What's Left of Human Nature?

From Life and Mind: Philosophical Issues in Biology and Psychology

What's Left of Human Nature?

A Post-Essentialist, Pluralist, and Interactive Account of a Contested Concept

By Maria Kronfeldner

A philosophical account of human nature that defends the concept against dehumanization, Darwinian, and developmentalist challenges.

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A philosophical account of human nature that defends the concept against dehumanization, Darwinian, and developmentalist challenges.

Human nature has always been a foundational issue for philosophy. What does it mean to have a human nature? Is the concept the relic of a bygone age? What is the use of such a concept? What are the epistemic and ontological commitments people make when they use the concept? In What's Left of Human Nature? Maria Kronfeldner offers a philosophical account of human nature that defends the concept against contemporary criticism. In particular, she takes on challenges related to social misuse of the concept that dehumanizes those regarded as lacking human nature (the dehumanization challenge); the conflict between Darwinian thinking and essentialist concepts of human nature (the Darwinian challenge); and the consensus that evolution, heredity, and ontogenetic development result from nurture and nature.

After answering each of these challenges, Kronfeldner presents a revisionist account of human nature that minimizes dehumanization and does not fall back on outdated biological ideas. Her account is post-essentialist because it eliminates the concept of an essence of being human; pluralist in that it argues that there are different things in the world that correspond to three different post-essentialist concepts of human nature; and interactive because it understands nature and nurture as interacting at the developmental, epigenetic, and evolutionary levels. On the basis of this, she introduces a dialectical concept of an ever-changing and “looping” human nature. Finally, noting the essentially contested character of the concept and the ambiguity and redundancy of the terminology, she wonders if we should simply eliminate the term “human nature” altogether.

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$45.00 S ISBN: 9780262038416 336 pp. | 9 in x 6 in 12 b&w illus.

Endorsements

  • “Kronfeldner's philosophical examination of human nature is lucid, rigorous, and comprehensive. This book offers a hugely valuable and timely contribution to thinking about human nature: what does it mean, what challenges does the notion face, and what is the normative importance (if any) of human nature talk. This ground-breaking book is a must-read and essential for everyone interested in the topic.”

    Dr. Mari Mikkola

    Faculty of Philosophy, University of Oxford

  • “What's Left of Human Nature? is an outstanding book that synthesizes complex debates from evolutionary biology to political theory while remaining accessible and vivid. Kronfeldner not only provides an indispensable resource for academic debates about human nature but also demonstrates how the wider cultural and social significance of biological research can be explored with the tools of philosophy of science.”

    Professor David Ludwig

    Knowledge, Technology, and Innovation Group, Wageningen University, The Netherlands

  • “Is the notion of human nature a remnant of an outdated biology? What role can it play in our post-essentialist world? And don't we need it to understand the sadly ubiquitous phenomenon of dehumanization? Providing a compelling, beautifully written answer to these and other questions, What's Left of Human Nature? will change the way you think about what it means to be human.”

    Professor Edouard Machery

    Department of History and Philosophy of Science, University of Pittsburgh

  • “This book is very welcome. Kronfeldner articulates and addresses important questions about the notion of 'human nature,' skillfully sorting out the philosophical, pragmatic, scientific, and technological dimensions of current debates. Biologists and philosophers, political theorists, and social activists alike will all find here important tools to advance their work. The book will also serve as a guide to anyone who wonders, in an age where the lines between human and non-human, biological, and artifactual seem to be dissolving, whether there is anything distinctive about 'humanity' and if there is, whether it much matters. Kronfeldner makes the pertinent philosophy accessible, and explains the important scientific controversies clearly, but without eliding crucial detail.”