On Human Nature – Introduction

What is human nature? This issue is at once central to our understanding of ourselves – and of the world – and it wanders from philosophy and science toward the elaborations of politics and religion (and beyond).

In my life studies – both intellectually and observationally – I re-examine the human and conclude that we have taken particular and narrow views of the human to say who, what, and why we are. Much has been neglected – e.g., women and mothering, bodies, faces, interaction, etc. – while the presumed superiority of the human has been elevated to heaven and beyond. How to rethink the human, and begin to examine where our new knowledge and understandings might take us in the future?

I come at these questions as an “anthropologist-of-the-ordinary” and a ���������human ethologist.” From this position, I find that the human body and face are much more complex than we have noted. In the Symbolic Interactionist tradition of G.H. Mead, American Pragmatist, I conclude that the self is primarily social, and “emerges” from sociality to the individual: who we are. I believe this philosophical “inversion” has profound implications for our understandings of the human.

1. A critical view. Much history in this arena: much has taken a particular, and “inaccurate��� view of the human. The thinking has been that we are human particularly because we are “higher” than (other) animals: unique because we have language, rationality, very special. Most of Western philosophy and its religions have taken this view and elaborated it in extensive detail. Most current work in neuroscience proclaiming the hegemony of the “brain,” neglects much as it stirs the idea of the homunculus, the “little man��� within.

2. The study of human nature: to re-study the human, observing “anew.” Beginning with the study of oneself – physically, developmentally, cognitively, culturally, toward all the places where these take us. “Man is the measure of all things,” said Protagoras. I ask: What and who is the “measurer?” What and how do we “know?”

3. The attempt: to be an observer of myself and others, beginning with the study of the body. But I also note that we are not (mere) individuals in the world: we interact with others, from the moment of our birth and to this “time” in our lives. The question of what and who is the self or “I,” was “inverted” by Mead’s notion that the self “emerges” from our relationships with “m/others.” What, then, is human nature?

4. A critique of Western thought. So much history of ideas: Plato, Aristotle continue to dominate Western thought as both the religious and neo-conservative temptation has been to return to the foundations of Western thought to locate us, to see who and how we are. My �����Foundations Project” studies attempt to rethink all of thought about the human. “Know thyself,” said the Delphic Oracle: she; philo-sophia is also: she. Hmm!

5. More: since we humans are the observers of the world, our sense of ourselves being and observing is central to all we know: man is the measure(r) of all things. Here, I pursue Darwin’s plans for the study of the human: 1) all people(s), 2) other animals, 3) infants, 4) the aged, 5) the insane, 6) art – but extend this as widely as I can imagine. (Darwin: “Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals.)

6. A student of the line of thinking of the American Pragmatist philosophers. From Peirce to Dewey and G.H. Mead, they reviewed the history of ideas in their ongoing attempt to overcome the traditions of “dualism” of body and mind/soul/spirit which have so shaped our understanding of the human, and dominate most of Western thought in these days of rising religion, and imperialist politics.

7. Directions of study. Rethinking “language.” (“Language and Human Nature”). Elaborating the study of the body: as interactive, as a much more complex and interesting entity (“Body Journals”). Ways “around” dualism (“Pragmatism” and “Philosophical Anthropology.”)