Friday, January 17, 2014

your turn #1: human nature, war, peace, fear, being a woman

let's play by ear with this first post since we got a slow start because of textbook issues.

we've talked about many things. i'll try to group them the best i can.

the importance of human nature in a discussion about political philosophy (p. 7-9) of our text for a briefing.

generally this idea of "nature" refers to essential properties, i.e., independent of cultural context,
i.e., this is the way we're "wired" by nature.

problem is that when we try to investigate what is a political subject, we often gloss over other relevant identitary notes, such as woman? black? lesbian? immigrant?

a bit from this week along with some of the ancillary ideas explored in class:

Hegemony, as explored by Ernesto Laclau.
addressing the media as a form of embeddedness: 
Marshall McLuhan's The Medium is the Massage,
Guy Debord's Society of the Spectacle,

Update: 2 forms of false consciousness (as explored by Owen's essay):

1- Marx's falsch Bewusstsein (which takes Marx to say: "Der Mensch macht die Religion, die Religion macht nicht den Menschen").
2- Sartre's mauvaise foi

there are pending readings of Mary Wollstonecraft, Carol Gilligan, Rousseau, etc.

aside for metaphysics, there is a side of the discussion that intersect with sciences such as natural science, evolutionary biology, anthropology, psychology, etc. keep this in mind.

so, what's your take? don't be shy. this is a first try, we'll get better at this.

note: to leave a comment click on the "no comment" link and you get a comment box. i think it's better to paste (and spell-check) your comment from a word document file (in case you want to have time to think about it). when you are done click "publish" & hopefully the comment will appear on our blog. please, sign your name at the bottom of your comment, this is for-point assignment and i need your real names. 


  1. I think it's possible that in the nature we have absent of a cultural context is fairly limited. If we evolved from chimps these our closest biological relatives and the most apt for comparison since those are the only ones we can be sure to not have any cultural infection. Most are relatively docile and get along with each other. There are of course a few outliers who are aggressive and a few who are passive. It would seem to me like they are as a whole neither. The concepts of a brute and peacemaker are only introduced post contract and we understand these things. I think that as soon as we try to label any behavior as "Brutish" or "complicit" or even "neutral" that is really when cultural context is introduced into our observations. What may be brutish to one culture may simply be a method of structure or ruling. All this to say I think our animalistic nature is null and nature is only introduced once a society is born. and each culture is different differing the nature of those people.
    What do you guys think??
    -Stefan Petersen

  2. Nature has a very broad definition for the social interaction between humans. Throughout centuries people have created groups, each defined by specific cultural boundaries. Culture begins when several people share the same opinions on a certain subject. Nature has given specific traits to the different sexes of humans. Men usually tend to be stronger and more dominant, as they behave in a "brutish" manner as Stefan described above. On the other hand women behaved in a more "docile" manner. This had automatically placed women on a social level BELOW the man, making the woman feel inferior. When trying to infer on political situations I do realize that we do not go deep enough to question WHO, WHAT, WHY, WHEN, and WHERE behind the political thought. This has changed my perception on different topics.

    - Ushaia Kappen

  3. To be honest, I haven’t given “human nature” as much thought as I have since opening up the first chapter and reading up what some of the great thinkers had to say. Yeah you hear the phrase bandied about all the time, from lyrics in a song (Michael Jackson “Human Nature”) to economic and political pundits using it to justify any one of their many arguments. Yet this “man in a state of nature” is such a difficult concept/thought experiment to wrap your head around, when all you know is society and relations. For example, a human mother needs to nurse her young child in order for it to survive, so does this not imply we come into the world dependent on some sort of relation to another. I find it hard to believe if there was ever a time humans were without some sort of society. Most other primates come into existence already into a society/group, so it shouldn’t be a surprise our ancestors did the same. So what makes us different from our other primate relatives lower on the evolutionary totem pole? What makes early humans bury their dead, make jewelry, paint herds of horses in caves, etc.? I think that is where our human nature lies. I think it lies in the sizes of our brains and our abilities to process information in ways the other hominids couldn’t. As nature threw into early humans’ path obstacles to the continuation of the species, the human animals’ ability to be open to new ways of dealing with said obstacle became a necessity. Scientist believe human intelligence is correlated with openness to novel experience. So maybe the quintessential human nature is our ability to rip away from the chains of the limits of our genetic programming and to be able to see our world in a myriad of different possibilities. So, while maybe we are being constantly pulled to the levels of our animal brethren by our instincts, we as a species have the ability break these chains and not follow her lead, sometimes to our detriment and sometimes to our betterment.
    P.S. I’m sorry if this is a little hard to follow; this is just a layman’s poor attempt at understanding the sacred mysteries.

    Edward Delatorre
    Tuesday/Thursday - PHM 2300

  4. The term Ethnocentrism: When a person/group have the belief that their culture is superior to another culture.
    In the readings there were cases when some Philosophers displayed their ethnocentrisms. Aristotle believed that the Greek culture was superior to any culture out there at the time. This in any shape or form can be bad, if any leader believes that their culture or people are superior to the culture/people that surround them, this could lead to ethnocide or, “destruction of a culture”, and it has many names (holocaust, genocide). The belief of an idea can be very dangerous if the wrong people act on this idea.
    Philosophers are not responsible for the actions some men take, but they aren’t innocent either. The philosopher has a duty to the people to speak wisdom, to speak a sense of truth, and to share their insights on the world. But biased thoughts often cloud a clear and good thought.

    The sad thing is that a philosopher is a human being, and a human cannot escape its culture. We are molded in a certain way, we are brought up in a certain way, thought in a certain way, and given opportunities that some don’t have the privilege in. A human’s culture is everything.

    Women have been subjugated in almost every culture, but there have been some cultures where women had a bit of power, just a bit (native American Women owned the house if the man passed away.). Yet, the Philosopher doesn’t free their shackles or, really, helps a lot. But I digress, in some cases there were some philosophers ahead of their time who thought women should have a say in some things. Plato, though at first it seems that he’s saying something negative on women, it is still something unique that he believes that a woman can certainly do things that men can do.

    Women have had an uphill battle to get where they are now, and there is still much more to be accomplished.
    Certainly, women have been oppressed and have had their natural rights taking away from them since culture was first created.
    Philosophers have glossed over women because they weren’t concerned with women, but men and how men can live better lives. I feel that the Greeks are to be blamed for this, at least to some extent. The Greeks always marveled on a man’s body, strength, and agility. The thinkers in Greece applauded men who had strength, etc… this in term, other cultures adopted the belief that this how everyone is wired to be. A man represents this, and a woman represents this and that. It took some centuries, but women broke out of this, and men awoke from this dogmatic truth (slightly).
    - Marco Fonseca

  5. Carolina L. SantanaJanuary 22, 2014 at 4:47 PM

    The question of human nature is the pervasive and versatile issue that permeates into the mind of any philosophically intellectual skeptic from any cross-cultural perspective or from any historical period. Conversely, a subject that is not frequently inquired upon is that of the state of nature of any other animal in the kingdom. It is arguable whether any other animals experience consciousness at the same caliber of the human existence; nonetheless, humans are constantly categorized within the same confines of animalistic inclinations. According to Darwin, humans and animals both experience evolution through natural selection. Moreover, humans and animals are both fueled and governed by their survival mechanisms. Therefore, humans are fixated into their physiology and biology similar to that of any other animal species. If this premise can be acknowledged, humans and animals can share the same state of nature. Animals are not questioned to be benevolent, or malicious, or even impartial by nature; they are just simply propelled by a will to survive, and all their actions and behaviors reflect this notion. I feel that humans operate in a similar way; we are primitive minds that are living in a seemingly civilized way. We attempt to maximize our survival security while minimizing our efforts into surviving. Humans are social beings and similar to a wolf pack or a pride of lions, humans need each other to survive. Thus, it is in human nature to enter a social contract. I agree with Stefan Peterson, “I think that as soon as we try to label any behavior as "Brutish" or "complicit" or even "neutral" that is really when cultural context is introduced into our observations… I think our animalistic nature is null and nature is only introduced once a society is born.”

  6. Before the influence of culture and organized society, we have man in the state of nature. Man is not violent by nature but fearful and peaceful, and only cares to preserve himself in the state of nature. Man is not a brute by nature either, as Hobbes suggest, because he does indeed have the advantage of acquired knowledge, which brutes do not possess. He seeks knowledge only because he wishes to enjoy it and develops culture because he has a natural inclination towards his fellow man. Having this desire to unite, man evolves, develops a higher consciousness, and ultimately enters into a state of society. Here, he loses his weakness and the state of war commences. It is society and his fellow man that makes man violent. In society, man is constrained by social conditions and forced to abide a social contract. Legislators confine him to his duty by political and civil laws. He becomes a product of the state, although unconscious of it, and lives a domesticated life. His character is formed by the external forces that influence him everyday. Therefore, being embedded and conditioned by the environment or culture that each individual is exposed to, man responds to certain behaviors and values, albeit not always with his natural impulse. Human nature is thus not fixed; if mans social conditions were to change, he would change too. I agree with Jean-Jacques Rosseau, “Man in the state of nature is innocent, and the evil to be found in society is social in origin.”

  7. I find what Rosseau ( whose name I just realized means "rose water," or "rosy water") said about men (mankind, men and women) suppressing their desires, urges and passions as a compromise for culture to be very interesting, and to some extent, ironic. It seems that it is natural for men to establish societies, once there is a group of two or more people (which other than in Tom Hank's case in 'Cast Away,' is almost unheard of.... "Wilson!"). People will naturally create a society to reach certain goals, as well as satisfy certain needs and desires for company and comradeship (or at least they seem to be needs, people are always craving attention).What I find ironic, is that we suppress or compromise our natures or our passions, in order to coexist in this collective society, which is in itself natural (given man's evolution as a social being which craves interaction). We suppress our individual natures to exist in a natural state? Is man naturally unnatural in this sense? I'm probably not getting something or I'm not expressing this paradox correctly. But it does sound kinda funny, at least to me.
    Also Triff, if you see this. 'Her' was pretty cool.

    -Manny Alonso

  8. While I think of humans as social creatures, I second the idea that the only absolute fundamental element of human nature is survival. If evolution points towards the survival of the fittest, at some point it becomes a question of longevity, and the concept of a social contract arises from that, out of the question "How do you ensure the endurance of a people?" (I refrain from using such an encompassing term as "species" since largely human history has not indicated an interest in preservation for all but rather for some.) In terms of how we arrived at this question, one can point to the relative rapid evolution of our brains over other hominids (arguably from the discovery of cooked food)* In any case, over time, various societies and civilizations have had different answers to that question, and from that come all the varying occasionally overlapping occasionally conflicting ideologies. However, these are all external things, systems meant to compartmentalize the chaos found in actual nature. For all our Enlightened ideals, humans have inhabited the same bodies and brains (save for some shrinking, in regards to the latter) for over a hundred thousand years, and ripping someone's throat out with your teeth has been frowned upon for less than 1% of that time. And even without blood spilled, history has shown the subjugation of others (women, whatever 'minority' of your choice) to be a byproduct of this "human nature" (see: every great nation) (ties to hegemony)

    By this thinking, all other forms of identity (gender, country, race) outside of the acknowledgment of what these philosophers referred to as our "brutishness", and the struggle to overcome this brutishness in the name of empathy and shared history/space, are constructs (with as much meaning as you put into it,) as the breadcrumb of culture trail tells us of our past (a record of crimes, indeed)

    * see here:

    * also, for anyone who doesn't have time to watch the chomsky vs foucalt debate:

  9. after considering the posts of others as well as my misplaced late night narrow herzog-aping cynical gobbledygook (thoughts aren't static, blog comments are) :

    perhaps being bound up in social relations *is* what separates us from animals, thus creating a "human nature" after the fact? the obvious A to B idea is that our embeddedness, (reflected grotesquely through mass media, but permeating populace nevertheless) in society is something we must emancipate ourselves from, but to embrace it as a defining trait of humanity, instead of struggling to reconcile this increasingly abstracted phrase "human nature" as something innate or not seems more radical/sensical in terms of what is distinctly 'human'

  10. Human Nature to me is something that changes with time. what we see now as wrong could have been something cultural before. How many geniuses' do we know of that have done some really sketchy thing to say the least. SOme from marrying their own sisters or to having relations with women. All things that if done by someone high up in out culture he will forever be shunned. Their is no set type of human nature. human nature molds to the era it is in. Things we call savage now were essential routines of survival for the beings that lived before the contract. They scavenged every knook and cranny of the earth to find food. Now to a more extreme extent isn't that what the homeless do. But where the difference lie is that those savages that would search in the before contract time were held at high regards even if they didn't bring back much but now you tell me the way you look at a homeless looking thru your grbage.

  11. In terms of human nature, I would argue that, in the domains that we are considering--political philosophy or how human behave socially in terms of power--science tells us nothing. Questions on understanding the cognitive dimensions or even the evolutionary dimensions of morality, let alone political philosophy, will lead us to nothing if we take a strictly neuro-psychological approach. These fields are relatively new, and our understanding of them are at their elementary level. Having that said, I like the Kroptokin's view from Mutual Aid, "There is an immense amount of warfare and extermination going on amidst various species; there is, at the same time, as much, or perhaps even more, of mutual support, mutual aid, and mutual defense...Sociability is as much a law of nature as mutual struggle." Our only understanding of human nature can be observed in our behavior as social animals, under those conditions, Kropotkin advocated left-communism, a fluid combination between anarchism and communism. I don't know how that would work with our understood model of the social contact, etc. but it seems that the necessity of a social contract would be under question if sociability is integral into human nature.

  12. I owe this apology for such late reply. Given my absence on first discussions, further meticulous reading was felt to be paramount to develop my stance on this matter.

    It is rather simplistic to examine human nature without any prior scrutiny to the implications of social contracts. After all, human behavior evolves on a political basis -- and yet it is spoken in state of nature today as discrepant from a thousand years ago. What is constantly modified is the degree of political anarchism and the self-help perspective in the societal realm, rather than state of nature: my basis rests in Locke's reliance on the Law of Nature which commands that humans do not portray harm to one another with regards to "life, health, liberty or possessions" (par.6). Although a state of nature might lack common sovereignty, individuals naturally establish relationships and contracts, and therefore anarchy is not necessarily an obstacle to peace. One may assert that state of nature can, however, devolve into property disputes when political institutions lure humans into disobedience -- and this may be one of the strongest reasons that humans abandon the state of nature, to contract and form civil governments for the sake of shared interests. But primarily, I do not see state of nature as the same as the state of war. Sorry, Hobbes.