Trait bin and trait cluster accounts of human nature

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Ramsey, Grant
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Conceptions of human nature fall under two broad categories, trait bin accounts and trait cluster accounts. Trait bin accounts take there to be a special bin of traits, one composed of all and only those traits constituting our nature. For those arguing for a trait bin account of human nature, the challenge is to articulate what it is that marks a trait as being in or outside of the bin. For some, the bin is filled by the traits essential to being human. Others, such as Machery in his contribution to this volume, offer a non-essentialist trait bin conception of human nature. In this chapter, I argue that trait bin approaches to human nature are misguided, that there is no good way of dividing human traits into those that are a part of our nature and those that are not. Instead, I argue for a trait cluster account, which sees human nature not as a special bin of traits, but as the relationship among traits. Under this account, human nature lies in the patterns of trait expression within and across human life histories. This account does a superior job characterizing what humans are like and aligning human nature with the human sciences.