Human Nature, Anthropology, and the Problem of Variation

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Odenbaugh, Jay
conference paper description
In this essay, I begin with an overview of a traditional account of natural kinds, and then consider David Hull's (1986) critique of species as natural kinds and the associated notion of human nature. Second, I explore recent "liberal" accounts of human nature provided by Edouard Machery (2008) and Grant Ramsey (2013) and criticized by Tim Lewens (2012). They attempt to avoid the criticisms of- fered by Hull. After examining those views, I turn to Richard Boyd's (1988; 1999) Homeostatic Property Cluster account of natural kinds which is flexible but detailed enough to avoid Hull's criticisms but also those affecting the more recent views. We then consider what I call the "problem of variation." Fourth, I consider two case studies -- the basic emotions and facial expressions and inbreeding avoidance and incest taboos. I argue that the former is a component of a Boydian human nature but the latter is not. The conclusion is that if there is a human nature, it must be argued for on a case-by-case basis. And, one of most discussed cases thought to be part of our nature is simply not.