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Human nature: from theory to practice

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Edouard Machery (2008, 2012) and Richard Samuels (2012) have both argued for a restrictive notion of human nature. In the first part of this talk I raise two problems for their views. A biologically plausible account of human nature must make room for variation within a population as an explanandum, and it must also make room for the possibility that forms of learning and enculturation explain the development of widely distributed traits. This means that the only theoretically respectable concept of human nature is a libertine one. In the second part of the talk I ask whether the explanatory practices of cultural evolutionary theorising are committed to a more restrictive notion of human nature. I argue that, in spite of appearances, not even models of gene-culture co-evolution are committed to strong distinctions between natural and cultural traits. The result is that restrictive accounts of human nature gain no support from scientific practice.

This talk is part of the CamPoS (Cambridge Philosophy of Science) seminar series.

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