe we're all born as depraved, sick creatures that have to overcome every natural instinct we have.
I answered you and then I had to delete, because you keep adding phrases to your posts. the original post was:
'Tantrum, all I meant about the vice comment is that human nature seems to be always portrayed as something bad to be overcome.'
I'm fed up with this kind of thing. not answering any more.
Sorry, RV, I'm still calling things "human nature" because I'm trying to get a grip on the whole concept, great question I think. Human nature as in mental, emotional, and psychological I assume and you're asking how we think there's anything there to be defined?
Never mind, you're just talking about nature vs. morality not being a true either/or. Okay.
I guess I have two things in mind:
1) Ontologically or metaphysically (in a traditional, philosophical sense, not the New Age use of the word) -- what is it to be a human? We call this "philosophical anthropology" sometimes.
2) What are the moral ramifications of our examination of what it is to be a human?
My answer to 1) is we have no nature -- the part of us that is human is choice, history, and culture, not genetic inheritences or physical laws, etc.
My answer to 2) is that I can say, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that arguing that any acts are ethical or unethical because of "human nature" is highly problematic -- because we have no nature.
Sorry, I'll make an effort to quit using the edit button so much. Easy to see how annoying that would be.
I agree with Randy about humanity and nature. Dang, RD, we agree with Wordsworth!
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