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Why We Disagree About Human Nature$
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Elizabeth Hannon and Tim Lewens

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780198823650

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: July 2018

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198823650.001.0001

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The Social Construction of Human Nature

The Social Construction of Human Nature

(p.127) 7 The Social Construction of Human Nature
Why We Disagree About Human Nature

Kevin N. Laland

Gillian R. Brown

Oxford University Press

What is the job that the term ‘human nature’ is expected to do? Three notions are prevalent but are problematic: (1) Distinguishing what is biological from what is cultural/environmental. Here the term fails. (2) Characterizing the defining features of humanity, thereby allowing us to be distinguished from other species. This stance is tenable but contributes little. (3) Characterizing what is universal or typical about humanity, because of our ‘evolved biological heritage’. Here the term is tenable but misleading and hence counterproductive. ‘Human nature’ is equally reciprocally caused by gene–culture coevolution and niche construction. Given that the term has little explanatory power but carries extensive baggage, we suggest that it should be abandoned. It can be replaced with descriptions of human behaviour and cognition as the product of socially mediated internal and external constructive processes operating over both developmental and evolutionary timescales.

Keywords:   niche construction, gene–culture coevolution, process, evolution, human nature, cultural transmission, reciprocal causation

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