What Is human nature for?

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Ramsey, Grant
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Questions about what human nature is and how we can learn about it are difficult to answer. They are difficult not just because humans are complex creatures whose behavior is deeply embedded in the cultural environment that they are a part of, but also because it is not obvious what a concept of human nature is supposed to do or what it is for. The concept of human nature is often used as a normative concept, one that can serve as a guide to action, showing us how we ought to behave. Less commonplace is an approach that seeks a descriptive account of human nature, one that characterizes what humans do and are disposed to do. I argue in this essay that the normative and descriptive approaches are at odds and that we should not expect a single concept of human nature to play both roles. Furthermore, there are deep problems with normative accounts. They often ignore or contradict the contemporary scientific worldview, and they often merely reflect biases about how we ought to be and what we ought to do. Human nature in this sense becomes politicized and serves in arguments about the moral status of issues like homosexuality, abortion, or biomedical enhancement. Because of the problems inherent in normative notions of human nature, I offer a descriptive alternative. My alternative attempts to align the scientific study of the human with human nature.