Essay on Humanity

500 words essay on humanity.

When we say humanity, we can look at it from a lot of different perspectives. One of the most common ways of understanding is that it is a value of kindness and compassion towards other beings. If you look back at history, you will find many acts of cruelty by humans but at the same time, there are also numerous acts of humanity. An essay on humanity will take us through its meaning and importance.

essay on humanity

Importance of Humanity

As humans are progressing as a human race into the future, the true essence of humanity is being corrupted slowly. It is essential to remember that the acts of humanity must not have any kind of personal gain behind them like fame, money or power.

The world we live in today is divided by borders but the reach we can have is limitless. We are lucky enough to have the freedom to travel anywhere and experience anything we wish for. A lot of nations fight constantly to acquire land which results in the loss of many innocent lives.

Similarly, other humanitarian crisis like the ones in Yemen, Syria, Myanmar and more costs the lives of more than millions of people. The situation is not resolving anytime soon, thus we need humanity for this.

Most importantly, humanity does not just limit to humans but also caring for the environment and every living being. We must all come together to show true humanity and help out other humans, animals and our environment to heal and prosper.

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The Great Humanitarians

There are many great humanitarians who live among us and also in history. To name a few, we had Mother Teresa , Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Princess Diana and more. These are just a few of the names which almost everyone knows.

Mother Teresa was a woman who devoted her entire life to serving the poor and needy from a nation. Rabindranath Tagore was an Indian poet who truly believed in humanity and considered it his true religion.

Similarly, Nelson Mandela was a great humanitarian who worked all his life for those in needs. He never discriminated against any person on the basis of colour, sex, creed or anything.

Further, Mahatma Gandhi serves as a great example of devoting his life to free his country and serve his fellow countrymen. He died serving the country and working for the betterment of his nation. Thus, we must all take inspiration from such great people.

The acts and ways of these great humanitarians serve as a great example for us now to do better in our life. We must all indulge in acts of giving back and coming to help those in need. All in all, humanity arises from selfless acts of compassion.

Conclusion of the Essay on Humanity

As technology and capitalism are evolving at a faster rate in this era, we must all spread humanity wherever possible. When we start practising humanity, we can tackle many big problems like global warming, pollution , extinction of animals and more.

FAQ of Essay on Humanity

Question 1: What is the importance of humanity?

Answer 1: Humanity refers to caring for and helping others whenever and wherever possible. It means helping others at times when they need that help the most. It is important as it helps us forget our selfish interests at times when others need our help.

Question 2: How do we show humanity?

Answer 2: All of us are capable of showing humanity. It can be through acknowledging that human beings are equal, regardless of gender, sex, skin colour or anything. We must all model genuine empathy and show gratitude to each other and express respect and humility.

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The Power of Humanity: On Being Human Now and in the Future

power of humanity essay

Humanity means three different things: a species; a behaviour, and a global identity. The historical relationship between these different dimensions of humanity has been elegantly discussed by the late Bruce Mazlish in his 2009 book The Idea of Humanity in a Global Era and it is important to distinguish between these three aspects of being human as we prepare to meet as a global humanitarian movement once again.

Humanity as species

The first meaning of humanity describes a particular kind of animal that biologists encouragingly call homo sapiens – or wise human – and which seems distinct from all other animals because of its powers of language, reasoning, imagination and technology. This biological and evolutionary use of the term has the same meaning as “humankind” and marks us out as a particular life form that is different to other kinds of animal and vegetative life.

The power of the human species is considerable over the non-human world. This is mainly because our intelligence has consistently invented and deployed tools and technology which means we have come to dominate the earth, and our imagination has shaped religious and political meanings around which we form competing interests and social movements.

Our tools mean we are not a simple species but always function as a hybrid species – part human and part technology – in a constantly changing mix of human and non-human components. This hybrid humanity must infuriate non-human life like lions and microbes who could easily “take us down” in a fair fight of simple life forms, but who have consistently encountered us in hybrid forms in which we merge our humanity with spears, guns, horses, cars, vaccines and antibiotics.

We operate routinely in these human-machine interactions (HMI) of various kinds. I am doing it now typing on my Macbook Air with an electric fan to keep me cool on a hot summer’s day. Our mechanization gives us exponential power and unfair advantage over non-human life forms both large and microscopic, which tend to remain simple in one form except for bacteria and viruses, our most threatening predators, which can change form relatively fast.

Our essential hybridity with other animal, plant and machine life is now in the emergent stages of a giant leap towards new forms of power which we cannot envision . New applications of biotech, robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) mean that our hybrid humanity is about to expand exponentially in a way that is already changing what it means to be human. Today’s technologists are focused hard on simplifying human-machine interfaces – different types of “dashboards” which use our five human senses and recognize human gestures so that our humanity interacts seamlessly with AI of various kinds. These interfaces will increasingly be embedded in our bodies and minds as new levels of interactivity with technology which will inevitably change the experience of being human and the power of humanity.

Technology will not just change us where we are but also change where we can be. Humanity will be enhanced in time and space but also relocated across time and space. For example, because I am on Twitter or Skype, I can already be visibly present elsewhere, speaking and responding in thousands of different places across time and space. This is radically different from my great grandmother who could only ever really be visible and engaged in one place at one time, or in two places at two times when someone far away was reading a letter from her.

This time-space compression and its resulting context collapse which began with radio and television is an ever-increasing feature of being human. Some of our grandchildren will probably be talking and listening simultaneously in a hundred different places at once in embodied replicas as holograms or humanoid drones. They will probably be fluent in all languages, move through space much faster than us and live forever on earth and in space because of biological and AI enhancements. Our machines will develop new levels of autonomy which, although created by humans, are inevitably adapted by machine learning into new forms of non-human and non-animal life.

This all means that the power of humanity as a species is about to increase dramatically because of a revolution in human-machine interaction which will see new forms of hybridity beyond our current imagining. Our human power will become even greater but what about our wisdom and the way we use this new power of humanity? In short, what about the ethics of our behaviour in our new hybrid humanity?

Humanity as ethical behaviour

We now come to the second meaning of humanity which is used to describe a certain moral value that we can see operating across humankind as kindness and compassion for one another. We can therefore understand this second meaning as the kindness of humans. [1] This humanity is our first Fundamental Principle and primary purpose in the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and has been summarized as follows since 1965:

“To prevent and alleviate human suffering wherever it may be found (and) to protect life and health and ensure respect for the human being.”

This principle of humanity is the fundamental value at play in every Red Cross and Red Crescent worker wherever they are in the world today. If you stop one of them in whatever they are doing – taking blood donations in a major city, organizing relief in war or disaster, or negotiating with diplomats in the UN Security Council – and ask them why they are doing it, each one them should simply answer: “I am trying to protect life and health and ensure respect for human beings.”

This is humanity in action and it is the power of this humanity – humane behaviour towards other humans – that we seek to celebrate, improve and increase in our Movement’s 33rd International Conference in December.

Humanity in this sense is human behaviour that cares for other humans because of a profound and universally held conviction that life is better than death, and that to live well means being treated humanely in relationships of mutual respect. This commitment is a driving principle in the rules of behaviour in the Geneva Conventions, whose 70th anniversary falls this year, and in the Disaster Laws recommended by the Movement to ensure better disaster prevention, preparedness and response around the world.

The Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement is at once symbol, advocate and embodiment of this ethic of humanity and so is constantly working emotionally, judicially and practically to increase humanity as a dominant form of human behaviour in extreme situations. This is not easy, of course, because the human species is ethically ambivalent and not simply driven by an ethic of humanity. We are also deeply competitive, cruel and violent as a species and often believe that some things we have constructed are much more important than particular human lives. The reason that the call for humanity is so loud is because our record of inhumanity is so long, and the power of inhumanity is often greater than the power of humanity.

And what of humanity’s behaviour towards non-human life? In our era of climate crisis, environmental degradation and multiple species extinction, the moral principle of humanity is looking increasingly self-referential and incomplete as a primary ethic for the human species. Quite simply, it is not enough for humans only to be kind to humans.

The principle of humanity as currently expressed is a classic example of speciesism in ethics. It cares only about one species – our own. We may claim that the principle of humanity is a niche ethic for calamitous human situations which rightly trumps wider ethical considerations in extremis, but this is neither true nor realistic. It is not true because the principle of humanity already takes account of the natural environment in the laws of war and the norms of disaster response and so recognizes the importance of non-human life in its own right and as means to human life. Nor is it realistic at a time when our biggest existential challenge as a species arises from our relationship with the non-human world around us.

The principle of humanity must, therefore, keep pace with the ethical evolution of humanity (the species) and needs to expand its purpose and behaviour towards non-human life. This currently includes all animal and vegetative life. But, in future, it is increasingly also likely to include non-human machines like robots and AI which may develop their own levels of consciousness, feelings and rights as they increasingly merge with humanity – the species and its ethics – in hybrid forms.

Here time is pressing. We may have little time to work out what it means to apply humane behaviour within non-human machines and towards non-human machines. This means agreeing how non-human machines and new models of human-machine interactions can behave with humanity, especially as new weapons systems. It will also mean thinking about how we should show humanity to increasingly machine-like humans and human-like machines.

We may have even less time to think hard about what it means to show humanity to non-human environments and animals in the Movement’s humanitarian norms and work. At the moment, our humanitarian action can be profoundly inhumane to non-human life, neither protecting nor respecting it.

With all this uncertainty about what exactly it may mean to be human in future and the persistent record of our inhumanity to each other and towards non-human life, what sense does it make to try to aspire to a single global identity as billions of human beings?

Humanity as global identity

Over the last 200 years, a third sense of humanity has increasingly referred to a single global identity across all human societies. This is not a simple biological identity but the idea that as a conflicted species we can and must build a single global political identity in which every human has a stake. This global identity is a meta identity which transcends smaller identities shaped by culture, nation, class, political opinion and religion.

The purpose of this single political humanity is to build a human “we” in which can share a common species consciousness as one group sharing a single planetary “home” and so work together on common problems and common opportunities that face the whole of humanity.

This political sense of being a single global group is experiencing push-back today as a broad-based politics of ethnic and economic nationalism expresses scepticism about globalism of all kinds. This political turn sees many people asking national politicians to think “more about us here” and “less about them over there”. But our Movement continues to argue that it is important to imagine and build a global sense of humanity because our common human problems are intense and interdependent, and can only be solved internationally not just nationally.

There are five truly existential problems that we all share as members of the human species, and always have done. Threats from each one can be significantly reduced if we work together to solve them in the spirit of Dumas’ Three Musketeers: “all for one and one for all”. This is what we try to do at the International Conference. Our perennial five problems are:

1. The problem of our violence as a species as it plays out terribly in war and violent crime. 2. Our struggle for fairness and our desire to reduce inequalities between us. 3. Our predators and their threat to our health which now take mainly microscopic form as infectious microbes, or chronic and autoimmune diseases in which we attack ourselves. 4. Our relationship with the non-human environment and its impact on human survival. 5. The promethean risk of our creativity and how our technological inventions help and harm as they change the world around us and redefine humanity itself in new hybrid forms.

These five deep species problems will all be raised in various forms at our Conference in December. They will require a powerful response by all humanity, with an ethic of humanity, to ensure the survival of humanity.

[1] Oxfam plays on the relationship between humankind and kind humans in their ongoing global campaign “Be Humankind” which was launched in 2008.

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The road less travelled: ethics in the international regulatory debate on autonomous weapon systems

The road less travelled: ethics in the international regulatory debate on autonomous weapon systems

10 mins read  Humanitarian Action / Humanitarian Principles / Identity / The most read blog posts in 2019 Alexander Blanchard

Protecting civilians in conflict: the urgency of implementing the Political Declaration on Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas

Protecting civilians in conflict: the urgency of implementing the Political Declaration on Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas

9 mins read  Humanitarian Action / Humanitarian Principles / Identity / The most read blog posts in 2019 Laura Boillot , Laurent Gisel , Paul Holtom , Frederik Siem , Dina Abou Samra & Juliana Helou van der Berg

Great piece Hugo. I must say, the term “non-human machine” is a head-scratcher. It looks like a redundancy, but suspect you have a very good reason for using it.

On a more serious note, I think we need to be careful not to lump all push-back on the ideal of humanity as an expression of selfish nationalism or a rejection of our global family. The way we think and define humanity in humanitarian circles seems embedded in a (Western?) tradition of individual rights and freedoms. I don’t think that is necessarily a problem. But we should think about how this might translate into, for example, an approach to impartiality that obscures the needs of and undermines the social capital of a community via its systemic reduction of crisis response to the individual or household.

Oddly enough, I just blogged about this earlier today. Your upcoming conference seems a good place to reflect not just on the power and ideals encapsulated by our principle of humanity, but how we might comprehend and mitigate potential negative consequences of its (all too human?) operationalization.

I admire your aspirations for a global identity for humanity.

I bring good news that we already have such an identity. We are all the creation of One God, Allah, the Most Merciful. He Created us for a purpose, and we undoubtedly will return to Him and be held to account for how we used the life He gave us.

Allah the Exalted says: “O people, worship your Lord who created you and those before you, so that you may become God-fearing.” (Qur’an 2:2)

I humbly invite you to apply your rare intellect and your inspiring concern for humanity to a study of the Qur’an, in which you might find answers. Islam teaches that humanity will only succeed when we surrender to the will of God.

Thank you, Marc. You’re right “non-human machine” sounds weird. I suppose I was reaching for “human-like (but not human) machine”. It’s all quite complicated still to me….

And, yes, I share your caution on an overly-individualistic application of humanitarian action. We must always balance an individual caseload with a collective response. I look forward to reading your blog on this. Please tell us where it is. I gave a paper on the increasing “individualisation”of the civilian at Edinburgh University earlier this year and have lost it, rather annoyingly! If I find it, I will write it up……

Thank you, Sharriff, for your beautiful call (dawa) for me to embrace Islam. I have heard it and know well that our modern secular commitment to a single global identity as human beings is founded in a more original faith and its religious insight.

And I will keep reading the Quran as I study all faiths, and we will see what happens.

The tragedy is that humans are likely to accord ‘human’ rights to machines which are made in their own image while continuing to abuse the other animals who have as much (and, indeed, arguably more) right to planetary resources than the human animal. Every day, other animals have their lands and other resources stolen by humans. Every second of every day and night other animals are imprisoned without cause…tortured mentally and physically, and then murdered by an animal which is far too full of its own importance. We should respect these other animals, treating them as we wish to be treated ourselves…It’s time to get off our ‘human supremacist’ pedestals and to show (a very great deal) of humility towards the other animals whose home this planet also is. One final observation, the more I understand about other animals and the more I see of the human animal, the more I feel that the only thing that distinguishes us from other animals, is our capacity to destroy the planet.

Thanks for the article and the focus on the different dimensions of being human.

I really like this part: “(…) it is important to imagine and build a global sense of humanity because our common human problems are intense and interdependent, and can only be solved internationally not just nationally.”

I see in those lines a call for true solidarity, and to be aware of the reality that we as humanity have a common origin and a common destiny, that we are all in the same journey together and we cannot simply escape from each other closing borders or even closing our eyes and minds to difficult realities other humans are experiencing.

I see also a call for multilateralism and multistakeholder approach for the solution of the different challenges we face as human family.

Recently, I read the book The Good Immigrant. There is one article from Salena Godden, British poet, recalling our global citizenship and expressing: “United as a people we are a million majestic colours, together we are a glorious stained glass window. We are building a cathedral of otherness, brick by brick and book by book. “

Our species has developed a lot in the past years. New treatments, advanced equipment are there to solve those issues which were impossible to take care of. The development can be seen through medical, automotive and other industries. Thank you very much. I would like to know more about this! Smile makeover Malden

A really well-written and meaningful article! I found a small motivation in myself to write about change as I read your blog… Life is about growth, but many people remain the same without even sparing a thought even for a moment. Many people think that they have come up to a level by which nobody can demand anything from them. They are repulsive and unchangeable even if it is for their own good. If people aren’t adamant to change, they can see more of themselves which can help in the overall development of society, humanity and also the earth. Here are my thoughts about the change that needs to be brought about in humanity as a whole. Hope you like them! Thanks

Interesting insights- thanks very much for sharing them, and for reading!

Great piece Hugo. I must say, the term “non-human machine” is a head-scratcher. It looks like a redundancy, but suspect you have a very good reason for using it. Thanks for your nice post . I hope I will see this type of post again in your Website

its very nice fantastic

Human population densities are approaching that of animals in factory farms; thus humanity may end up in ‘factory cities’, whatever that might mean.

The power of humanity? Humanity is a disgusting species, more akin to a virus or plague than any mammalian species. Selfish, greedy, destructive, dishonest, disloyal and with only rare exceptions to the contrary. The planet will be far better off once we’re gone. I live completely off grid now, and there are signs across my property here in Europe spelling it out, in no uncertain terms, what will happen to anyone, anyone, who steps foot on my land. The more time I spend working the land, with my dogs, the less I like, and have time for, humanity. I’m ashamed to be a part of it.

Excellent piece but I have to leave a comment, I live in northeast of England and was raised and live in a working class community, my view of being human and humanity is almost alien to how you perceive it, I had to double check my self, television, schooling, religion and parents world views is what really shapes us into being, i was born in 1980, and if I speak honestly I see myself being of a loving nature from nature all equal in value. 1 law, do not cause harm to others willingly. We are everything and nothing, I wasn’t taught this but it’s built into our dna, it has to be, I see surfering and pain voilence mainly from television and media, what isn’t taught which should be primary is how to use our full brain potential, and energetic body system, I know it as kundalini and pineal activation, and from here we can operate from a super position, ie quantum. Even with all this confusion and old Newtonian way of thinking, inherently i see the majority existing with all the creators creations extremely well, for we know deep down we are one.. all information is in this space and time. It should be taught because a lot of people know how. everything is conscious, all is mind, mind if the all. There is solid foundations in place to build upon metaphysically. The metaverse already exists. So I don’t know what zuckerberg and co are creating, we need transparency and a universal language to communicate, so as to not be tricked, conned, confused by double speak and countless meanings of words, hood winked into thinking were something else. Have trust and faith in ourself we are made with a Divine spark within us, thank you to anyone who takes the time to read this, love and harmony to all

Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts Michael! Sending love and harmony back your way. Best, Lizzie

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  • Essay On Humanity

Essay on Humanity

Humanity definition.

Humanity is a cumulative term used for all human beings, showing sympathy, empathy, love and treating others with respect. The term humanity is used to describe the act of kindness and compassion towards others. It is one of the unique things that differentiates us from animals. It is a value that binds all of us. A human being requires a gentle heart to show empathy with others.

We as human beings are creative, and with our will and hard work, we can achieve anything in our life. When we reach something in our life, it is considered a milestone of the human race. The value of humanity should be included in academics in schools for a better future.

Humanity can be defined as unconditional love for all human beings irrespective of gender, caste, religion, etc., and it also includes love for plants and animals. The most significant humanitarian dedicates their life serving the poor and needy, which individuals can provide in their lifetime. Serving the impoverished means you are thinking about others more than yourself. If you are capable enough, you must help the poor and needy. It is a sign of good humanitarianism.

Importance of Humanity

As humans, our race is progressing into the future, due to which the true essence of humanity is being corrupted. We should remember that the acts of society should not be involved with our gain, like money, power or fame. Our world, where we inhabit, is divided by borders, but we are fortunate to have the freedom to travel anywhere in this world. A few countries or nations are in the constant process of acquiring land, which results in the loss of many innocent human lives.

Countries like Syria, Yemen, Myanmar and many more have lost many innocent lives. These countries face a crisis, and the situation is still not resolved. In these countries, there is no humanity, but we need it to tackle the ongoing problems. We all should come forward to show true humanity by helping the poor and needy and also for birds, animals, etc. Society will heal and make our environment prosperous.

The Great Humanitarians

While going through our history, we get to know about many humanitarians who used to live among us. These names are well-known personalities that almost everyone knows. A few examples are Nelson Mandala, Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa, etc.

Mahatma Gandhi, popularly known as the Father of the Nation, is a great example who devoted his entire life to free his country from the British rulers. He lost his life serving the nation and working to better the nation. Thus, he is a great inspiration for all humans.

Another inspiration is Nelson Mandela, a great humanitarian who served the poor and needy of the nation. The great poet Rabindranath Tagore truly believed in humanity.

These famous humanitarians’ acts and ways are great examples for today’s generation to help the poor and needy. As good human beings, we should indulge in acts of kindness and giving back. Humanity is all about selfless acts of compassion.

Conclusion of the Essay on Humanity

The happiest man on this planet is one who serves humanity. Real happiness is the inner satisfaction you can get from society; no matter how rich you are, you can’t buy inner happiness.

All religions teach us about humanity, love, and peace in this world. You don’t need to be a rich person to showcase your humanity. Anyone can show their humanity by helping and sharing things with the poor. It can be anything like money, food, clothes, shelter, etc.

But humans have always indulged in acts that defy humanity, but as a generation, we have to rise and strive to live in a world where everybody is living a fair life. And we can attain it through acts of humanity.

An essay on humanity will be of great help while writing an essay. The correct method of writing an essay will help them to crack their exam with flying colours. Students can also visit our BYJU’S website to get more CBSE Essays , question papers, sample papers, etc.

Frequently asked Questions on Humanity Essay

What is the meaning of humanity.

Humanity refers to all the basic qualities that are expected to be exhibited by humans.

Why is humanity important in one’s life?

As a human being, helping and lending support to fellow human beings is an important aspect.

Name some humanitarians who changed the world.

Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi are some humanitarians who changed the world with their actions and are still remembered today.

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The power of humanity

31-12-1999 article, international review of the red cross, no. 836.

Declaration - 27th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, Geneva, 31 October to 6 November 1999

  Annex 1 of the resolution 1  

The approach of a new century is a time for reflection. For the Red Cross and Red Crescent, and the governments committed to the Geneva Conventions, it is also a time for concern.

In spite of positive changes in recent decades, conflicts still rage in many countries. Attacks on civilian populations and objects are commonplace. Hundreds of thousands of people have been forced to leave their homes. International humanitarian law is often flouted. Highly destructive natural disasters continue to shatter the lives of large numbers of people. New and old diseases cause widespread suffering. Health services and social and economic systems struggle to cope with increasing demands. The weakest around the world continue to suffer most.

In the face of this we commit ourselves:

to bring real help and comfort, wherever it is needed, to save and improve the lives of millions;

to reinforce our collective commitment to international humanitarian law;

to campaign for human dignity and the responsibility of each one of us to help others, without discrimination, to mitigate the consequences of disasters and war;

to support the millions of Red Cross and Red Crescent volunteers across the world who daily embody the humanitarian commitment.

“The power of humanity ” is the strength of individual commitment and the force of collective action. Both must be mobilized to relieve suffering, ensure respect for human dignity and ultimately create a more humane society.

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Human Nature

Talk of human nature is a common feature of moral and political discourse among people on the street and among philosophers, political scientists and sociologists. This is largely due to the widespread assumption that true descriptive or explanatory claims making use of the concept of human nature have, or would have, considerable normative significance. Some think that human nature excludes the possibility of certain forms of social organisation—for example, that it excludes any broadly egalitarian society. Others make the stronger claim that a true normative ethical theory has to be built on prior knowledge of human nature. Still others believe that there are specific moral prohibitions concerning the alteration of, or interference in, the set of properties that make up human nature. Finally, there are those who argue that the normative significance derives from the fact that merely deploying the concept is typically, or even necessarily, pernicious.

Alongside such varying and frequently conflicting normative uses of the expression “human nature”, there are serious disagreements concerning the concept’s content and explanatory significance—the starkest being whether the expression “human nature” refers to anything at all. Some reasons given for saying there is no human nature are anthropological, grounded in views concerning the relationship between natural and cultural features of human life. Other reasons given are biological, deriving from the character of the human species as, like other species, an essentially historical product of evolution. Whether these reasons justify the claim that there is no human nature depends, at least in part, on what it is exactly that the expression is supposed to be picking out. Many contemporary proposals differ significantly in their answers to this question.

Understanding the debates around the philosophical use of the expression “human nature” requires clarity on the reasons both for (1) adopting specific adequacy conditions for the term’s use and for (2) accepting particular substantial claims made within the framework thus adopted. One obstacle to such clarity is historical: we have inherited from the beginnings of Western philosophy, via its Medieval reception, the idea that talk of human nature brings into play a number of different, but related claims. One such set of claims derives from different meanings of the Greek equivalents of the term “nature”. This bundle of claims, which can be labelled the traditional package , is a set of adequacy conditions for any substantial claim that uses the expression “human nature”. The beginnings of Western philosophy have also handed down to us a number of such substantial claims . Examples are that humans are “rational animals” or “political animals”. We can call these claims the traditional slogans . The traditional package is a set of specifications of how claims along the lines of the traditional slogans are to be understood, i.e., what it means to claim that it is “human nature” to be, for example, a rational animal.

Various developments in Western thought have cast doubt both on the coherence of the traditional package and on the possibility that the adequacy conditions for the individual claims can be fulfilled. Foremost among these developments are the Enlightenment rejection of teleological metaphysics, the Historicist emphasis on the significance of culture for understanding human action and the Darwinian introduction of history into biological kinds. This entry aims to help clarify the adequacy conditions for claims about human nature, the satisfiability of such conditions and the reasons why the truth of claims with the relevant conditions might seem important. It proceeds in five steps. Section 1 unpacks the traditional package, paying particular attention to the importance of Aristotelian themes and to the distinction between the scientific and participant perspectives from which human nature claims can be raised. Section 2 explains why evolutionary biology raises serious problems both for the coherence of this package and for the truth of its individual component claims. Sections 3 and 4 then focus on attempts to secure scientific conceptions of human nature in the face of the challenge from evolutionary biology. The entry concludes with a discussion of accounts of human nature developed from a participant perspective, in particular accounts that, in spite of the evolutionary challenge, are taken to have normative consequences.

1.1 “Humans”

1.2 unpacking the traditional package, 1.3 essentialisms, 1.4 on the status of the traditional slogan, 2.1 the nature of the species taxon, 2.2 the nature of species specimens as species specimens, 2.3 responding to the evolutionary verdict on classificatory essences, 3.1 privileging properties, 3.2 statistical normality or robust causality, 4.1 genetically based psychological adaptations, 4.2 abandoning intrinsicality, 4.3 secondary altriciality as a game-changer, 5.1. human nature from a participant perspective, 5.2.1. sidestepping the darwinian challenge, 5.2.2. human flourishing, 5.3. reason as the unique structural property, other internet resources, related entries, 1. “humans”, slogans and the traditional package.

Before we begin unpacking, it should be noted that the adjective “human” is polysemous, a fact that often goes unnoticed in discussions of human nature, but makes a big difference to both the methodological tractability and truth of claims that employ the expression. The natural assumption may appear to be that we are talking about specimens of the biological species Homo sapiens , that is, organisms belonging to the taxon that split from the rest of the hominin lineage an estimated 150,000 years ago. However, certain claims seem to be best understood as at least potentially referring to organisms belonging to various older species within the subtribe Homo , with whom specimens of Homo sapiens share properties that have often been deemed significant (Sterelny 2018: 114).

On the other hand, the “nature” that is of interest often appears to be that of organisms belonging to a more restricted group. There may have been a significant time lag between the speciation of anatomically modern humans ( Homo sapiens ) and the evolution of behaviourally modern humans, i.e., human populations whose life forms involved symbol use, complex tool making, coordinated hunting and increased geographic range. Behavioural modernity’s development is often believed only to have been completed by 50,000 years ago. If, as is sometimes claimed, behavioural modernity requires psychological capacities for planning, abstract thought, innovativeness and symbolism (McBrearty & Brooks 2000: 492) and if these were not yet widely or sufficiently present for several tens of thousands of years after speciation, then it may well be behaviourally, rather than anatomically modern humans whose “nature” is of interest to many theories. Perhaps the restriction might be drawn even tighter to include only contemporary humans, that is, those specimens of the species who, since the introduction of agriculture around 12,000 years ago, evolved the skills and capacities necessary for life in large sedentary, impersonal and hierarchical groups (Kappeler, Fichtel, & van Schaik 2019: 68).

It was, after all, a Greek living less than two and a half millennia ago within such a sedentary, hierarchically organised population structure, who could have had no conception of the prehistory of the beings he called anthrôpoi , whose thoughts on their “nature” have been decisive for the history of philosophical reflection on the subject. It seems highly likely that, without the influence of Aristotle, discussions of “human nature” would not be structured as they are until today.

We can usefully distinguish four types of claim that have been traditionally made using the expression “human nature”. As a result of a particular feature of Aristotle’s philosophy, to which we will come in a moment, these four claims are associated with five different uses of the expression. Uses of the first type seem to have their origin in Plato; uses of the second, third and fourth type are Aristotelian; and, although uses of the fifth type have historically been associated with Aristotle, this association seems to derive from a misreading in the context of the religiously motivated Mediaeval reception of his philosophy.

A first , thin, contrastive use of the expression “human nature” is provided by the application of a thin, generic concept of nature to humans. In this minimal variant, nature is understood in purely contrastive or negative terms. Phusis is contrasted in Plato and Aristotle with technē , where the latter is the product of intention and a corresponding intervention of agency. If the entire cosmos is taken to be the product of divine agency, then, as Plato argued (Nadaf 2005: 1ff.), conceptualisations of the cosmos as natural in this sense are mistaken. Absent divine agency, the types of agents whose intentions are relevant for the status of anything as natural are human agents. Applied to humans, then, this concept of nature picks out human features that are not the results of human intentional action. Thus understood, human nature is the set of human features or processes that remain after subtraction of those picked out by concepts of the non-natural, concepts such as “culture”, “nurture”, or “socialisation”.

A second component in the package supplies the thin concept with substantial content that confers on it explanatory power. According to Aristotle, natural entities are those that contain in themselves the principle of their own production or development, in the way that acorns contain a blueprint for their own realisation as oak trees ( Physics 192b; Metaphysics 1014b). The “nature” of natural entities thus conceptualised is a subset of the features that make up their nature in the first sense. The human specification of this explanatory concept of nature aims to pick out human features that similarly function as blueprints for something like a fully realised form. According to Aristotle, for all animals that blueprint is “the soul”, that is, the integrated functional capacities that characterise the fully developed entity. The blueprint is realised when matter, i.e., the body, has attained the level of organisation required to instantiate the animal’s living functions (Charles 2000: 320ff.; Lennox 2009: 356).

A terminological complication is introduced here by the fact that the fully developed form of an entity is itself also frequently designated as its “nature” (Aristotle, Physics 193b; Politics 1252b). In Aristotle’s teleological metaphysics, this is the entity’s end, “that for the sake of which a thing is” ( Metaphysics 1050a; Charles 2000: 259). Thus, a human’s “nature”, like that of any other being, may be either the features in virtue of which it is disposed to develop to a certain mature form or, thirdly , the form to which it is disposed to develop.

Importantly, the particularly prominent focus on the idea of a fully developed form in Aristotle’s discussions of humans derives from its dual role. It is not only the form to the realisation of which human neonates are disposed; it is also the form that mature members of the species ought to realise ( Politics 1253a). This normative specification is the fourth component of the traditional package. The second, third and fourth uses of “nature” are all in the original package firmly anchored in a teleological metaphysics. One question for systematic claims about human nature is whether any of these components remain plausible if we reject a teleology firmly anchored in theology (Sedley 2010: 5ff.).

A fifth and last component of the package that has traditionally been taken to have been handed down from antiquity is classificatory. Here, the property or set of properties named by the expression “human nature” is that property or property set in virtue of the possession of which particular organisms belong to a particular biological taxon: what we now identify as the species taxon Homo sapiens . This is human nature typologically understood.

This, then, is the traditional package:

The sort of properties that have traditionally been taken to support the classificatory practices relevant to TP5 are intrinsic to the individual organisms in question. Moreover, they have been taken to be able to fulfil this role in virtue of being necessary and sufficient for the organism’s membership of the species, i.e., “essential” in one meaning of the term. This view of species membership, and the associated view of species themselves, has been influentially dubbed “typological thinking” (Mayr 1959 [1976: 27f.]; cf. Mayr 1982: 260) and “essentialism” (Hull 1965: 314ff.; cf. Mayr 1968 [1976: 428f.]). The former characterisation involves an epistemological focus on the classificatory procedure, the latter a metaphysical focus on the properties thus singled out. Ernst Mayr claimed that the classificatory approach originates in Plato’s theory of forms, and, as a result, involves the further assumption that the properties are unchanging. According to David Hull, its root cause is the attempt to fit the ontology of species taxa to an Aristotelian theory of definition.

The theory of definition developed in Aristotle’s logical works assigns entities to a genus and distinguishes them from other members of the genus, i.e., from other “species”, by their differentiae ( Topics 103b). The procedure is descended from the “method of division” of Plato, who provides a crude example as applied to humans, when he has the Eleatic Stranger in the Statesman characterise them as featherless bipeds (266e). Hull and many scholars in his wake (Dupré 2001: 102f.) have claimed that this simple schema for picking out essential conditions for species membership had a seriously deleterious effect on biological taxonomy until Darwin (cf. Winsor 2006).

However, there is now widespread agreement that Aristotle was no taxonomic essentialist (Balme 1980: 5ff.; Mayr 1982: 150ff.; Balme 1987: 72ff.; Ereshefsky 2001: 20f; Richards 2010: 21ff.; Wilkins 2018: 9ff.). First, the distinction between genus and differentiae was for Aristotle relative to the task at hand, so that a “species” picked out in this manner could then count as the genus for further differentiation. Second, the Latin term “species”, a translation of the Greek eidos , was a logical category with no privileged relationship to biological entities; a prime example in the Topics is the species justice, distinguished within the genus virtue (143a). Third, in a key methodological passage, Parts of Animals , I.2–3 (642b–644b), Aristotle explicitly rejects the method of “dichotomous division”, which assigns entities to a genus and then seeks a single differentia, as inappropriate to the individuation of animal kinds. Instead, he claims, a multiplicity of differentiae should be brought to bear. He emphasises this point in relation to humans (644a).

According to Pierre Pellegrin and David Balme, Aristotle did not seek to establish a taxonomic system in his biological works (Pellegrin 1982 [1986: 113ff.]; Balme 1987, 72). Rather, he simply accepted the everyday common sense partitioning of the animal world (Pellegrin 1982 [1986: 120]; Richards 2010: 24; but cf. Charles 2000: 343ff.). If this is correct, Aristotle didn’t even ask after the conditions for belonging to the species Homo sapiens . So he wasn’t proposing any particular answer, and specifically not the “essentialist” answer advanced by TP5. In as far as such an answer has been employed in biological taxonomy (cf. Winsor 2003), its roots appear to lie in Neoplatonic, Catholic misinterpretations of Aristotle (Richards 2010: 34ff.; Wilkins 2018: 22ff.). Be that as it may, the fifth use of “human nature” transported by tradition—to pick out essential conditions for an organism’s belonging to the species—is of eminent interest. The systematic concern behind Mayr and Hull’s historical claims is that accounts of the form of TP5 are incompatible with evolutionary theory. We shall look at this concern in section 2 of this entry.

Because the term “essentialism” recurs with different meanings in discussions of human nature and because some of the theoretical claims thus summarised are assumed to be Aristotelian in origin, it is worth spending a moment here to register what claims can be singled out by the expression. The first , purely classificatory conception just discussed should be distinguished from a second view that is also frequently labelled “essentialist” and which goes back to Locke’s concept of “real essence” (1689: III, iii, 15). According to essentialism thus understood, an essence is the intrinsic feature or features of an entity that fulfils or fulfil a dual role: firstly, of being that in virtue of which something belongs to a kind and, secondly, of explaining why things of that kind typically have a particular set of observable features. Thus conceived, “essence” has both a classificatory and an explanatory function and is the core of a highly influential, “essentialist” theory of natural kinds, developed in the wake of Kripke’s and Putnam’s theories of reference.

An account of human nature that is essentialist in this sense would take the nature of the human natural kind to be a set of microstructural properties that have two roles: first, they constitute an organism’s membership of the species Homo sapiens . Second, they are causally responsible for the organism manifesting morphological and behavioural properties typical of species members. Paradigms of entities with such natures or essences are chemical elements. An example is the element with the atomic number 79, the microstructural feature that accounts for surface properties of gold such as yellowness. Applied to organisms, it seems that the relevant explanatory relationship will be developmental, the microstructures providing something like a blueprint for the properties of the mature individual. Kripke assumed that some such blueprint is the “internal structure” responsible for the typical development of tigers as striped, carnivorous quadrupeds (Kripke 1972 [1980: 120f.]).

As the first, pseudo-Aristotelian version of essentialism illustrates, the classificatory and explanatory components of what we might call “Kripkean essentialism” can be taken apart. Thus, “human nature” can also be understood in exclusively explanatory terms, viz. as the set of microstructural properties responsible for typical human morphological and behavioural features. In such an account, the ability to pick out the relevant organisms is simply presupposed. As we shall see in section 4 of this entry, accounts of this kind have been popular in the contemporary debate. The subtraction of the classificatory function of the properties in these conceptions has generally seemed to warrant withholding from them the label “essentialist”. However, because some authors have still seen the term as applicable (Dupré 2001: 162), we might think of such accounts as constituting a third , weak or deflationary variant of essentialism.

Such purely explanatory accounts are descendants of the second use of “human nature” in the traditional package, the difference being that they don’t usually presuppose some notion of the fully developed human form. However, where some such presupposition is made, there are stronger grounds for talking of an “essentialist” account. Elliott Sober has argued that the key to essentialism is not classification in terms of necessary and sufficient conditions, but the postulation of some “privileged state”, to the realisation of which specimens of a species tend, as long as no extrinsic factors “interfere” (Sober 1980: 358ff.). Such a dispositional-teleological conception, dissociated from classificatory ambitions, would be a fourth form of essentialism. Sober rightly associates such an account with Aristotle, citing Aristotle’s claims in his zoological writings that interfering forces are responsible for deviations, i.e., morphological differences, both within and between species. A contemporary account of human nature with this structure will be discussed in section 4 .

A fifth and final form of essentialism is even more clearly Aristotelian. Here, an explicitly normative status is conferred on the set of properties to the development of which human organisms tend. For normative essentialism, “the human essence” or “human nature” is a normative standard for the evaluation of organisms belonging to the species. Where the first, third and fourth uses of the expression have tended to be made with critical intent (for defensive exceptions, see Charles 2000: 348ff.; Walsh 2006; Devitt 2008; Boulter 2012), this fifth use is more often a self-ascription (e.g., Nussbaum 1992). It is intended to emphasise metaethical claims of a specific type. According to such claims, an organism’s belonging to the human species entails or in some way involves the applicability to the organism of moral norms that ground in the value of the fully developed human form. According to one version of this thought, humans ought be, or ought to be enabled to be, rational because rationality is a key feature of the fully developed human form. Such normative-teleological accounts of human nature will be the focus of section 5.2 .

We can summarise the variants of essentialism and their relationship to the components of the traditional package as follows:

Section 2 and section 5 of this entry deal with the purely classificatory and the normative teleological conceptions of human nature respectively, and with the associated types of essentialism. Section 3 discusses attempts to downgrade TP5, moving from essential to merely characteristic properties. Section 4 focuses on accounts of an explanatory human nature, both on attempts to provide a modernized version of the teleological blueprint model ( §4.1 ) and on explanatory conceptions with deflationary intent relative to the claims of TP2 and TP3 ( §4.2 and §4.3 ).

The traditional package specifies a set of conditions some or all of which substantial claims about “human nature” are supposed to meet. Before we turn to the systematic arguments central to contemporary debates on whether such conditions can be met, it will be helpful to spend a moment considering one highly influential substantial claim. Aristotle’s writings prominently contain two such claims that have been handed down in slogan form. The first is that the human being (more accurately: “man”) is an animal that is in some important sense social (“zoon politikon”, History of Animals 487b; Politics 1253a; Nicomachean Ethics 1169b). According to the second, “he” is a rational animal ( Politics 1253a, where Aristotle doesn’t actually use the traditionally ascribed slogan, “zoon logon echon”).

Aristotle makes both claims in very different theoretical contexts, on the one hand, in his zoological writings and, on the other, in his ethical and political works. This fact, together with the fact that Aristotle’s philosophy of nature and his practical philosophy are united by a teleological metaphysics, may make it appear obvious that the slogans are biological claims that provide a foundation for normative claims in ethics and politics. The slogans do indeed function as foundations in the Politics and the Nicomachean Ethics respectively (on the latter, see section 5 of this entry). It is, however, unclear whether they are to be understood as biological claims. Let us focus on the slogan that has traditionally dominated discussions of human nature in Western philosophy, that humans are “rational animals”.

First, if Pellegrin and Balme are right that Aristotelian zoology is uninterested in classifying species, then ascribing the capacity for “rationality” cannot have the function of naming a biological trait that distinguishes humans from other animals. This is supported by two further sets of considerations. To begin with, Aristotle’s explicit assertion that a series of differentiae would be needed to “define” humans ( Parts of Animals 644a) is cashed out in the long list of features he takes to be their distinguishing marks, such as speech, having hair on both eyelids, blinking, having hands, upright posture, breasts in front, the largest and moistest brain, fleshy legs and buttocks (Lloyd 1983: 29ff.). Furthermore, there is in Aristotle no capacity for reason that is both exclusive to, and universal among anthropoi . One part or kind of reason, “practical intelligence” ( phronesis ), is, Aristotle claims, found in both humans and other animals, being merely superior in the former ( Parts of Animals , 687a). Now, there are other forms of reasoning of which this is not true, forms whose presence are sufficient for being human: humans are the only animals capable of deliberation ( History of Animals 488b) and reasoning ( to noein ), in as far as this extends to mathematics and first philosophy. Nevertheless, these forms of reasoning are unnecessary: slaves, who Aristotle includes among humans ( Politics 1255a), are said to have no deliberative faculty ( to bouleutikon ) at all ( Politics 1260a; cf. Richter 2011: 42ff.). Presumably, they will also be without the capacities necessary for first philosophy.

Second, these Aristotelian claims raise the question as to whether the ascription of rationality is even intended as an ascription to an individual in as far as she or he belongs to a biological kind. The answer might appear to be obviously affirmative. Aristotle uses the claim that a higher level of reason is characteristic of humans to teleologically explain other morphological features, in particular upright gait and the morphology of the hands ( Parts of Animals 686a, 687a). However, the kind of reason at issue here is practical intelligence, the kind humans and animals share, not the capacity for mathematics and metaphysics, which among animals is exercised exclusively by humans. In as far as humans are able to exercise this latter capacity in contemplation, Aristotle claims that they “partake of the divine” ( Parts of Animals 656a), a claim of which he makes extensive use when grounding his ethics in human rationality ( Nicomachean Ethics 1177b–1178b). When, in a passage to which James Lennox has drawn attention (Lennox 1999), Aristotle declares that the rational part of the soul cannot be the object of natural science ( Parts of Animals 645a), it seems to be the contemplative part of the soul that is thus excluded from biological investigation, precisely the feature that is named in the influential slogan. If it is the “something divine … present in” humans that is decisively distinctive of their kind, it seems unclear whether the relevant kind is biological.

It is not the aim of this entry to decide questions of Aristotle interpretation. What is important is that the relationship of the question of “human nature” to biology is, from the beginning of the concept’s career, not as unequivocal as is often assumed (e.g., Hull 1986: 7; Richards 2010: 217f.). This is particularly true of the slogan according to which humans are rational animals. In the history of philosophy, this slogan has frequently been detached from any attempt to provide criteria for biological classification or characterisation. When Aquinas picks up the slogan, he is concerned to emphasise that human nature involves a material, corporeal aspect. This aspect is, however, not thought of in biological terms. Humans are decisively “rational substances”, i.e., persons. As such they also belong to a kind whose members also number angels and God (three times) (Eberl 2004). Similarly, Kant is primarily, indeed almost exclusively, interested in human beings as examples of “rational nature”, “human nature” being only one way in which rational nature can be instantiated (Kant 1785, 64, 76, 85). For this reason, Kant generally talks of “rational beings”, rather than of “rational animals” (1785, 45, 95).

There is, then, a perspective on humans that is plausibly present in Aristotle, stronger in Aquinas and dominant in Kant and that involves seeing them as instances of a kind other than the “human kind”, i.e., seeing the human animal “as a rational being” (Kant 1785 [1996: 45]). According to this view, the “nature” of humans that is most worthy of philosophical interest is the one they possess not insofar as they are human, but insofar as they are rational. Where this is the relevant use of the concept of human nature, being a specimen of the biological species is unnecessary for possessing the corresponding property. Specimens of other species, as well as non-biological entities may also belong to the relevant kind. It is also insufficient, as not all humans will have the properties necessary for membership in that kind.

As both a biologist and ethicist, Aristotle is at once a detached scientist and a participant in forms of interpersonal and political interaction only available to contemporary humans living in large, sedentary subpopulations. It seems plausible that a participant perspective may have suggested a different take on what it is to be human, perhaps even a different take on the sense in which humans might be rational animals, to that of biological science. We will return to this difference in section 5 of the entry.

2. The Nature of the Evolutionary Unit Homo sapiens and its Specimens

Detailing the features in virtue of which an organism is a specimen of the species Homo sapiens is a purely biological task. Whether such specification is achievable and, if so how, is controversial. It is controversial for the same reasons for which it is controversial what conditions need to be met for an organism to be a specimen of any species. These reasons derive from the theory of evolution.

A first step to understanding these reasons involves noting a further ambiguity in the use of the expression “human nature”, this time an ambiguity specific to taxonomy. The term can be used to pick out a set of properties as an answer to two different questions. The first concerns the properties of some organism which make it the case that it belongs to the species Homo sapiens . The second concerns the properties in virtue of which a population or metapopulation is the species Homo sapiens . Correspondingly, “human nature” can pick out either the properties of organisms that constitute their partaking in the species Homo sapiens or the properties of some higher-level entity that constitute it as that species. Human nature might then either be the nature of the species or the nature of species specimens as specimens of the species.

It is evolution that confers on this distinction its particular form and importance. The variation among organismic traits, without which there would be no evolution, has its decisive effects at the level of populations. These are groups of organisms that in some way cohere at a time in spite of the variation of traits among the component organisms. It is population-level groupings, taxa, not organisms, that evolve and it is taxa, such as species, that provide the organisms that belong to them with genetic resources (Ghiselin 1987: 141). The species Homo sapiens appears to be a metapopulation that coheres at least in part because of the gene flow between its component organisms brought about by interbreeding (cf. Ereshefsky 1991: 96ff.). Hence, according to evolutionary theory, Homo sapiens is plausibly a higher-level entity—a unit of evolution—consisting of the lower-level entities that are individual human beings. The two questions phrased in terms of “human nature” thus concern the conditions for individuation of the population-level entity and the conditions under which organisms are components of that entity.

The theory of evolution transforms the way we should understand the relationship between human organisms and the species to which they belong. The taxonomic assumption of TP5 was that species are individuated by means of intrinsic properties that are individually instantiated by certain organisms. Instantiating those properties is taken to be necessary and sufficient for those organisms to belong to the species. Evolutionary theory makes it clear that species, as population-level entities, cannot be individuated by means of the properties of lower-level constituents, in our case, of individual human organisms (Sober 1980: 355).

The exclusion of this possibility grounds a decisive difference from the way natural kinds are standardly construed in the wake of Locke and Kripke. Recall that, in this Kripkean construal, lumps of matter are instances of chemical kinds because of their satisfaction of intrinsic necessary and sufficient conditions, viz. their atoms possessing a certain number of protons. The same conditions also individuate the chemical kinds themselves. Chemical kinds are thus spatiotemporally unrestricted sets. This means that there are no metaphysical barriers to the chance generation of members of the kind, independently of whether the kind is instantiated at any contiguous time or place. Nitrogen could come to exist by metaphysical happenstance, should an element with the atomic number 14 somehow come into being, even in a world in which up to that point no nitrogen has existed (Hull 1978: 349; 1984: 22).

In contrast, a species can only exist at time \(t_n\) if either it or a parent species existed at \(t_{n-1}\) and there was some relationship of spatial contiguity between component individuals of the species at \(t_n\) and the individuals belonging to either the same species or the parent species at \(t_{n-1}\). This is because of the essential role of the causal relationship of heredity. Heredity generates both the coherence across a population requisite for the existence of a species and the variability of predominant traits within the population, without which a species would not evolve.

For this reason, the species Homo sapiens , like every other species taxon, must meet a historical or genealogical condition. (For pluralistic objections to even this condition, see Kitcher 1984: 320ff.; Dupré 1993: 49f.) This condition is best expressed as a segment of a population-level phylogenetic tree, where such trees represent ancestor-descendent series (Hull 1978: 349; de Queiroz 1999: 50ff.; 2005). Species, as the point is often put, are historical entities, rather than kinds or classes (Hull 1978: 338ff.; 1984: 19). The fact that species are not only temporally, but also spatially restricted has also led to the stronger claim that they are individuals (Ghiselin 1974; 1997: 14ff.; Hull 1978: 338). If this is correct, then organisms are not members, but parts of species taxa. Independently of whether this claim is true for all biological species, Homo sapiens is a good candidate for a species that belongs to the category individual . This is because the species is characterised not only by spatiotemporal continuity, but also by causal processes that account for the coherence between its component parts. These processes plausibly include not only interbreeding, but also conspecific recognition and particular forms of communication (Richards 2010: 158ff., 218).

Importantly, the genealogical condition is only a necessary condition, as genealogy unites all the segments of one lineage. The segment of the phylogenetic tree that represents some species taxon begins with a node that represents a lineage-splitting or speciation event. Determining that node requires attention to general speciation theory, which has proposed various competing criteria (Dupré 1993: 48f.; Okasha 2002: 201; Coyne & Orr 2004). In the case of Homo sapiens , it requires attention to the specifics of the human case, which are also controversial (see Crow 2003; Cela-Conde & Ayala 2017: 11ff.). The end point of the segment is marked either by some further speciation event or, as may seem likely in the case of Homo sapiens , by the destruction of the metapopulation. Only when the temporal boundaries of the segment have become determinate would it be possible to adduce sufficient conditions for the existence of such a historical entity. Hence, if “human nature” is understood to pick out the necessary and sufficient conditions that individuate the species taxon Homo sapiens , its content is not only controversial, but epistemically unavailable to us.

If we take such a view of the individuating conditions for the species Homo sapiens , what are the consequences for the question of which organisms belong to the species? It might appear that it leaves open the possibility that speciation has resulted in some intrinsic property or set of properties establishing the cohesion specific to the taxon and that such properties count as necessary and sufficient for belonging to it (cf. Devitt 2008: 17ff.). This appearance would be deceptive. To begin with, no intrinsic property can be necessary because of the sheer empirical improbability that all species specimens grouped together by the relevant lineage segment instantiate any such candidate property. For example, there are individuals who are missing legs, inner organs or the capacity for language, but who remain biologically human (Hull 1986: 5). Evolutionary theory clarifies why this is so: variability, secured by mechanisms such as mutation and recombination, is the key to evolution, so that, should some qualitative property happen to be universal among all extant species specimens immediately after the completion of speciation, that is no guarantee that it will continue to be so throughout the lifespan of the taxon (Hull 1984: 35; Ereshefsky 2008: 101). The common thought that there must be at least some genetic property common to all human organisms is also false (R. Wilson 1999a: 190; Sterelny & Griffiths 1999: 7; Okasha 2002: 196f.): phenotypical properties that are shared in a population are frequently co-instantiated as a result of the complex interaction of differing gene-regulatory networks. Conversely, the same network can under different circumstances lead to differing phenotypical consequences (Walsh 2006: 437ff.). Even if it should turn out that every human organism instantiated some property, this would be a contingent, rather than a necessary fact (Sober 1980: 354; Hull 1986: 3).

Moreover, the chances of any such universal property also being sufficient are vanishingly small, as the sharing of properties by specimens of other species can result from various mechanisms, in particular from the inheritance of common genes in related species and from parallel evolution. This doesn’t entail that there may be no intrinsic properties that are sufficient belonging to the species. There are fairly good candidates for such properties, if we compare humans with other terrestrial organisms. Language use and a self-understanding as moral agents come to mind. However, whether non-terrestrial entities might possess such properties is an open question. And decisively, they are obviously hopeless as necessary conditions (cf. Samuels 2012: 9).

This leaves only the possibility that the conditions for belonging to the species are, like the individuating conditions for the species taxon, relational. Lineage-based individuation of a taxon depends on its component organisms being spatially and temporally situated in such a way that the causal processes necessary for the inheritance of traits can take place. In the human case, the key processes are those of sexual reproduction. Therefore, being an organism that belongs to the species Homo sapiens is a matter of being connected reproductively to organisms situated unequivocally on the relevant lineage segment. In other words, the key necessary condition is having been sexually reproduced by specimens of the species (Kronfeldner 2018: 100). Hull suggests that the causal condition may be disjunctive, as it could also be fulfilled by a synthetic entity created by scientists that produces offspring with humans who have been generated in the standard manner (Hull 1978: 349). Provided that the species is not in the throes of speciation, such direct descent or integration into the reproductive community, i.e., participation in the “complex network […] of mating and reproduction” (Hull 1986: 4), will also be sufficient.

The lack of a “human essence” in the sense of intrinsic necessary and sufficient conditions for belonging to the species taxon Homo sapiens , has led a number of philosophers to deny that there is any such thing as human nature (Hull 1984: 19; 1986; Ghiselin 1997: 1; de Sousa 2000). As this negative claim concerns properties intrinsic both to relevant organisms and to the taxon, it is equally directed at the “nature” of the organisms as species specimens and at that of the species taxon itself. An alternative consists in retracting the condition that a classificatory essence must be intrinsic, a move which allows talk of a historical or relational essence and a corresponding relational conception of taxonomic human nature (Okasha 2002: 202).

Which of these ways of responding to the challenge from evolutionary theory appears best is likely to depend on how one takes it that the classificatory issues relate to the other matters at stake in the original human nature package. These concern the explanatory and normative questions raised by TP1–TP4. We turn to these in the following three sections of this article.

An exclusively genealogical conception of human nature is clearly not well placed to fulfil an explanatory role comparable to that envisaged in the traditional package. What might have an explanatory function are the properties of the entities from which the taxon or its specimens are descended. Human nature, genealogically understood, might serve as the conduit for explanations in terms of such properties, but will not itself explain anything. After all, integration in a network of sexual reproduction will be partly definitive of the specimens of all sexual species, whilst what is to be explained will vary enormously across taxa.

This lack of fit between classificatory and explanatory roles confronts us with a number of further theoretical possibilities. For example, one might see this incompatibility as strengthening the worries of eliminativists such as Ghiselin and Hull: even if the subtraction of intrinsicality were not on its own sufficient to justify abandoning talk of human nature, its conjunction with a lack of explanatory power, one might think, certainly is (Dupré 2003: 109f.; Lewens 2012: 473). Or one might argue that it is the classificatory ambitions associated with talk of human nature that should be abandoned. Once this is done, one might hope that certain sets of intrinsic properties can be distinguished that figure decisively in explanations and that can still justifiably be labelled “human nature” (Roughley 2011: 15; Godfrey-Smith 2014: 140).

Taking this second line in turn raises two questions: first, in what sense are the properties thus picked out specifically “human”, if they are neither universal among, nor unique to species specimens? Second, in what sense are the properties “natural”? Naturalness as independence from the effects of human intentional action is a key feature of the original package (TP1). Whether some such conception can be coherently applied to humans is a challenge for any non-classificatory account.

3. Characteristic Human Properties

The answer given by TP2 to the first question was in terms of the fully developed human form, where “form” does not refer solely to observable physical or behavioural characteristics, but also includes psychological features. This answer entails two claims: first, that there is one single such “form”, i.e., property or set of properties, that figures in explanations that range across individual human organisms. It also entails that there is a point in human development that counts as “full”, that is, as development’s goal or “telos”. These claims go hand in hand with the assumption that there is a distinction to be drawn between normal and abnormal adult specimens of the species. There is, common sense tells us, a sense in which normal adult humans have two legs, two eyes, one heart and two kidneys at specific locations in the body; they also have various dispositions, for instance, to feel pain and to feel emotions, and a set of capacities, such as for perception and for reasoning. And these, so it seems, may be missing, or under- or overdeveloped in abnormal specimens.

Sober has influentially described accounts that work with such teleological assumptions as adhering to an Aristotelian “Natural State Model” (Sober 1980: 353ff.). Such accounts work with a distinction that has no place in evolutionary biology, according to which variation of properties across populations is the key to evolution. Hence, no particular end states of organisms are privileged as “natural” or “normal” (Hull 1986: 7ff.). So any account that privileges particular morphological, behavioural or psychological human features has to provide good reasons that are both non-evolutionary and yet compatible with the evolutionary account of species. Because of the way that the notion of the normal is frequently employed to exclude and oppress, those reasons should be particularly good (Silvers 1998; Dupré 2003: 119ff.; Richter 2011: 43ff.; Kronfeldner 2018: 15ff.).

The kinds of reasons that may be advanced could either be internal to, or independent of the biological sciences. If the former, then various theoretical options may seem viable. The first grounds in the claim that, although species are not natural kinds and are thus unsuited to figuring in laws of nature (Hull 1987: 171), they do support descriptions with a significant degree of generality, some of which may be important (Hull 1984: 19). A theory of human nature developed on this basis should explain the kind of importance on the basis of which particular properties are emphasised. The second theoretical option is pluralism about the metaphysics of species: in spite of the fairly broad consensus that species are defined as units of evolution, the pluralist can deny the primacy of evolutionary dynamics, arguing that other epistemic aims allow the ecologist, the systematist or the ethologist to work with an equally legitimate concept of species that is not, or not exclusively genealogical (cf. Hull 1984: 36; Kitcher 1986: 320ff.; Hull 1987: 178–81; Dupré 1993: 43f.). The third option involves a relaxation of the concept of natural kinds, such that it no longer entails the instantiation of intrinsic, necessary, sufficient and spatiotemporally unrestricted properties, but is nevertheless able to support causal explanations. Such accounts aim to reunite taxonomic and explanatory criteria, thus allowing species taxa to count as natural kinds after all (Boyd 1999a; R. Wilson, Barker, & Brigandt 2007: 196ff.). Where, finally , the reasons advanced for privileging certain properties are independent of biology, these tend to concern features of humans’—“our”—self-understanding as participants in, rather than observers of, a particular form of life. These are likely to be connected to normative considerations. Here again, it seems that a special explanation will be required for why these privileged properties should be grouped under the rubric “human nature”.

The accounts to be described in the next subsection (3.2) of this entry are examples of the first strategy. Section 4 includes discussion of the relaxed natural kinds strategy. Section 5 focuses on accounts of human nature developed from a participant perspective and also notes the support that the pluralist metaphysical strategy might be taken to provide.

Begin, then, with the idea that to provide an account of “human nature” is to circumscribe a set of generalisations concerning humans. An approach of this sort sees the properties thus itemised as specifically “human” in as far as they are common among species specimens. So the privilege accorded to these properties is purely statistical and “normal” means statistically normal. Note that taking the set of statistically normal properties of humans as a non-teleological replacement for the fully developed human form retains from the original package the possibility of labelling as “human nature” either those properties themselves (TP3) or their developmental cause (TP2). Either approach avoids the classificatory worries dealt with in section 2 : it presupposes that those organisms whose properties are relevant are already distinguished as such specimens. What is to be explained is, then, the ways humans generally, though not universally, are. And among these ways are ways they may share with most specimens of some other species, in particular those that belong to the same order (primates) and the same class (mammals).

One should be clear what follows from this interpretation of “human”. The organisms among whom statistical frequency is sought range over those generated after speciation around 150,000 years ago to those that will exist immediately prior to the species’ extinction. On the one hand, because of the variability intrinsic to species, we are in the dark as to the properties that may or may not characterise those organisms that will turn out to be the last of the taxon. On the other hand, the time lag of around 100,000 years between the first anatomically modern humans and the general onset of behavioural modernity around the beginning of the Upper Palaeolithic means that there are likely to be many widespread psychological properties of contemporary humans that were not possessed by the majority of the species’ specimens during two thirds of the species’ history. This is true even if the practices seen as the signatures of behavioural modernity (see §1.1 ) developed sporadically, disappeared and reappeared at far removed points of time and space over tens of thousands of years before 50,000 ka (McBrearty & Brooks 2000; Sterelny 2011).

According to several authors (Machery 2008; 2018; Samuels 2012; Ramsey 2013), the expression “human nature” should be used to group properties that are the focus of much current behavioural, psychological and social science. However, as the cognitive and psychological sciences are generally interested in present-day humans, there is a mismatch between scientific focus and a grouping criterion that takes in all the properties generally or typically instantiated by specimens of the entire taxon. For this reason, the expression “human nature” is likely to refer to properties of an even more temporally restricted set of organisms belonging to the species. That restriction can be thought of in indexical terms, i.e., as a restriction to contemporary humans. However, some authors claim explicitly that their accounts entail that human nature can change (Ramsey 2013: 992; Machery 2018: 20). Human nature would then be the object of temporally indexed investigations, as is, for example, the weight of individual humans in everyday contexts. (Without temporal specification, there is no determinate answer to a question such as “How much did David Hume weigh?”) An example of Machery’s is dark skin colour. This characteristic, he claims, ceased to be a feature of human nature thus understood 7,000 years ago, if that was when skin pigmentation became polymorphic. The example indicates that the temporal range may be extremely narrow from an evolutionary point of view.

Such accounts are both compatible with evolutionary theory and coherent. However, in as far as they are mere summary or list conceptions, it is unclear what their epistemic value might be. They will tend to accord with everyday common sense, for which “human nature” may in a fairly low-key sense simply be the properties that (contemporary) humans generally tend to manifest (Roughley 2011: 16). They will also conform to one level of the expression’s use in Hume’s Treatise of Human Nature (1739–40), which, in an attempt to provide a human “mental geography” (1748 [1970: 13]), lists a whole series of features, such as prejudice (1739–40, I,iii,13), selfishness (III,ii,5), a tendency to temporal discounting (III,ii,7) and an addiction to general rules (III,ii,9).

Accounts of this kind have been seen as similar in content to field guides for other animals (Machery 2008: 323; Godfrey-Smith 2014: 139). As Hull points out, within a restricted ecological context and a short period of evolutionary time, the ascription of readily observable morphological or behavioural characteristics to species specimens is a straightforward and unproblematic enterprise (Hull 1987: 175). However, the analogy is fairly unhelpful, as the primary function of assertions in field guides is to provide a heuristics for amateur classification. In contrast, a list conception of the statistically normal properties of contemporary humans presupposes identification of the organisms in question as humans. Moreover, such accounts certainly do not entail easy epistemic access to the properties in question, which may only be experimentally discovered. Nevertheless, there remains something correct about the analogy, as such accounts are a collection of assertions linked only by the fact that they are about the same group of organisms (Sterelny 2018: 123).

More sophisticated nature documentaries may summarise causal features of the lives of animals belonging to specific species. An analogous conception of human nature has also been proposed, according to which human nature is a set of pervasive and robust causal nexuses amongst humans. The list that picks out this set would specify causal connections between antecedent properties, such as having been exposed to benzene or subject to abuse as a child, and consequent properties, such as developing cancer or being aggressive towards one’s own children (Ramsey 2013: 988ff.). Human nature thus understood would have an explanatory component, a component internal to each item on the list. Human nature itself would, however, not be explanatory, but rather the label for a list of highly diverse causal connections.

An alternative way to integrate an explanatory component in a statistical normality account involves picking out that set of statistically common properties that have a purely evolutionary explanation (Machery 2008; 2018). This reinterpretation of the concept of naturalness that featured in the original package (TP1) involves a contrast with social learning. Processes grouped together under this latter description are taken to be alternative explanations to those provided by evolution. However, learning plays a central role, not only in the development of individual humans, but also in the iterated interaction of entire populations with environments structured and restructured through such interaction (Stotz 2010: 488ff.; Sterelny 2012: 23ff.). Hence, the proposal raises serious epistemic questions as to how the distinction is precisely to be drawn and operationalised. (For discussion, see Prinz 2012; Lewens 2012: 464ff.; Ramsey 2013: 985; Machery 2018: 15ff.; Sterelny 2018: 116; Kronfeldner 2018: 147ff.).

4. Explanatory Human Properties

The replacement of the concept of a fully developed form with a statistical notion yields a deflationary account of human nature with, at most, restricted explanatory import. The correlative, explanatory notion in the original package, that of the fully developed form’s blueprint (TP2), has to some authors seemed worth reframing in terms made possible by advances in modern biology, particularly in genetics.

Clearly, there must be explanations of why humans generally walk on two legs, speak and plan many of their actions in advance. Genealogical, or what have been called “ultimate” (Mayr) or “historical” (Kitcher) explanations can advert to the accumulation of coherence among entrenched, stable properties along a lineage. These may well have resulted from selection pressures shared by the relevant organisms (cf. Wimsatt 2003; Lewens 2009). The fact that there are exceptions to any generalisations concerning contemporary humans does not entail that there is no need for explanations of such exception-allowing generalisations. Plausibly, these general, though not universal truths will have “structural explanations”, that is, explanations in terms of underlying structures or mechanisms (Kitcher 1986: 320; Devitt 2008: 353). These structures, so seems, might to a significant degree be inscribed in humans’ DNA.

The precise details of rapidly developing empirical science will improve our understanding of the extent to which there is a determinate relationship between contemporary humans’ genome and their physical, psychological and behavioural properties. There is, however, little plausibility that the blueprint metaphor might be applicable to the way DNA is transcribed, translated and interacts with its cellular environment. Such interaction is itself subject to influence by the organism’s external environment, including its social environment (Dupré 2001: 29ff.; 2003: 111ff.; Griffiths 2011: 326; Prinz 2012: 17ff.; Griffiths & Tabery 2013: 71ff.; Griffiths & Stotz 2013: 98ff., 143ff.). For example, the feature of contemporary human life for which there must according to Aristotle be some kind of blueprint, viz. rational agency, is, as Sterelny has argued, so strongly dependent on social scaffolding that any claim to the effect that human rationality is somehow genetically programmed ignores the causal contributions of manifestly indispensable environmental factors (Sterelny 2018: 120).

Nevertheless, humans do generally develop a specific set of physiological features, such as two lungs, one stomach, one pancreas and two eyes. Moreover, having such a bodily architecture is, according to the evidence from genetics, to a significant extent the result of developmental programmes that ground in gene regulatory networks (GRNs). These are stretches of non-coding DNA that regulate gene transcription. GRNs are modular, more or less strongly entrenched structures. The most highly conserved of these tend to be the phylogenetically most archaic (Carroll 2000; Walsh 2006: 436ff.; Willmore 2012: 227ff.). The GRNs responsible for basic physiological features may be taken, in a fairly innocuous sense, to belong to an evolved human nature.

Importantly, purely morphological features have generally not been the explananda of accounts that have gone under the rubric “human nature”. What has frequently motivated explanatory accounts thus labelled is the search for underlying structures responsible for generally shared psychological features. “Evolutionary Psychologists” have built a research programme around the claim that humans share a psychological architecture that parallels that of their physiology. This, they believe, consists of a structured set of psychological “organs” or modules (Tooby & Cosmides 1990: 29f.; 1992: 38, 113). This architecture is, they claim, in turn the product of developmental programmes inscribed in humans’ DNA (1992: 45). Such generally distributed developmental programmes they label “human nature” (1990: 23).

This conception raises the question of how analogous the characteristic physical and psychological “architectures” are. For one thing, the physical properties that tend to appear in such lists are far more coarse-grained than the candidates for shared psychological properties (D. Wilson 1994: 224ff.): the claim is not just that humans tend to have perceptual, desiderative, doxastic and emotional capacities, but that the mental states that realise these capacities tend to have contents of specific types. Perhaps an architecture of the former kind—of a formal psychology—is a plausible, if relatively unexciting candidate for the mental side of what an evolved human nature should explain. Either way, any such conception needs to adduce criteria for the individuation of such “mental organs” (D. Wilson 1994: 233). Relatedly, if the most strongly entrenched developmental programmes are the most archaic, it follows that, although these will be species-typical, they will not be species-specific. Programmes for the development of body parts have been identified for higher taxa, rather than for species.

A further issue that dogs any such attempts to explicate the “human” dimension of human nature in terms of developmental programmes inscribed in human DNA concerns Evolutionary Psychologists’ assertion that the programmes are the same in every specimen of the species. This assertion goes hand in hand with the claim that what is explained by such programmes is a deep psychological structure that is common to almost all humans and underlies the surface diversity of behavioural and psychological phenomena (Tooby & Cosmides 1990: 23f.). For Evolutionary Psychologists, the (near-)universality of both developmental programmes and deep psychological structure has an ultimate explanation in evolutionary processes that mark their products as natural in the sense of TP1. Both, they claim, are adaptations. These are features that were selected for because their possession in the past conferred a fitness advantage on their possessors. Evolutionary Psychologists conceive that advantage as conferred by the fulfilment of some specific function. They summarise selection for that function as “design”, which they take to have operated equally on all species specimens since the Pleistocene. This move reintroduces the teleological idea of a fully developed form beyond mere statistical normality (TP3).

This move has been extensively criticised. First, selection pressures operate at the level of groups and hence need not lead to the same structures in all a group’s members (D. Wilson 1994: 227ff.; Griffiths 2011: 325; Sterelny 2018: 120). Second, other evolutionary mechanisms than natural selection might be explanatorily decisive. Genetic drift or mutation and recombination might, for example, also confer “naturalness” in the sense of evolutionary genesis (Buller 2000: 436). Third, as we have every reason to assume that the evolution of human psychology is ongoing, evolutionary biology provides little support for the claim that particular programmes and associated traits evolved to fixity in the Pleistocene (Buller 2000: 477ff.; Downes 2010).

Perhaps, however, there might turn out to be gene control networks that do generally structure certain features of the psychological development of contemporary humans (Walsh 2006: 440ff.). The quest for such GNRs can, then, count as the search for an explanatory nature of contemporary humans, where the explanatory function thus sought is divorced from any classificatory role.

There has, however, been a move in general philosophy of science that, if acceptable, would transform the relationship between the taxonomic and explanatory features of species. This move was influentially initiated by Richard Boyd (1999a). It begins with the claim that the attempt to define natural kinds in terms of spatiotemporally unrestricted, intrinsic, necessary and sufficient conditions is a hangover from empiricism that should be abandoned by realist metaphysics. Instead, natural kinds should be understood as kinds that support induction and explanation, where generalisations at work in such processes need not be exceptionless. Thus understood, essences of natural kinds, i.e., their “natures”, need be neither intrinsic nor be possessed by all and only members of the kinds. Instead, essences consist of property clusters integrated by stabilising mechanisms (“homeostatic property clusters”, HPCs). These are networks of causal relations such that the presence of certain properties tends to generate or uphold others and the workings of underlying mechanisms contribute to the same effect. Boyd names storms, galaxies and capitalism as plausible examples (Boyd 1999b: 82ff.). However, he takes species to be the paradigmatic HPC kinds. According to this view, the genealogical character of a species’ nature does not undermine its causal role. Rather, it helps to explain the specific way in which the properties cohere that make up the taxon’s essence. Moreover, these can include extrinsic properties, for example, properties of constructed niches (Boyd 1991: 142, 1999a: 164ff.; Griffiths 1999: 219ff.; R. Wilson et al. 2007: 202ff.).

Whether such an account can indeed adequately explain taxonomic practice for species taxa is a question that can be left open here (see Ereshefsky & Matthen 2005: 16ff.). By its own lights the account does not identify conditions for belonging to a species such as Homo sapiens (Samuels 2012: 25f.). Whether it enables the identification of factors that play the explanatory roles that the term “human nature” might be supposed to pick out is perhaps the most interesting question. Two ways in which an account of human nature might be developed from such a starting point have been sketched.

According to Richard Samuels’ proposal, human nature should be understood as the empirically discoverable proximal mechanisms responsible for psychological development and for the manifestation of psychological capacities. These will include physiological mechanisms, such as the development of the neural tube, as well as environmentally scaffolded learning procedures; they will also include the various modular systems distinguished by cognitive science, such as visual processing and memory systems (Samuels 2012: 22ff.). Like mere list conceptions (cf. §3.2 ), such an account has a precedent in Hume, for whom human nature also includes causal “principles” that structure operations of the human mind (1739–40, Intro.), for example, the mechanisms of sympathy (III,iii,1; II,ii,6). Hume, however, thought of the relevant causal principles as intrinsic.

A second proposal, advanced by Paul Griffiths and Karola Stotz, explicitly suggests taking explanandum and explanans to be picked out by different uses of the expression "human nature". In both cases, the “nature” in question is that of the taxon, not of individual organisms. The former use simply refers to “what human beings are like”, where “human beings” means all species specimens. Importantly, this characterisation does not aim at shared characteristics, but is open for polymorphisms both across a population and across life stages of individual organisms. The causal conception of human nature, what explains this spectrum of similarity and difference in life histories, is equated by Griffiths and Stotz with the organism-environment system that supports human development. It thus includes all the genetic, epigenetic and environmental resources responsible for varying human life cycles (Griffiths 2011: 319; Stotz & Griffiths 2018, 66f.). It follows that explanatory human nature at one point in time can be radically different from human nature at some other point in time.

Griffiths and Stotz are clear that this account diverges significantly from traditional accounts, as it rejects assumptions that human development has a goal, that human nature is possessed by all and only specimens of the species and that it consists of intrinsic properties. They see these assumptions as features of the folk biology of human nature that is as scientifically relevant as are folk conceptions of heat for its scientific understanding (Stotz 2010: 488; Griffiths 2011: 319ff.; Stotz & Griffiths 2018: 60ff.). This raises the question as to whether such a developmental systems account should not simply advocate abandoning the term, as is suggested by Sterelny (2018) on the basis of closely related considerations. A reason for not doing so might lie in the fact that, as talk of “human nature” is often practised with normative intent or at least with normative consequences (Stotz & Griffiths 2018: 71f.), use of the term to pick out the real, complex explanatory factors at work might help to counter those normative uses that employ false, folk biological assumptions.

Explanatory accounts that emphasise developmental plasticity in the products of human DNA, in the neural architecture of the brain and in the human mind tend to reject the assumption that explanations of what humans are like should focus on intrinsic features. It should, however, be noted that such accounts can be interpreted as assigning the feature of heightened plasticity the key role in such explanations (cf. Montagu 1956: 79). Accounts that make plasticity causally central also raise the question as to whether there are not biological features that in turn explain it and should therefore be assigned a more central status in a theory of explanatory human nature.

A prime candidate for this role is what the zoologist Adolf Portmann labelled human “secondary altriciality”, a unique constellation of features of the human neonate relative to other primates: human neonates are, in their helplessness and possession of a relatively undeveloped brain, neurologically and behaviourally altricial, that is, in need of care. However they are also born with open and fully functioning sense organs, otherwise a mark of precocial species, in which neonates are able to fend for themselves (Portmann 1951: 44ff.). The facts that the human neonate brain is less than 30% of the size of the adult brain and that brain development after birth continues at the fetal rate for the first year (Walker & Ruff 1993, 227) led the anthropologist Ashley Montagu to talk of “exterogestation” (Montagu 1961: 156). With these features in mind, Portmann characterised the care structures required by prolonged infant helplessness as the “social uterus” (Portmann 1967: 330). Finally, the fact that the rapid development of the infant brain takes place during a time in which the infant’s sense organs are open and functioning places an adaptive premium on learning that is unparalleled among organisms (Gould 1977: 401; cf. Stotz & Griffiths 2018: 70).

Of course, these features are themselves contingent products of evolution that could be outlived by the species. Gould sees them as components of a general retardation of development that has characterised human evolution (Gould 1977: 365ff.), where “human” should be seen as referring to the clade—all the descendants of a common ancestor—rather than to the species. Anthropologists estimate that secondary altriciality characterised the lineage as from Homo erectus 1.5 million years ago (Rosenberg & Trevathan 1995: 167). We are, then, dealing with a set of deeply entrenched features, features that were in place long before behavioural modernity.

It is conceivable that the advent of secondary altriciality was a key transformation in generating the radical plasticity of human development beginning with early hominins. However, as Sterelny points out, there are serious difficulties with isolating any particular game changer. Secondary altriciality, or the plasticity that may in part be explained by it, would thus seem to fall victim to the same verdict as the game changers named by the traditional human nature slogans. However, maybe it is more plausible to think in terms of a matrix of traits: perhaps a game-changing constellation of properties present in the population after the split from pan can be shown to have generated forms of niche construction that fed back into and modified the original traits. These modifications may in turn have had further psychological and behavioural consequences in steps that plausibly brought selective advantages (Sterelny 2018: 115).

5. Human Nature, the Participant Perspective and Morality

In such a culture-mind coevolutionary account, there may be a place for the referents of some of the traditional philosophical slogans intended to pin down “the human essence“ or “human nature”—reason, linguistic capacity ( “ the speaking animal”, Herder 1772 [2008: 97]), a more general symbolic capacity ( animal symbolicum , Cassirer 1944: 44), freedom of the will (Pico della Mirandola 1486 [1965: 5]; Sartre 1946 [2007: 29, 47]), a specific, “political” form of sociality, or a unique type of moral motivation (Hutcheson 1730: §15). These are likely, at best, to be the (still evolving) products in contemporary humans of processes set in motion by a trait constellation that includes proto-versions of (some of) these capacities. Such a view may also be compatible with an account of “what contemporary humans are like” that abstracts from the evolutionary time scale of eons and focuses instead on the present (cf. Dupré 1993: 43), whilst neither merely cataloguing widely distributed traits ( §3.2 ) nor attempting explanations in terms of the human genome ( §4.1 ). The traditional slogans appear to be attempts to summarise some such accounts. It seems clear, though, that their aims are significantly different from those of the biologically, or otherwise scientifically orientated positions thus far surveyed.

Two features of such accounts are worth emphasising, both of which we already encountered in Aristotle’s contribution to the original package. The first involves a shift in perspective from that of the scientific observer to that of a participant in a contemporary human life form. Whereas the human—or non-human—biologist may ask what modern humans are like, just as they may ask what bonobos are like, the question that traditional philosophical accounts of human nature are plausibly attempting to answer is what it is like to live one’s life as a contemporary human. This question is likely to provoke the counter-question as to whether there is anything that it is like to live simply as a contemporary human, rather than as a human-in-a-specific-historical-and-cultural context (Habermas 1958: 32; Geertz 1973: 52f.; Dupré 2003: 110f.). For the traditional sloganeers, the answer is clearly affirmative. The second feature of such accounts is that they tend to take it that reference to the capacities named in the traditional slogans is in some sense normatively , in particular, ethically significant .

The first claim of such accounts, then, is that there is some property of contemporary humans that is in some way descriptively or causally central to participating in their form of life. The second is that such participation involves subjection to normative standards rooted in the possession of some such property. Importantly, there is a step from the first to the second form of significance, and justification of the step requires argument. Even from a participant perspective, there is no automatic move from explanatory to normative significance.

According to an “internal”, participant account of human nature, certain capacities of contemporary, perhaps modern humans unavoidably structure the way they (we) live their (our) lives. Talk of “structuring” refers to three kinds of contributions to the matrix of capacities and dispositions that both enable and constrain the ways humans live their lives. These are contributions, first, to the specific shape other features of humans lives have and, second, to the way other such features hang together (Midgley 2000: 56ff.; Roughley 2011: 16ff.). Relatedly, they also make possible a whole new set of practices. All three relations are explanatory, although their explanatory role appears not necessarily to correspond to the role corresponding features, or earlier versions of the features, might have played in the evolutionary genealogy of contemporary human psychology. Having linguistic capacities is a prime candidate for the role of such a structural property: human perception, emotion, action planning and thought are all plausibly transformed in linguistic creatures, as are the connections between perception and belief, and the myriad relationships between thought and behaviour, connections exploited and deepened in a rich set of practices unavailable to non-linguistic animals. Similar things could be claimed for other properties named by the traditional slogans.

In contrast to the ways in which such capacities have frequently been referred to in the slogan mode, particularly to the pathos that has tended to accompany it, it seems highly implausible that any one such property will stand alone as structurally significant. It is more likely that we should be picking out a constellation of properties, a constellation that may well include properties variants of which are possessed by other animals. Other properties, including capacities that may be specific to contemporary humans, such as humour, may be less plausible candidates for a structural role.

Note that the fact that such accounts aim to answer a question asked from the participant perspective does not rule out that the features in question may be illuminated in their role for human self-understanding by data from empirical science. On the contrary, it seems highly likely that disciplines such as developmental and comparative psychology, and neuroscience will contribute significantly to an understanding of the possibilities and constraints inherent in the relevant capacities and in the way they interact.

5.2. Human Nature and the Human ergon

The paradigmatic strategy for deriving ethical consequences from claims about structural features of the human life form is the Platonic and Aristotelian ergon or function argument. The first premise of Aristotle’s version ( Nicomachean Ethics 1097b–1098a) connects function and goodness: if the characteristic function of an entity of a type X is to φ, then a good entity of type X is one that φs well. Aristotle confers plausibility on the claim by using examples such as social roles and bodily organs. If the function of an eye as an exemplar of its kind is to enable seeing, then a good eye is one that enables its bearer to see well. The second premise of the argument is a claim we encountered in section 1.4 of this entry, a claim we can now see as predicating a structural property of human life, the exercise of reason. According to this claim, the function or end of individual humans as humans is, depending on interpretation (Nussbaum 1995: 113ff.), either the exercise of reason or life according to reason. If this is correct, it follows that a good human being is one whose life centrally involves the exercise of, or life in accordance with, reason.

In the light of the discussion so far, it ought to be clear that, as it stands, the second premise of this argument is incompatible with the evolutionary biology of species. It asserts that the exercise of reason is not only the key structural property of human life, but also the realization of the fully developed human form. No sense can be made of this latter notion in evolutionary terms. Nevertheless, a series of prominent contemporary ethicists—Alasdair MacIntyre (1999), Rosalind Hursthouse (1999), Philippa Foot (2001) and Martha Nussbaum (2006)—have all made variants of the ergon argument central to their ethical theories. As each of these authors advance some version of the second premise, it is instructive to examine the ways in which they aim to avoid the challenge from evolutionary biology.

Before doing so, it is first worth noting that any ethical theory or theory of value is engaged in an enterprise that has no clear place in an evolutionary analysis. If we want to know what goodness is or what “good” means, evolutionary theory is not the obvious place to look. This is particularly clear in view of the fact that evolutionary theory operates at the level of populations (Sober 1980: 370; Walsh 2006: 434), whereas ethical theory operates, at least primarily, at the level of individual agents. However, the specific conflict between evolutionary biology and neo-Aristotelian ethics results from the latter’s constructive use of the concept of species and, in particular, of a teleological conception of a fully developed form of individual members of the species “ qua members of [the] species” (MacIntyre 1999: 64, 71; cf. Thompson 2008: 29; Foot 2001: 27). The characterisation of achieving that form as fulfilling a “function”, which helps the analogy with bodily organs and social roles, is frequently replaced in contemporary discussions by talk of “flourishing” (Aristotle’s eudaimonia ). Such talk more naturally suggests comparisons with the lives of other organisms (although Aristotle himself excludes other animals from eudaimonia ; cf. Nicomachean Ethics 1009b). The concept of flourishing in turn picks out biological—etymologically: botanical—processes, but again not of a sort that play a role in evolutionary theory. It also seems primarily predicated of individual organisms. It may play a role in ecology; it is, however, most clearly at home in practical applications of biological knowledge, as in horticulture. In this respect, it is comparable to the concept of health.

Neo-Aristotelians claim that to describe an organism, whether a plant or a non-human or human animal, as flourishing is to measure it against a standard that is specific to the species to which it belongs. To do so is to evaluate it as a more or less good “specimen of its species (or sub-species)” (Hursthouse 1999: 198). The key move is then to claim that moral evaluation is, “quite seriously” (Foot 2001: 16), evaluation of the same sort: just as a non-defective animal or plant exemplifies flourishing within the relevant species’ life form, someone who is morally good is someone who exemplifies human flourishing, i.e., the fully developed form of the species. This metaethical claim has provoked the worry as to whether such attributions to other organisms are really anything more than classifications, or at most evaluations of “stretched and deflated” kinds that are missing the key feature of authority that we require for genuine normativity (Lenman 2005: 46ff.).

Independently of questions concerning their theory of value, ethical Neo-Aristotelians need to respond to the question of how reference to a fully developed form of the species can survive the challenge from evolutionary theory. Three kinds of response may appear promising.

The first adverts to the plurality of forms of biological science, claiming that there are life sciences, such as physiology, botany, zoology and ethology in the context of which such evaluations have a place (Hursthouse 1999: 202; 2012: 172; MacIntyre 1999: 65). And if ethology can legitimately attribute not only characteristic features, but also defects or flourishing to species members, in spite of species not being natural kinds, then there is little reason why ethics shouldn’t do so too. This strategy might ground in one of the moves sketched in section 3.1 of this entry. It might be argued, with Kitcher and Dupré, that such attributions are legitimate in other branches of biological science because there is a plurality of species concepts, indeed of kinds of species, where these are relative to epistemic interests. Or the claim might simply rest on a difference in what is taken to be the relevant time frame, where temporal relevance is indexed relative to the present. In ethics we are, it might be claimed, interested in humans as they are “at the moment and for a few millennia back and for maybe not much longer in the future” (Hursthouse 2012: 171).

This move amounts to the concession that talk of “the human species” is not to be understood literally. Whether this concession undermines the ethical theories that use the term is perhaps unclear. It leaves open the possibility that, as human nature may change significantly, there may be significant changes in what it means for humans to flourish and therefore in what is ethically required. This might be seen as a virtue, rather than a vice of the view.

A second response to the challenge from evolutionary biology aims to draw metaphysical consequences from epistemic or semantic claims. Michael Thompson has argued that what he calls alternatively “the human life form” and “the human species” is an a priori category. Thompson substantiates this claim by examining forms of discourse touched on in section 3.2 , forms of discourse that are generally taken to be of mere heuristic importance for amateur practices of identification, viz. field guides or animal documentaries. Statements such as “The domestic cat has four legs, two eyes, two ears and guts in its belly”, are, Thompson claims, instances of an important kind of predication that is neither tensed nor quantifiable. He calls these “natural historical descriptions” or “Aristotelian categoricals” (Thompson 2008: 64ff.). Such generic claims are not, he argues, made false where what is predicated is less than universal, or even statistically rare. Decisively, according to Thompson, our access to the notion of the human life form is non-empirical. It is, he claims, a presupposition of understanding ourselves from the first-person perspective as breathing, eating or feeling pain (Thompson 2004: 66ff.). Thus understood, the concept is independent of biology and therefore, if coherent, immune to problems raised by the Darwinian challenge.

Like Foot and Hursthouse, Thompson thinks that his Aristotelian categoricals allow inferences to specific judgments that members of species are defective (Thompson 2004: 54ff.; 2008: 80). He admits that such judgments in the case of the human life form are likely to be fraught with difficulties, but nevertheless believes that judgments of (non-)defective realization of a life form are the model for ethical evaluation (Thompson 2004: 30, 81f.). It may seem unclear how this might be the case in view of the fact that access to the human life form is supposed to be given as a presupposition of using the concept of “I”. Another worry is that the everyday understanding on which Thompson draws may be nothing other than a branch of folk biology. The folk tendency to ascribe teleological essences to species, as to “races” and genders, is no indication of the reality of such essences (Lewens 2012: 469f.; Stotz & Griffiths 2018: 60ff.; cf. Pellegrin 1982 [1986: 16ff., 120] and Charles 2000: 343ff., 368, on Aristotle’s own orientation to the usage of “the people”).

A final response to evolutionary biologists’ worries aims equally to distinguish the Neo-Aristotelian account of human nature from that of the sciences. However, it does so not by introducing a special metaphysics of “life forms”, but by explicitly constructing an ethical concept of human nature. Martha Nussbaum argues that the notion of human nature in play in what she calls “Aristotelian essentialism” is, as she puts it, “internal and evaluative”. It is a hermeneutic product of “human” self-understanding, constructed from within our best ethical outlook: “an ethical theory of human nature”, she claims,

should force us to answer for ourselves, on the basis of our very own ethical judgment, the question which beings are fully human ones. (Nussbaum 1995: 121f.; cf. Nussbaum 1992: 212ff.; 2006: 181ff.; McDowell 1980 [1998: 18ff.]; Hursthouse 1999: 229; 2012: 174f.)

There can be no question here of moving from a biological “is” to an ethical “ought”; rather, which features are taken to belong to human nature is itself seen as the result of ethical deliberation. Such a conception maintains the claim that the key ethical standard is that of human flourishing. However, it is clear that what counts as flourishing can only be specified on the basis of ethical deliberation, understood as striving for reflective equilibrium (Nussbaum 2006: 352ff.). In view of such a methodological proposal, there is a serious question as to what work is precisely done by the concept of human nature.

Neo-Aristotelians vary in the extent to which they flesh out a conception of species-specific flourishing. Nussbaum draws up a comprehensive, open-ended catalogue of what she calls “the central human capacities”. These are in part picked out because of their vulnerability to undermining or support by political measures. They include both basic bodily needs and more specifically human capacities, such as for humour, play, autonomy and practical reason (Nussbaum 1992: 216ff.; 2006: 76ff.). Such a catalogue allows the setting of three thresholds, below which a human organism would not count as living a human life at all (anencephalic children, for instance), as living a fully human life or as living a good human life (Nussbaum 2006: 181). Nussbaum explicitly argues that being of human parents is insufficient for crossing the first, evaluatively set threshold. Her conception is partly intended to provide guidelines as to how societies should conceive disability and as to when it is appropriate to take political measures in order to enable agents with nonstandard physical or mental conditions to cross the second and third thresholds.

Nussbaum has been careful to insist that enabling independence, rather than providing care, should be the prime aim. Nevertheless, the structure of an account that insists on a “species norm”, below which humans lacking certain capacities count as less than fully flourishing, has prompted accusations of illiberality. According to the complaint, it disrespects the right of members of, for example, deaf communities to set the standards for their own forms of life (Glackin 2016: 320ff.).

Other accounts of species-specific flourishing have been considerably more abstract. According to Hursthouse, plants flourish when their parts and operations are well suited to the ends of individual survival and continuance of the species. In social animals, flourishing also tends to involve characteristic pleasure and freedom from pain, and a contribution to appropriate functioning of relevant social groups (Hursthouse 1999: 197ff.). The good of human character traits conducive to pursuit of these four ends is transformed, Hursthouse claims, by the addition of “rationality”. As a result, humans flourish when they do what they correctly take themselves to have reason to do—under the constraint that they do not thereby cease to foster the four ends set for other social animals (Hursthouse 1999: 222ff.). Impersonal benevolence is, for example, because of this constraint, unlikely to be a virtue. In such an ethical outlook, what particular agents have reason to do is the primary standard; it just seems to be applied under particular constraints. A key question is thus whether the content of this primary standard is really determined by the notion of species-specific flourishing.

Where Hursthouse’s account builds up to, and attempts to provide a “natural” framework for, the traditional Aristotelian ergon of reason, MacIntyre builds his account around the claim that flourishing specific to the human “species” is essentially a matter of becoming an “independent practical reasoner” (MacIntyre 1999: 67ff.). It is because of the central importance of reasoning that, although human flourishing shares certain preconditions with the flourishing, say, of dolphins, it is also vulnerable in specific ways. MacIntyre argues that particular kinds of social practices enable the development of human reasoning capacities and that, because independent practical reasoning is, paradoxically, at core cooperatively developed and structured, the general aim of human flourishing is attained by participation in networks in local communities (MacIntyre 1999: 108). “Independent practical reasoners” are “dependent rational animals”. MacIntyre’s account thus makes room on an explanatory level for the evolutionary insight that humans can only become rational in a socio-cultural context which provides scaffolding for the development and exercise of rationality ( §4 ). Normatively, however, this point is subordinated to the claim that, from the point of view of participation in the contemporary human life form, flourishing corresponds to the traditional slogan.

MacIntyre, Hursthouse and Nussbaum (Nussbaum 2006: 159f.) all aim to locate the human capacity for reasoning within a framework that encompasses other animals. Each argues that, although the capacities to recognise reasons as reasons and for deliberation on their basis transform the needs and abilities humans share with other animals, the reasons in question remain in some way dependent on humans’ embodied and social form of life. This emphasis is intended to distinguish an Aristotelian approach from other approaches for which the capacity to evaluate reasons for action as reasons and to distance oneself from ones desires is also the “central difference” between humans and other animals (Korsgaard 2006: 104; 2018: 38ff.; cf. MacIntyre 1999: 71ff.). According to Korsgaard’s Kantian interpretation of Aristotle’s ergon argument, humans cannot act without taking a normative stand on whether their desires provide them with reasons to act. This she takes to be the key structural feature of their life, which brings with it “a whole new way of functioning well or badly” (Korsgaard 2018: 48; cf. 1996: 93). In such an account, “human nature” is monistically understood as this one structural feature which is so transformative that the concept of life applicable to organisms that instantiate it is no longer that applicable to organisms that don’t. Only “humans” live their lives, because only they possess the type of intentional control over their bodily movements that grounds in evaluation of their actions and self-evaluation as agents (Korsgaard 2006: 118; 2008: 141ff.; cf. Plessner 1928 [1975: 309f.]).

We have arrived at an interpretation of the traditional slogan that cuts it off from a metaphysics with any claims to be “naturalistic”. The claim now is that the structural effect of the capacity for reasoning transforms those features of humans that they share with other animals so thoroughly that those features pale into insignificance. What is “natural” about the capacity for reasoning for humans here is its unavoidability for contemporary members of the species, at least for those without serious mental disabilities. Such assertions also tend to shade into normative claims that discount the normative status of “animal” needs in view of the normative authority of human reasoning (cf. McDowell 1996 [1998: 172f.]).

The most radical version of this thought leads to the claim encountered towards the end of section 1.4 : that talk of “human nature” involves no essential reference at all to the species Homo sapiens or to the hominin lineage. According to this view, the kind to which contemporary humans belong is a kind to which entities could also belong who have no genealogical relationship to humans. That kind is the kind of entities that act and believe in accordance with the reasons they take themselves to have. Aliens, synthetically created agents and angels are further candidates for membership in the kind, which would, unlike biological taxa, be spatiotemporally unrestricted. The traditional term for the kind, as employed by Aquinas and Kant, is “person” (cf. Hull 1986: 9).

Roger Scruton has recently taken this line, arguing that persons can only be adequately understood in terms of a web of concepts inapplicable to other animals, concepts whose applicability grounds in an essential moral dimension of the personal life form. The concepts pick out components of a life form that is permeated by relationships of responsibility, as expressed in reactive attitudes such as indignation, guilt and gratitude. Such emotions he takes to involve a demand for accountability, and as such to be exclusive to the personal life form, not variants of animal emotions (Scruton 2017: 52). As a result, he claims, they situate their bearers in some sense “outside the natural order” (Scruton 2017: 26). According to such an account, we should embrace a methodological dualism with respect to humans: as animals, they are subject to the same kinds of biological explanations as all other organisms, but as persons, they are subject to explanations that are radically different in kind. These are explanations in terms of reasons and meanings, that is, exercises in “Verstehen”, whose applicability Scruton takes to be independent of causal explanation (Scruton 2017: 30ff., 46).

Such an account demonstrates with admirable clarity that there is no necessary connection between a theory of “human nature” and metaphysical naturalism. It also reinforces the fact, emphasised throughout this entry, that discussions of “human nature” require both serious conceptual spadework and explicit justification of the use of any one such concept rather than another.

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How to cite this entry . Preview the PDF version of this entry at the Friends of the SEP Society . Look up topics and thinkers related to this entry at the Internet Philosophy Ontology Project (InPhO). Enhanced bibliography for this entry at PhilPapers , with links to its database.

[Please contact the author with suggestions.]

Aquinas, Thomas | Aristotle, General Topics: biology | Aristotle, General Topics: ethics | ethics: virtue | evolution | Kant, Immanuel | Locke, John: on real essence | naturalism: moral | natural kinds | psychology: evolutionary | species


I would like to thank Michelle Hooge, Maria Kronfeldner, Nick Laskowski and Hichem Naar for their comments on earlier drafts.

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Library of Congress Catalog Data: ISSN 1095-5054

How Reading Makes Us More Human

A debate has erupted over whether reading fiction makes human beings more moral. But what if its real value consists in something even more fundamental?


A battle over books has erupted recently on the pages of The New York Times and Time. The opening salvo was Gregory Currie's essay , "Does Great Literature Make Us Better?" which asserts that the widely held belief that reading makes us more moral has little support. In response , Annie Murphy Paul weighed in with "Reading Literature Makes Us Smarter and Nicer." Her argument is that "deep reading," the kind of reading great literature requires, is a distinctive cognitive activity that contributes to our ability to empathize with others; it therefore can, in fact, makes us "smarter and nicer," among other things. Yet these essays aren't so much coming to different conclusions as considering different questions.

Ideas Report 2013

To advance her thesis, Paul cites studies by Raymond Mar, a psychologist at York University in Canada, and Keith Oatley, a professor emeritus of cognitive psychology at the University of Toronto. Taken together, their findings suggest that those "who often read fiction appear to be better able to understand other people, empathize with them and view the world from their perspective." It's the kind of thing writer Joyce Carol Oates is talking about when she says, "Reading is the sole means by which we slip, involuntarily, often helplessly, into another's skin, another's voice, another's soul."

Oatley and Mar's conclusions are supported, Paul argues, by recent studies in neuroscience, psychology, and cognitive science. This research shows that "deep reading -- slow, immersive, rich in sensory detail and emotional and moral complexity -- is a distinctive experience," a kind of reading that differs in kind and quality from "the mere decoding of words" that constitutes a good deal of what passes for reading today, particularly for too many of our students in too many of our schools (as I have previously written about here ).

Paul concludes her essay with a reference to the literary critic Frank Kermode, who famously distinguishes between "carnal reading" -- characterized by the hurried, utilitarian information processing that constitutes the bulk of our daily reading diet -- and "spiritual reading," reading done with focused attention for pleasure, reflection, analysis, and growth. It is in this distinction that we find the real difference between the warring factions in what might be a chicken-or-egg scenario: Does great literature make people better, or are good people drawn to reading great literature?

Currie is asking whether reading great literature makes readers more moral  -- a topic taken up by Aristotle in Poetics (which makes an ethical apology for literature) . Currie cites as counter-evidence the well-read, highly cultured Nazis. The problem with this (aside from falling into the trap of Godwin's Law ) is that the Nazis were, in fact, acting in strict conformity to the dictates of a moral code, albeit the perverse code of the Third Reich. But Paul examines the connection of great literature not to our moral selves, but to our spiritual selves.

What good literature can do and does do -- far greater than any importation of morality -- is touch the human soul.

Reading is one of the few distinctively human activities that set us apart from the rest of the animal kingdom. As many scholars have noted, and Paul too mentions in her piece, reading, unlike spoken language, does not come naturally to human beings. It must be taught. Because it goes beyond mere biology, there is something profoundly spiritual -- however one understands that word -- about the human ability, and impulse, to read. In fact, even the various senses in which we use the word captures this: to "read" means not only to decipher a given and learned set of symbols in a mechanistic way, but it also suggests that very human act of finding meaning, of "interpreting" in the sense of "reading" a person or situation. To read in this sense might be considered one of the most spiritual of all human activities.

It is "spiritual reading" -- not merely decoding -- that unleashes the power that good literature has to reach into our souls and, in so doing, draw and connect us to others. This is why the way we read can be even more important than what we read. In fact, reading good literature won't make a reader a better person any more than sitting in a church, synagogue or mosque will. But reading good books well just might.

It did for me. As I relayed in my literary and spiritual memoir , the books I have read over a lifetime have shaped my worldview, my beliefs, and my life as much as anything else. From Great Expectations I learned the power the stories we tell ourselves have to do either harm and good, to ourselves and to others; from Death of a Salesman I learned the dangers of a corrupt version of the American Dream; from Madame Bovary, I learned to embrace the real world rather than escaping into flights of fancy; from Gulliver's Travels I learned the profound limitations of my own finite perspective; and from Jane Eyre I learned how to be myself. These weren't mere intellectual or moral lessons, although they certainly may have begun as such. Rather, the stories from these books and so many others became part of my life story and then, gradually, part of my very soul.

As Eugene H. Peterson explains in Eat this Book , "Reading is an immense gift, but only if the words are assimilated, taken into the soul -- eaten, chewed, gnawed, received in unhurried delight." Peterson describes this ancient art of lectio divina, or spiritual reading, as "reading that enters our souls as food enters our stomachs, spreads through our blood, and becomes ... love and wisdom." More than the books themselves, it is the skills and the desire to read in this way which comprise the essential gift we must give our students and ourselves. But this won't happen by way of nature or by accident.

Maryanne Wolf, director of the Center for Reading and Language Research and author of Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain ,  has studied "deep reading" in the context of the science of the brain. She describes the fragility of the brain's ability to read with the kind of sustained attention that allows literature to wield its shaping power over us:

The act of going beyond the text to analyze, infer and think new thoughts is the product of years of formation. It takes time, both in milliseconds and years, and effort to learn to read with deep, expanding comprehension and to execute all these processes as an adult expert reader. ... Because we literally and physiologically can read in multiple ways, how we read--and what we absorb from our reading -- will be influenced by both the content of our reading and the medium we use.

The power of "spiritual reading" is its ability to transcend the immediacy of the material, the moment, or even the moral choice at hand. This isn't the sort of phenomenon that lends itself to the quantifiable data Currie seeks, although Paul demonstrates is possible, to measure. Even so, such reading doesn't make us better so much as it makes us human .

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✍️Essay on Humanity in 100 to 300 Words

power of humanity essay

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  • Oct 26, 2023

Essay on Humanity

Humanity could be understood through different perspectives. Humanity refers to acts of kindness, care, and compassion towards humans or animals. Humanity is the positive quality of human beings. This characteristic involves the feeling of love, care, reason, decision, cry, etc. Our history reveals many acts of inhuman and human behaviour. Such acts differentiate the good and the bad. Some of the key characteristics of Humanity are intelligence, creativity , empathy and compassion. Here are some sample essay on Humanity that will tell about the importance and meaning of Humanity!

Table of Contents

  • 1 Essay on Humanity 100 Words
  • 2.1 Importance of Humanity 

Also Read: Essay on Family

Essay on Humanity 100 Words

Humanity is the sum of all the qualities that make us human. We should seek inspiration from the great humanitarians from our history like Mahatma Gandhi , Nelson Mandela , Mother Teresa , and many more. They all devoted their life serving the cause of humanity. Their tireless efforts for the betterment of the needy make the world a better place. 

In a world suffering from a humanitarian crisis, there is an urgent need to raise awareness about the works of humanitarians who died serving for a noble cause. World Humanitarian Day is celebrated on 19 August every year to encourage humanity. 

Here are some examples of humanity:

  • Firefighters risking their lives to save someone stuck in a burning building.
  • Raising voices for basic human rights.
  • Blood donation to save lives is also an example of humanity.
  • A doctor volunteering to work in a war zone.

Also Read: Famous Personalities in India

Essay on Humanity 300 Words

Humanity is the concept that lies at the core of our existence. It contains the essence of what makes us humans. It encompasses our capacity for empathy, compassion, and understanding, and it is a driving force behind our progress as a species. In a world often characterized by division and war, the essence of humanity shines as a ray of hope, reminding us of our shared values and aspirations.

One of the defining characteristics of humanity is our ability to empathize with others. Empathy allows us to connect with people on a profound level, to feel their joys and sorrows, and to provide support in times of need. It bridges the gaps that might otherwise separate us, creating a sense of unity in the face of adversity. Even comforting a friend in distress is a sign of humanity. 

Also Read: Emotional Intelligence at Workplace

Importance of Humanity 

Compassion is the fundamental element of humanity. It is the driving force behind acts of kindness, charity, and selflessness. Humanity is important to protect cultural, religious, and geographical boundaries, as it is a universal language understood by all.

When we extend some help to those in need out of humanity, we affirm our commitment to the well-being of others and demonstrate our shared responsibility for the betterment of society.

Humanity balances out the evil doings in the world. It creates a better world for all to reside. Humanity is the foundation of the existence of humans because it makes us what we are and differentiate us from other living organism who do not possess the ability to think and feel. It is a testament to our potential for progress and unity.

In conclusion, humanity, with its pillars of empathy, compassion, and understanding, serves as a guiding light in a complex and divided world. These qualities remind us that, despite our differences, we are all part of the human family. 

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Humanity is a complex characteristic of any human being. It includes the ability of a person to differentiate between good and bad and to show sympathy and shared connections as human beings. The human race can win any war be it harsh climatic conditions, pandemic, economic crisis, etc, if they have humanity towards each other. Humans have the potential to solve problems and make the world a better place for all.

An essay on humanity should be started with an introduction paragraph stating the zest of the complete essay. It should include the meaning of humanity. You need to highlight the positive characteristics of the act of humanity and how it can work for the betterment of society.

Humanity is very important because this characteristic of human beings makes the world a better place to live. It is what makes us humans. Humanity is the feeling of care and compassion towards other beings and gives us the ability to judge between right and wrong.

For more information on such interesting topics, visit our essay writing page and follow Leverage Edu .

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Ralph Waldo Emerson

His tongue was framed to music, And his hand was armed with skill, His face was the mould of beauty, And his heart the throne of will.

There is not yet any inventory of a man's faculties, any more than a bible of his opinions. Who shall set a limit to the influence of a human being? There are men, who, by their sympathetic attractions, carry nations with them, and lead the activity of the human race. And if there be such a tie, that, wherever the mind of man goes, nature will accompany him, perhaps there are men whose magnetisms are of that force to draw material and elemental powers, and, where they appear, immense instrumentalities organize around them. Life is a search after power; and this is an element with which the world is so saturated, — there is no chink or crevice in which it is not lodged, — that no honest seeking goes unrewarded. A man should prize events and possessions as the ore in which this fine mineral is found; and he can well afford to let events and possessions, and the breath of the body go, if their value has been added to him in the shape of power. If he have secured the elixir, he can spare the wide gardens from which it was distilled. A cultivated man, wise to know and bold to perform, is the end to which nature works, and the education of the will is the flowering and result of all this geology and astronomy.

All successful men have agreed in one thing, — they were causationists . They believed that things went not by luck, but by law; that there was not a weak or a cracked link in the chain that joins the first and last of things. A belief in causality, or strict connection between every trifle and the principle of being, and, in consequence, belief in compensation, or, that nothing is got for nothing, — characterizes all valuable minds, and must control every effort that is made by an industrious one. The most valiant men are the best believers in the tension of the laws. "All the great captains," said Bonaparte, "have performed vast achievements by conforming with the rules of the art, — by adjusting efforts to obstacles."

The key to the age may be this, or that, or the other, as the young orators describe; — the key to all ages is — Imbecility; imbecility in the vast majority of men, at all times, and, even in heroes, in all but certain eminent moments; victims of gravity, custom, and fear. This gives force to the strong, — that the multitude have no habit of self-reliance or original action.

We must reckon success a constitutional trait. Courage, — the old physicians taught, (and their meaning holds, if their physiology is a little mythical,) — courage, or the degree of life, is as the degree of circulation of the blood in the arteries. "During passion, anger, fury, trials of strength, wrestling, fighting, a large amount of blood is collected in the arteries, the maintenance of bodily strength requiring it, and but little is sent into the veins. This condition is constant with intrepid persons." Where the arteries hold their blood, is courage and adventure possible. Where they pour it unrestrained into the veins, the spirit is low and feeble. For performance of great mark, it needs extraordinary health. If Eric is in robust health, and has slept well, and is at the top of his condition, and thirty years old, at his departure from Greenland, he will steer west, and his ships will reach Newfoundland. But take out Eric, and put in a stronger and bolder man, — Biorn, or Thorfin, — and the ships will, with just as much ease, sail six hundred, one thousand, fifteen hundred miles further, and reach Labrador and New England. There is no chance in results. With adults, as with children, one class enter cordially into the game, and whirl with the whirling world; the others have cold hands, and remain bystanders; or are only dragged in by the humor and vivacity of those who can carry a dead weight. The first wealth is health. Sickness is poor-spirited, and cannot serve any one: it must husband its resources to live. But health or fulness answers its own ends, and has to spare, runs over, and inundates the neighborhoods and creeks of other men's necessities.

All power is of one kind, a sharing of the nature of the world. The mind that is parallel with the laws of nature will be in the current of events, and strong with their strength. One man is made of the same stuff of which events are made; is in sympathy with the course of things; can predict it. Whatever befalls, befalls him first; so that he is equal to whatever shall happen. A man who knows men, can talk well on politics, trade, law, war, religion. For, everywhere, men are led in the same manners .

The advantage of a strong pulse is not to be supplied by any labor, art, or concert. It is like the climate, which easily rears a crop, which no glass, or irrigation, or tillage, or manures, can elsewhere rival. It is like the opportunity of a city like New York, or Constantinople, which needs no diplomacy to force capital or genius or labor to it. They come of themselves, as the waters flow to it. So a broad, healthy, massive understanding seems to lie on the shore of unseen rivers, of unseen oceans, which are covered with barks, that, night and day, are drifted to this point. That is poured into its lap, which other men lie plotting for. It is in everybody's secret; anticipates everybody's discovery; and if it do not command every fact of the genius and the scholar, it is because it is large and sluggish, and does not think them worth the exertion which you do.

This affirmative force is in one, and is not in another, as one horse has the spring in him, and another in the whip. "On the neck of the young man," said Hafiz, "sparkles no gem so gracious as enterprise." Import into any stationary district, as into an old Dutch population in New York or Pennsylvania, or among the planters of Virginia, a colony of hardy Yankees, with seething brains, heads full of steam-hammer, pulley, crank, and toothed wheel, — and everything begins to shine with values. What enhancement to all the water and land in England, is the arrival of James Watt or Brunel! In every company, there is not only the active and passive sex, but, in both men and women, a deeper and more important sex of mind , namely, the inventive or creative class of both men and women, and the uninventive or accepting class. Each plus man represents his set, and, if he have the accidental advantage of personal ascendency, — which implies neither more nor less of talent, but merely the temperamental or taming eye of a soldier or a schoolmaster, (which one has, and one has not, as one has a black moustache and one a blond,) then quite easily and without envy or resistance, all his coadjutors and feeders will admit his right to absorb them. The merchant works by book-keeper and cashier; the lawyer's authorities are hunted up by clerks; the geologist reports the surveys of his subalterns; Commander Wilkes appropriates the results of all the naturalists attached to the Expedition; Thorwaldsen's statue is finished by stone-cutters; Dumas has journeymen; and Shakespeare was theatre-manager, and used the labor of many young men, as well as the playbooks.

There is always room for a man of force, and he makes room for many. Society is a troop of thinkers, and the best heads among them take the best places. A feeble man can see the farms that are fenced and tilled, the houses that are built. The strong man sees the possible houses and farms. His eye makes estates, as fast as the sun breeds clouds.

When a new boy comes into school, when a man travels, and encounters strangers every day, or, when into any old club a new comer is domesticated, that happens which befalls, when a strange ox is driven into a pen or pasture where cattle are kept; there is at once a trial of strength between the best pair of horns and the new comer, and it is settled thenceforth which is the leader. So now, there is a measuring of strength, very courteous, but decisive, and an acquiescence thenceforward when these two meet. Each reads his fate in the other's eyes. The weaker party finds, that none of his information or wit quite fits the occasion. He thought he knew this or that: he finds that he omitted to learn the end of it. Nothing that he knows will quite hit the mark, whilst all the rival's arrows are good, and well thrown. But if he knew all the facts in the encyclopaedia, it would not help him: for this is an affair of presence of mind, of attitude, of aplomb: the opponent has the sun and wind, and, in every cast, the choice of weapon and mark; and, when he himself is matched with some other antagonist, his own shafts fly well and hit. 'Tis a question of stomach and constitution. The second man is as good as the first, — perhaps better; but has not stoutness or stomach, as the first has, and so his wit seems over-fine or under-fine.

Health is good, — power, life, that resists disease, poison, and all enemies, and is conservative, as well as creative. Here is question, every spring, whether to graft with wax, or whether with clay; whether to whitewash or to potash, or to prune; but the one point is the thrifty tree. A good tree, that agrees with the soil, will grow in spite of blight , or bug, or pruning, or neglect, by night and by day, in all weathers and all treatments. Vivacity, leadership, must be had, and we are not allowed to be nice in choosing. We must fetch the pump with dirty water, if clean cannot be had. If we will make bread, we must have contagion, yeast, emptyings, or what not, to induce fermentation into the dough: as the torpid artist seeks inspiration at any cost, by virtue or by vice, by friend or by fiend, by prayer or by wine. And we have a certain instinct, that where is great amount of life, though gross and peccant, it has its own checks and purifications, and will be found at last in harmony with moral laws.

We watch in children with pathetic interest, the degree in which they possess recuperative force. When they are hurt by us, or by each other, or go to the bottom of the class, or miss the annual prizes, or are beaten in the game, — if they lose heart, and remember the mischance in their chamber at home, they have a serious check. But if they have the buoyancy and resistance that preoccupies them with new interest in the new moment, — the wounds cicatrize, and the fibre is the tougher for the hurt.

One comes to value this plus health, when he sees that all difficulties vanish before it. A timid man listening to the alarmists in Congress, and in the newspapers, and observing the profligacy of party, — sectional interests urged with a fury which shuts its eyes to consequences, with a mind made up to desperate extremities, ballot in one hand, and rifle in the other, — might easily believe that he and his country have seen their best days, and he hardens himself the best he can against the coming ruin. But, after this has been foretold with equal confidence fifty times, and government six per cents have not declined a quarter of a mill, he discovers that the enormous elements of strength which are here in play, make our politics unimportant. Personal power, freedom, and the resources of nature strain every faculty of every citizen. We prosper with such vigor, that, like thrifty trees, which grow in spite of ice, lice, mice, and borers, so we do not suffer from the profligate swarms that fatten on the national treasury. The huge animals nourish huge parasites, and the rancor of the disease attests the strength of the constitution. The same energy in the Greek Demos drew the remark, that the evils of popular government appear greater than they are; there is compensation for them in the spirit and energy it awakens. The rough and ready style which belongs to a people of sailors, foresters, farmers, and mechanics, has its advantages. Power educates the potentate. As long as our people quote English standards they dwarf their own proportions. A Western lawyer of eminence said to me he wished it were a penal offence to bring an English law-book into a court in this country, so pernicious had he found in his experience our deference to English precedent. The very word 'commerce' has only an English meaning, and is pinched to the cramp exigencies of English experience. The commerce of rivers, the commerce of railroads, and who knows but the commerce of air-balloons, must add an American extension to the pond-hole of admiralty. As long as our people quote English standards, they will miss the sovereignty of power; but let these rough riders, — legislators in shirt-sleeves, — Hoosier, Sucker, Wolverine, Badger, — or whatever hard head Arkansas, Oregon, or Utah sends, half orator, half assassin, to represent its wrath and cupidity at Washington, — let these drive as they may; and the disposition of territories and public lands, the necessity of balancing and keeping at bay the snarling majorities of German, Irish, and of native millions, will bestow promptness, address, and reason, at last, on our buffalo-hunter, and authority and majesty of manners . The instinct of the people is right. Men expect from good whigs, put into office by the respectability of the country, much less skill to deal with Mexico, Spain, Britain, or with our own malcontent members, than from some strong transgressor, like Jefferson, or Jackson, who first conquers his own government, and then uses the same genius to conquer the foreigner. The senators who dissented from Mr. Polk's Mexican war, were not those who knew better, but those who, from political position, could afford it; not Webster, but Benton and Calhoun.

This power, to be sure, is not clothed in satin. 'Tis the power of Lynch law, of soldiers and pirates; and it bullies the peaceable and loyal. But it brings its own antidote; and here is my point, — that all kinds of power usually emerge at the same time; good energy, and bad; power of mind, with physical health; the ecstasies of devotion, with the exasperations of debauchery. The same elements are always present, only sometimes these conspicuous, and sometimes those; what was yesterday foreground, being to-day background, — what was surface, playing now a not less effective part as basis. The longer the drought lasts, the more is the atmosphere surcharged with water. The faster the ball falls to the sun, the force to fly off is by so much augmented. And, in morals, wild liberty breeds iron conscience; natures with great impulses have great resources, and return from far. In politics, the sons of democrats will be whigs; whilst red republicanism, in the father, is a spasm of nature to engender an intolerable tyrant in the next age. On the other hand, conservatism, ever more timorous and narrow, disgusts the children, and drives them for a mouthful of fresh air into radicalism.

Those who have most of this coarse energy, — the 'bruisers,' who have run the gauntlet of caucus and tavern through the county or the state, have their own vices, but they have the good nature of strength and courage. Fierce and unscrupulous, they are usually frank and direct, and above falsehood. Our politics fall into bad hands, and churchmen and men of refinement, it seems agreed, are not fit persons to send to Congress. Politics is a deleterious profession, like some poisonous handicrafts. Men in power have no opinions, but may be had cheap for any opinion, for any purpose, — and if it be only a question between the most civil and the most forcible, I lean to the last. These Hoosiers and Suckers are really better than the snivelling opposition. Their wrath is at least of a bold and manly cast. They see, against the unanimous declarations of the people, how much crime the people will bear; they proceed from step to step, and they have calculated but too justly upon their Excellencies, the New England governors, and upon their Honors, the New England legislators. The messages of the governors and the resolutions of the legislatures, are a proverb for expressing a sham virtuous indignation, which, in the course of events, is sure to be belied.

In trade, also, this energy usually carries a trace of ferocity. Philanthropic and religious bodies do not commonly make their executive officers out of saints. The communities hitherto founded by Socialists, — the Jesuits, the Port-Royalists, the American communities at New Harmony, at Brook Farm, at Zoar, are only possible, by installing Judas as steward. The rest of the offices may be filled by good burgesses. The pious and charitable proprietor has a foreman not quite so pious and charitable. The most amiable of country gentlemen has a certain pleasure in the teeth of the bull-dog which guards his orchard. Of the Shaker society, it was formerly a sort of proverb in the country, that they always sent the devil to market. And in representations of the Deity, painting, poetry, and popular religion have ever drawn the wrath from Hell. It is an esoteric doctrine of society, that a little wickedness is good to make muscle; as if conscience were not good for hands and legs, as if poor decayed formalists of law and order cannot run like wild goats, wolves, and conies; that, as there is a use in medicine for poisons, so the world cannot move without rogues; that public spirit and the ready hand are as well found among the malignants. 'Tis not very rare, the coincidence of sharp private and political practice, with public spirit, and good neighborhood.

I knew a burly Boniface who for many years kept a public-house in one of our rural capitals. He was a knave whom the town could ill spare. He was a social, vascular creature, grasping and selfish. There was no crime which he did not or could not commit. But he made good friends of the selectmen, served them with his best chop, when they supped at his house, and also with his honor the Judge, he was very cordial, grasping his hand. He introduced all the fiends, male and female, into the town, and united in his person the functions of bully, incendiary, swindler, barkeeper, and burglar. He girdled the trees, and cut off the horses' tails of the temperance people, in the night. He led the 'rummies' and radicals in town-meeting with a speech. Meantime, he was civil, fat, and easy, in his house, and precisely the most public-spirited citizen. He was active in getting the roads repaired and planted with shade-trees; he subscribed for the fountains, the gas, and the telegraph; he introduced the new horse-rake, the new scraper, the baby-jumper, and what not, that Connecticut sends to the admiring citizens. He did this the easier, that the peddler stopped at his house, and paid his keeping, by setting up his new trap on the landlord's premises.

Whilst thus the energy for originating and executing work, deforms itself by excess, and so our axe chops off our own fingers, — this evil is not without remedy. All the elements whose aid man calls in, will sometimes become his masters, especially those of most subtle force. Shall he, then, renounce steam, fire, and electricity, or, shall he learn to deal with them? The rule for this whole class of agencies is, — all plus is good; only put it in the right place.

Men of this surcharge of arterial blood cannot live on nuts, herb-tea, and elegies; cannot read novels, and play whist; cannot satisfy all their wants at the Thursday Lecture, or the Boston Athenaeum. They pine for adventure, and must go to Pike's Peak; had rather die by the hatchet of a Pawnee, than sit all day and every day at a counting-room desk. They are made for war, for the sea, for mining, hunting, and clearing; for hair-breadth adventures, huge risks, and the joy of eventful living. Some men cannot endure an hour of calm at sea. I remember a poor Malay cook, on board a Liverpool packet, who, when the wind blew a gale, could not contain his joy; "Blow!" he cried, "me do tell you, blow!" Their friends and governors must see that some vent for their explosive complexion is provided. The roisters who are destined for infamy at home, if sent to Mexico, will "cover you with glory," and come back heroes and generals. There are Oregons, Californias, and Exploring Expeditions enough appertaining to America, to find them in files to gnaw, and in crocodiles to eat. The young English are fine animals, full of blood, and when they have no wars to breathe their riotous valors in, they seek for travels as dangerous as war, diving into Maelstroms; swimming Hellesponts; wading up the snowy Himmaleh; hunting lion, rhinoceros, elephant, in South Africa; gypsying with Borrow in Spain and Algiers; riding alligators in South America with Waterton; utilizing Bedouin, Sheik, and Pacha, with Layard; yachting among the icebergs of Lancaster Sound; peeping into craters on the equator; or running on the creases of Malays in Borneo.

The excess of virility has the same importance in general history, as in private and industrial life. Strong race or strong individual rests at last on natural forces, which are best in the savage, who, like the beasts around him, is still in reception of the milk from the teats of Nature. Cut off the connection between any of our works, and this aboriginal source, and the work is shallow. The people lean on this, and the mob is not quite so bad an argument as we sometimes say, for it has this good side. "March without the people," said a French deputy from the tribune, "and you march into night: their instincts are a finger-pointing of Providence, always turned toward real benefit. But when you espouse an Orleans party, or a Bourbon, or a Montalembert party, or any other but an organic party, though you mean well, you have a personality instead of a principle, which will inevitably drag you into a corner."

The best anecdotes of this force are to be had from savage life, in explorers, soldiers, and buccaneers. But who cares for fallings-out of assassins, and fights of bears, or grindings of icebergs? Physical force has no value, where there is nothing else. Snow in snow-banks, fire in volcanoes and solfataras is cheap. The luxury of ice is in tropical countries, and midsummer days. The luxury of fire is, to have a little on our hearth: and of electricity, not volleys of the charged cloud, but the manageable stream on the battery-wires. So of spirit, or energy; the rests or remains of it in the civil and moral man, are worth all the cannibals in the Pacific.

In history, the great moment is, when the savage is just ceasing to be a savage, with all his hairy Pelasgic strength directed on his opening sense of beauty: — and you have Pericles and Phidias, — not yet passed over into the Corinthian civility. Everything good in nature and the world is in that moment of transition, when the swarthy juices still flow plentifully from nature, but their astringency or acridity is got out by ethics and humanity.

The triumphs of peace have been in some proximity to war. Whilst the hand was still familiar with the sword-hilt, whilst the habits of the camp were still visible in the port and complexion of the gentleman, his intellectual power culminated: the compression and tension of these stern conditions is a training for the finest and softest arts, and can rarely be compensated in tranquil times, except by some analogous vigor drawn from occupations as hardy as war.

We say that success is constitutional; depends on a plus condition of mind and body, on power of work, on courage; that it is of main efficacy in carrying on the world, and, though rarely found in the right state for an article of commerce, but oftener in the supersaturate or excess, which makes it dangerous and destructive, yet it cannot be spared, and must be had in that form, and absorbents provided to take off its edge.

The affirmative class monopolize the homage of mankind. They originate and execute all the great feats. What a force was coiled up in the skull of Napoleon! Of the sixty thousand men making his army at Eylau, it seems some thirty thousand were thieves and burglars. The men whom, in peaceful communities, we hold if we can, with iron at their legs, in prisons, under the muskets of sentinels, this man dealt with, hand to hand, dragged them to their duty, and won his victories by their bayonets.

This aboriginal might gives a surprising pleasure when it appears under conditions of supreme refinement, as in the proficients in high art. When Michel Angelo was forced to paint the Sistine Chapel in fresco, of which art he knew nothing, he went down into the Pope's gardens behind the Vatican, and with a shovel dug out ochres, red and yellow, mixed them with glue and water with his own hands, and having, after many trials, at last suited himself, climbed his ladders, and painted away, week after week, month after month, the sibyls and prophets. He surpassed his successors in rough vigor, as much as in purity of intellect and refinement. He was not crushed by his one picture left unfinished at last. Michel was wont to draw his figures first in skeleton, then to clothe them with flesh, and lastly to drape them. "Ah!" said a brave painter to me, thinking on these things, "if a man has failed, you will find he has dreamed instead of working. There is no way to success in our art, but to take off your coat, grind paint, and work like a digger on the railroad, all day and every day."

Success goes thus invariably with a certain plus or positive power: an ounce of power must balance an ounce of weight. And, though a man cannot return into his mother's womb, and be born with new amounts of vivacity, yet there are two economies, which are the best succedanea which the case admits. The first is, the stopping off decisively our miscellaneous activity, and concentrating our force on one or a few points; as the gardener, by severe pruning, forces the sap of the tree into one or two vigorous limbs, instead of suffering it to spindle into a sheaf of twigs.

"Enlarge not thy destiny," said the oracle: "endeavor not to do more than is given thee in charge." The one prudence in life is concentration; the one evil is dissipation: and it makes no difference whether our dissipations are coarse or fine; property and its cares, friends, and a social habit, or politics, or music, or feasting. Everything is good which takes away one plaything and delusion more, and drives us home to add one stroke of faithful work. Friends, books, pictures, lower duties, talents, flatteries, hopes, — all are distractions which cause oscillations in our giddy balloon, and make a good poise and a straight course impossible. You must elect your work; you shall take what your brain can, and drop all the rest. Only so, can that amount of vital force accumulate, which can make the step from knowing to doing. No matter how much faculty of idle seeing a man has, the step from knowing to doing is rarely taken. 'Tis a step out of a chalk circle of imbecility into fruitfulness. Many an artist lacking this, lacks all: he sees the masculine Angelo or Cellini with despair. He, too, is up to Nature and the First Cause in his thought. But the spasm to collect and swing his whole being into one act, he has not. The poet Campbell said, that "a man accustomed to work was equal to any achievement he resolved on, and, that, for himself, necessity not inspiration was the prompter of his muse."

Concentration is the secret of strength in politics, in war, in trade, in short, in all management of human affairs. One of the high anecdotes of the world is the reply of Newton to the inquiry, "how he had been able to achieve his discoveries?" — "By always intending my mind." Or if you will have a text from politics, take this from Plutarch: "There was, in the whole city, but one street in which Pericles was ever seen, the street which led to the market-place and the council house. He declined all invitations to banquets, and all gay assemblies and company. During the whole period of his administration, he never dined at the table of a friend." Or if we seek an example from trade, — "I hope," said a good man to Rothyschild, "your children are not too fond of money and business: I am sure you would not wish that." — "I am sure I should wish that: I wish them to give mind, soul, heart, and body to business, — that is the way to be happy. It requires a great deal of boldness and a great deal of caution, to make a great fortune, and when you have got it, it requires ten times as much wit to keep it. If I were to listen to all the projects proposed to me, I should ruin myself very soon. Stick to one business, young man. Stick to your brewery, (he said this to young Buxton,) and you will be the great brewer of London. Be brewer, and banker, and merchant, and manufacturer, and you will soon be in the Gazette."

Many men are knowing, many are apprehensive and tenacious, but they do not rush to a decision. But in our flowing affairs a decision must be made, — the best, if you can; but any is better than none. There are twenty ways of going to a point, and one is the shortest; but set out at once on one. A man who has that presence of mind which can bring to him on the instant all he knows, is worth for action a dozen men who know as much, but can only bring it to light slowly. The good Speaker in the House is not the man who knows the theory of parliamentary tactics, but the man who decides off-hand. The good judge is not he who does hair-splitting justice to every allegation, but who, aiming at substantial justice, rules something intelligible for the guidance of suitors. The good lawyer is not the man who has an eye to every side and angle of contingency, and qualifies all his qualifications, but who throws himself on your part so heartily, that he can get you out of a scrape. Dr. Johnson said, in one of his flowing sentences, "Miserable beyond all names of wretchedness is that unhappy pair, who are doomed to reduce beforehand to the principles of abstract reason all the details of each domestic day. There are cases where little can be said, and much must be done."

The second substitute for temperament is drill, the power of use and routine. The hack is a better roadster than the Arab barb. In chemistry, the galvanic stream, slow, but continuous, is equal in power to the electric spark, and is, in our arts, a better agent. So in human action, against the spasm of energy, we offset the continuity of drill. We spread the same amount of force over much time, instead of condensing it into a moment. 'Tis the same ounce of gold here in a ball, and there in a leaf. At West Point, Col. Buford, the chief engineer, pounded with a hammer on the trunnions of a cannon, until he broke them off. He fired a piece of ordnance some hundred times in swift succession, until it burst. Now which stroke broke the trunnion? Every stroke. Which blast burst the piece? Every blast. "Diligence passe sens," Henry VIII. was wont to say, or, great is drill. John Kemble said, that the worst provincial company of actors would go through a play better than the best amateur company. Basil Hall likes to show that the worst regular troops will beat the best volunteers. Practice is nine tenths. A course of mobs is good practice for orators. All the great speakers were bad speakers at first. Stumping it through England for seven years, made Cobden a consummate debater. Stumping it through New England for twice seven, trained Wendell Phillips. The way to learn German, is, to read the same dozen pages over and over a hundred times, till you know every word and particle in them, and can pronounce and repeat them by heart. No genius can recite a ballad at first reading, so well as mediocrity can at the fifteenth or twentieth readying. The rule for hospitality and Irish 'help,' is, to have the same dinner every day throughout the year. At last, Mrs. O'Shaughnessy learns to cook it to a nicety, the host learns to carve it, and the guests are well served. A humorous friend of mine thinks, that the reason why Nature is so perfect in her art, and gets up such inconceivably fine sunsets, is, that she has learned how, at last, by dint of doing the same thing so very often. Cannot one converse better on a topic on which he has experience, than on one which is new? Men whose opinion is valued on 'Change, are only such as have a special experience, and off that ground their opinion is not valuable. "More are made good by exercitation, than by nature," said Democritus. The friction in nature is so enormous that we cannot spare any power. It is not question to express our thought, to elect our way, but to overcome resistances of the medium and material in everything we do. Hence the use of drill, and the worthlessness of amateurs to cope with practitioners. Six hours every day at the piano, only to give facility of touch; six hours a day at painting, only to give command of the odious materials, oil, ochres, and brushes. The masters say, that they know a master in music, only by seeing the pose of the hands on the keys; — so difficult and vital an act is the command of the instrument. To have learned the use of the tools, by thousands of manipulations; to have learned the arts of reckoning, by endless adding and dividing, is the power of the mechanic and the clerk.

I remarked in England, in confirmation of a frequent experience at home, that, in literary circles, the men of trust and consideration, bookmakers, editors, university deans and professors, bishops, too, were by no means men of the largest literary talent, but usually of a low and ordinary intellectuality, with a sort of mercantile activity and working talent. Indifferent hacks and mediocrities tower, by pushing their forces to a lucrative point, or by working power, over multitudes of superior men, in Old as in New England.

I have not forgotten that there are sublime considerations which limit the value of talent and superficial success. We can easily overpraise the vulgar hero. There are sources on which we have not drawn. I know what I abstain from. I adjourn what I have to say on this topic to the chapters on Culture and Worship. But this force or spirit, being the means relied on by Nature for bringing the work of the day about, — as far as we attach importance to household life, and the prizes of the world, we must respect that. And I hold, that an economy may be applied to it; it is as much a subject of exact law and arithmetic as fluids and gases are; it may be husbanded, or wasted; every man is efficient only as he is a container or vessel of this force, and never was any signal act or achievement in history, but by this expenditure. This is not gold, but the gold-maker; not the fame, but the exploit.

If these forces and this husbandry are within reach of our will, and the laws of them can be read, we infer that all success, and all conceivable benefit for man, is also, first or last, within his reach, and has its own sublime economies by which it may be attained. The world is mathematical, and has no casualty, in all its vast and flowing curve. Success has no more eccentricity, than the gingham and muslin we weave in our mills. I know no more affecting lesson to our busy, plotting New England brains, than to go into one of the factories with which we have lined all the watercourses in the States. A man hardly knows how much he is a machine, until he begins to make telegraph, loom, press, and locomotive, in his own image. But in these, he is forced to leave out his follies and hindrances, so that when we go to the mill, the machine is more moral than we. Let a man dare go to a loom, and see if he be equal to it. Let machine confront machine, and see how they come out. The world-mill is more complex than the calico-mill, and the architect stooped less. In the gingham-mill, a broken thread or a shred spoils the web through a piece of a hundred yards, and is traced back to the girl that wove it, and lessens her wages. The stockholder, on being shown this, rubs his hands with delight. Are you so cunning, Mr. Profitloss, and do you expect to swindle your master and employer, in the web you weave? A day is a more magnificent cloth than any muslin, the mechanism that makes it is infinitely cunninger, and you shall not conceal the sleezy, fraudulent, rotten hours you have slipped into the piece, nor fear that any honest thread, or straighter steel, or more inflexible shaft, will not testify in the web.

Ralph Waldo Emerson Self Reliance

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Question of the Month

What is the future of humanity, the following philosophical forecasts of our fate each win an unforeseeable book..

From the onset of the Industrial Revolution, human progress has been unprecedented in its sheer speed and scale. Anyone born before the mid-1980s, remembering the world before the internet, will surely appreciate technology’s power to uproot our lives. There is no doubt that advances in technology and automation will keep on transforming our lives. Soon the devices we use will respond to our voices, performing many routine chores as we talk with them. The testing of self-drive cars and of drones delivering packages have already reached an advanced state. The virtual world will become ever more developed and sophisticated, offering us yet more unimaginable ways to experience reality. Humans will in all probability make it to Mars before the end of this century; and afterwards leave our imprint further out in space. Meanwhile humanity’s dabbling with and control over nature will continue to know no bounds in the years to come, thereby helping societies more effectively combat illness, disease, infertility and ageing. But the most terrifying aspect of the future will be when the code of life is altered to suit the vanity and greed of humans, the ageing process is prolonged or postponed, and human mortality is eventually overcome. I think such developments could indeed spell the doom of humanity, as they spark an all-out war between the haves and have nots. It cannot be denied that in all epochs of history we have continuously resorted to war and violence to solve our conflicts, and to the present day humanity has failed to organise societies truly capable of addressing the unequal distribution of resources. Meanwhile the systematic degradation that has been wrought on the natural environment in the name of progress still cries out for our care and attention. Above all, climate change remains the most pressing problem to be tackled on a global scale if the future of humanity is to be safeguarded. Nevertheless, I do hold some hope that humanity can be saved if an influential world movement recognises that the availability and sustainability of natural resources must be foremost in whatever economic philosophy is advocated; that unless the sharp inequalities in different regions of the world are truly addressed, the world will remain bedevilled by uncontrollable immigration, hatred and terrorism; and that unless humanity becomes consciously aware of the futility of war and violence, the path of self-destruction will continually be sought. Alas, the future of humanity can only be truly safe if humans accept that they are mortal beings and that happiness on this planet can only be achieved if the comfort and convenience bestowed on us by technological improvements is reconciled with meaningful and uncomplicated lives.

Ian Rizzo, Zabbar, Malta

Noam Chomsky has, on more than one occasion, pointed out that the two biggest threats that face humanity are global warming and nuclear war. Let’s entertain these two ideas briefly.

Nuclear war: Although some have speculated that nuclear weapons are impractical compared to the ever-advancing smart bombs, the devastation from fallout can quickly persuade a ruler or government to end a war and submit. In violent and warring minds that may be reason enough to want to retain them – see Theresa May’s and Donald Trump’s cavalier sanctioning of nuclear strikes. The consequences of such a strike, not to mention an all-out war, would be hellish: apart from untold deaths and injuries, birth defects and ruined soil and crops for decades.

Climate change: The long-term effects of icecaps melting, of fracking, of beaches being eroded, and air and water pollution, are frightening. Equally as frightening are the unspoken effects animal agriculture is having: for example, the build-up in the oceans of waste from cattle farming (too much for plankton to break down fast enough) can create dead zones where no life exists; not to mention the land, water and food which livestock take in order to feed us a proportionally smaller amount. This creates much more scarcity in an already competitive and difficult-to-get-by-in world.

These scenarios, which seem increasingly hard to separate, unfortunately indicate a grim future for humanity of scarcity, war, nuclear fallout and environmental devastation. Although very bleak, there is always hope; and to recycle another cliché, the future is not set. Passivity on the part of those appalled by such potential futures only increases the chances of them coming about. Conscientious action is, as seems to be the norm nowadays, needed. While people may, rightly or otherwise, distrust their elected officials and the media, there are other people and groups that they can trust. A lesson taken from the revolutionary left, particularly the libertarian socialists (anarchists), would teach us that coming together and organising into groups to cause change can happen, and can succeed. Educate, agitate, organise!

Shane Mc Donnell, Navan, Co. Meath, Ireland

Based on fossils and archeological artifacts from around the world, modern humans have existed for about 200,000 years; but the roots of civilization only go back 20,000 years, to when we first began planting grain and building walls. These dates slide back and forth on history’s timeline depending on the viewpoint, but practically all sources agree that up until about sixty years ago, humanity’s footprint on the sands of time was for the most part biodegradable.

Today, the footprint of humanity has toxic radioactive waste all over it. The World Nuclear Association reported in 2016 that 450 nuclear reactors were generating electricity in thirty countries around the world. Incredibly, sixty new reactors are being built on the heels of Fukushima!

It is chilling to think that between 1962 and 1983, the world faced nuclear annihilation more than once, when the only thing between humanity and devastation was a red button under a human thumb! An age-old question here begs an answer: Is humanity an experiment gone badly wrong?

The first mainland Greek philosopher, Anaximander, theorized that all things are generated from, and returned to, an endless creative source that he called ‘the Boundless’. In more recent times Carl Jung fleshed out Anaximander’s idea somewhat with his theory of the Collective Unconscious. Jung believed that this is the collective mostly-forgotten memory of our personal relationship with a higher authority. His philosophy was that in the final analysis nothing is as important as the life of the individual, whose hidden resources ultimately transform the world. Jung wrote: “In our most private and subjective lives we are not only the passive witness of our age, and its sufferers, but also its makers. We make our own epoch.”

Ancient devastations such as a globally-remembered great flood were believed to be acts of God or gods which humanity barely survived. Perhaps humanity’s future has always rested on the shoulders of extraordinary individuals, who manage to keep us afloat during the darkest of times. God willing, such an individual will come along to show future generations how to render radioactive waste inert, or gift them with the formula for cold fusion. In the meantime, it wouldn’t hurt to show Mother Nature a little respect and quit living like there’s no tomorrow.

Connie Koehler, Austin, Texas

Let’s look at our future in terms of two adaptive strategies in the evolutionary process: competition and cooperation.

We start with single cell organisms, which become multicelled ones. They develop diffuse nervous systems. These in turn organize into central nervous systems that serve the basic needs of complex organisms. Eventually, these blossom into the frontal cortex that allows the higher cognitive functions that land us here trying to answer the big questions.

This trajectory has left us with two often-conflicting modes of negotiating an environment filled with other organisms. The competitive mode involves our baser impulses utilizing our cognitive functions strictly for the sake of our baser impulses. We can see here the brutal world described by Hobbes and Ayn Rand. By contrast, the cooperative mode sees its interest in a trajectory from inward self-interest out to the interest of others. Here, we see the less brutal world of Marx or Rawls. Consequently, we find ourselves at an important evolutionary crossroads. Do we stick with the competitive instinct which has, via capitalism, got us to this point, and risk, at best, subjecting ourselves to a global oligarchy, the dismantling of our democracies, and the depletion of our natural resources: or, worse, our extinction as a species through manmade climate change and war? Or do we turn to the next evolutionary step, and evolve? Do we become better than market economics tells us we are?

I’m not optimistic, not only because of the growing influence of the right in America and other advanced nations, but because of the sensibility of the voters perpetrating this. As a progressive in the American Midwest, in last year’s election I enjoyed a front row seat for watching otherwise decent and intelligent people succumb to dogma, sensationalism, and misinformation – a complete lack of critical inquiry supplanted by fancy – as can be seen in political campaigns that resembled some Quentin Tarantino revenge fantasy. But this only makes sense as an evolutionary backlash in which our higher cognitive functions act strictly in behalf of baser impulses and immediate self-interest.

Still, we can hope. And sometimes the only way out is through . Perhaps the current evolutionary political backlash, by demonstrating in very real terms the actual consequences of competition, is what we’ll need to put it behind us and truly evolve.

D. Tarkington, Bellevue, Nebraska

The future of humanity is speculative, and so I’ll apprehend it more with hope than knowledge. Our first two hopes are that we do not annihilate our species with global biological or nuclear warfare, and that we do not destroy our planet. If we assume that we will avoid those futures, then we can expect that science and technology will advance and provide us with many blessings, and some dangers. But I think the cardinal question about our future is, “What kind of government will we have? This is because we are political animals, as Aristotle famously said. We are part nature and part nurture, and the latter is shaped by the society we happen to be raised in, which in turn is determined by the nature of our government. Thus, our future will be largely a function of our future society and government.

About this we can expect increased globalization and commingling of peoples until, perhaps in a few millennia, we are one people with one language and a complex global federal government. Perhaps there will be an end to war, and other benefits. However, in federations, the superior government tends to accumulate power by diminishing that of subordinate governments. Power corrupts proportionately, and this presents us with the specter of a dystopian society.

Trends in history strongly indicate two possible primary developments: freedom or slavery. Many see in history an increase in individual freedom; but clearly there also has been an increase in state power. The source of the former lies in the hopes and aspirations of individuals. The source of the latter lies in the fact that the power of the elite naturally enlarges itself.

Freedom or slavery: which will it be? That is, what will be the balance of individual freedom and self-determination versus state control and state determination of what humanity is? It depends on the nature of the over-arching supergovernment. Specifically, of who will rule the rulers: the people, or an established elite? A global government may be a Frankenstein we cannot control. But then we are an amazingly adaptable species.

There are too many variables to speculate about the future fruitfully. We can only hope it will be a future of liberty.

John Talley, Rutherfordton, North Carolina

In the future, humanity will still ponder the concept of death and its meaning, but perhaps with an additional clause: the fear of our private digital minds left behind. Digital footprints, the memorial grooves in the wax, the living binary representation of lives typed, clicked, or swished by our physical hands, our handiwork floating in the digital ether forever. It is not hard to imagine with some advances in technology that the digital self, made feasible with the use of holograms, or mediums such as virtual reality could provide representations of our persona after death. A digital likeness filled with the essence of you, the ‘ghost in the machine’. In other words, I think, therefore, I am your entire life’s browser history. A collection of algorithms, from preferred GPS haunts, from online shopping preferences to your late night browsing searches, all composed and collated to represent the embodied holographic you after death. Sartre’s ‘human existence precedes essence’ made all the more relevant, the digital essence of your earthly existence left behind.

In the future, after your funeral, relatives shall be able to buy such a holographic essence. A grieving partner comforted by a more than passable intuitive Turing system finely tuned to represent you. Perhaps, also the curiosities of grandchildren, wishing to know who their grandparents really were, reanimated in the holographic flesh. Indeed, you could even give your own narcissistic eulogy, the voice from beyond the grave. In every instance, a visual binary essence that can speak, listen, gesture, reason, appear to show emotion, and bring meaning to those still in life. Unfortunately, unbeknown to your internet provider, you also shared a flat with Dave, who had a penchant for the darker side of the web. Additionally, on your daily commute, roadwork traffic lights had an uncanny knack of holding you just outside a Ku Klux Klan hall. All information impartially collected and collated, unfairly representing the essence of you. The repercussions aren’t hard to predict; loving relatives shocked to find you had a secret life, one that included nefarious activities and racist tendencies. In such a technological future, every word typed, every destination you travelled would take on an uncontrolled limbo existence. The fear of death may be relegated to second place by the anxiety of judgements passed on an eternal digital future you.

John Scotland, Kilsyth, North Lanarkshire

In the future corporations and governments will create a variety of virtual worlds, in which all humans will eventually choose to live. Most will choose to live in simulations of the Twenty First Century, because life was much better back then. Of course, these humans will not remember that their world is virtual. Some philosophers and scientists in these virtual worlds will present skeptical arguments about the existence of a real external world, but most people won’t take these arguments seriously. Some of the skeptics will argue that empirical observations are consistent with their world being a simulation. However, most people won’t care because the virtual world feels so real and people value the useful, not the true. Philosophers will also present interesting arguments about how human minds could never, in principle, fully grasp higher dimensions, just as two-dimensional minds could never know there’s a bird flying above them because there is no ‘above’ for such minds. Although a two dimensional mind could use math to infer that there is a higher dimension with some sort of entity casting the observable light-and-dark patterns, that mind could never see or even imagine it. Still, others will sometimes believe their world is virtual because they ate a special mushroom, had a mystical experience, or simply because they momentarily trusted their intuition. Most of these people will be virtually locked up. Some geniuses will argue that it is likely that we are living in a virtual world: If the universe is as big as we think, and advanced people create virtual worlds, then there are many virtual worlds and only one reality: therefore, it is more likely that the future world is virtual. But wait, the future is here.

Paul Stearns, Blinn College, Texas

The organic and inorganic will become less distinct. Bioengineers will create living cells capable of performing simple ‘Turing functions’ (programmable tasks), and on this basis, organic computers will transform humanity. Almost certainly, organs will be artificially produced, this extending human life; and with the tweaking of genes we could end up living almost indefinitely. Cancer, AIDS and other fatal diseases will be eradicated, as smallpox was in the 1970s. Unfortunately, new and deadlier diseases (such as Zika) will spring up and become lethal weapons. Disease, famine, war and terrorism will turn cities into savage ghettoes run by marauding gangs. Humans will be microchipped from birth and monitored by surveillance satellites. ‘Genetically compromised’ individuals will be sterilised, leading to mass sterilisations. Only the healthy super-rich will be able to afford to live in biodomes with pollution-free air and Eden-like forests and gardens. The rest will be forced to “defend themselves against the ever-present menace of barbaric, atavistic and reactionary forces.” (Winston Churchill in Civilization , Niall Ferguson, p.297, 2012).

Fortunately, the philanthropic wealthy will continue to repair the damage wreaked against nature since the start of the Industrial Revolution. Humanity’s goal must therefore be to diminish our ‘inner animal’ in favour of the power of reason, thereby becoming truly human – Homo sapiens victorens! “The future of humanity must gaze harder upon… looking within.” (Buddha, in Dogen’s Shobo Genzo , p.47, 2012).

Aaron V. Adosa, Swansea

There will only be two types of human beings in the future: the minority having enormous brains and tiny bodies, and the majority with tiny brains and muscular bodies. The size of the average brain will gradually diminish; not because of our innate laziness, but because of our over-concern about our physical appearance. In the old days, most people dreamt of having shelter and a stable food supply. As we no longer struggle for the basic necessities, our dreams focus instead on the search for physical beauty – how to obtain and maintain the ‘ideal body shape’ and healthy life the media promotes. Physical beauty will become the main goal of the majority. They’ll do exercises everyday, taking nutrients to maintain their shape while not noticing that their brains are shrinking. Actually, there is no doubt that they’ll work extremely hard to make their brains smaller. Unfortunately, both the majority and minority will enter states of extreme depression and show hatred towards the other set. Many who cannot categorize themselves into either the majority or the minority will eventually commit suicide as the pressure from both extremes will be overwhelming.

Science has caused the separation of intelligence and health. The misinterpretation or over-interpretation of health and evolutionary facts by the public is causing the decay of intelligence and the increase in concern about physical beauty; in fact we are just eliminating ourselves.

Cyrus Aegean Lamprecht, Hong Kong

What is the future of humanity? Answer: Extinction within a few thousand years. Mother Nature, God, or the blind forces of evolution (take your pick) has arranged it so that we higher animals reproduce by engaging in sex for pleasure, with babies as a by-product. However, human ingenuity in creating contraceptives has cut the link between the pleasure and the babies, and so in the wealthy parts of the world the replication rate has fallen below the 2.1 per couple necessary to maintain a stable population. And the world is getting steadily wealthier. So it is a fairly modest assumption that in a hundred years from now, the planetary human population will have peaked at ten billion, but most of them will be as wealthy as today’s average in the West. It is also plausible that sexbots will be widely available, be far more beautiful than most real women or men, and be far better at giving pleasure than another human. So, finally, it is plausible that the average reproduction rate will then become 1.5 or less. The rest is arithmetic. Dividing 1.5 by 2 to give the reproduction rate per person of 0.75, and taking this rate to the power of 30, we get a value less than 0.0002. So dividing, thirty generations later, or about a thousand years from now, the world population will be about two million. This will ensure civilizational collapse. But I expect the sexbots will still be there – a few thousand per person. So another few thousand years will see us all gone.

The only obstruction to this that I can see is religion imposing a sexbot ban. The Roman Catholic Church has had indifferent success in similar sexual bans; the Muslims might do a little better. But it seems unlikely that a world populated by only a few million religious believers would survive for long; and all the more intelligent and creative people will have experienced a blissful death long ago.

John Lawless, Crawley, Western Australia

In the opening chapter of The Napoleon of Notting Hill , G.K. Chesterton introduced us to the traditional game of ‘Cheat the Prophet’. This is played when, extrapolating from current trends, a wise man ( sic ) predicts how we will live in the future. He’s listened to respectfully; and, once he is dead and buried, humanity does something totally other than he predicted.

Towards the end of his life Karl Marx said that he was not a Marxist. I believe that what he meant was that he did not join in with his followers’ confident Marxist predictions. That is, he believed that his philosophy could explain the historical processes which had led to his contemporary situation, explain current trends, even exhort humanity how to respond to them; but his theories could not determine or predict the future. Despite this, Twentieth Century prophets such as Leon Trotsky, H.G. Wells, and Francis Fukuyama, have asserted that they know where humanity is going; and humanity has duly responded by going in a different direction entirely, or, when feeling particularly bloody-minded, several different directions. We have difficulty enough in understanding the past: the future is unknowable. The only safe prediction is that every prediction about the future of humanity is almost certain to be wrong (and, to paraphrase Einstein, I’m not sure about the ‘almost’).

Martin Jenkins, London

Niels Bohr supposedly said that prediction is very difficult, especially about the future. Yet a spacecraft’s path is predictable to extraordinary precision, and it must be, because by the time it gets anywhere interesting the right time to correct its trajectory has long past. Then there’s the long-term cyclic reliability of the Sun, Moon, and the planets. The future of details is difficult to predict, but if the details average out, then barring the odd black swan, the future is predictable to a degree . In the 1950s, Isaac Asimov invented ‘psychohistory’, the statistical extrapolation of future events and the behaviour of significant figures from society’s present state. However, if some unforeseeable details grow to dominate, even the broad shape of the future becomes uncertain. This is likely where many actors and forces interact, as they do in human reality. Self-reinforcing cycles can form. Thus predicting the near future is a little like forecasting the weather. So if we cannot forecast humanity’s ‘weather’, can we at least forecast its ‘climate’?

Today the world is more peaceful, better educated (particularly women) and proportionally less affected by extreme poverty than ever before. With these trends, population will level off at around ten billion, and apart from in a few wretched countries, the prospects for a democratic near-future are favourable. However, democracy relies on rising expectations being fulfilled through economic growth; and today there is a collision course between greening technology and population growth, rising emissions, and diminishing resources. A good outcome depends on cutting personal consumption and the conventional industrial employment that leads to the growing gap between richest and poorest. However, denying expectations is unpopular, and confounding them risks the instability of political reaction. The costs are so high that governments may yet seek ways to distribute wealth more evenly, even if they won’t yet admit it. Barring a world epidemic – more likely given ease of travel – or a climate or other catastrophe, population will fall gradually through elective non-replacement rather than as a result of collective action. The environment will improve, but nature may still be diminished unless people build greener cities. Earth is special, and exploration of other planetary systems will yield many wonders, but few habitats. Apart from on Mars, any colonies will be too far away to interact with Earth. Ultimately, human progress can carry life throughout the universe, but as we suppress our evolutionary pressures, this life may not be us.

Dr Nicholas B. Taylor, Little Sandhurst

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Literature Is Powerful. Literature Defines Humanity.


Long before human civilization started in this world, stories are found among the constellations, beneath the depths of the oceans, and within the woodland realm. Long before language was invented, stories were told and engraved upon stone tablets and wall carvings. Long before humans began to know how to read and write with the words that our ancestors created, literature already existed.

Literature is the foundation of humanity’s cultures, beliefs, and traditions. It serves as a reflection of reality, a product of art, and a window to an ideology. Everything that happens within a society can be written, recorded in, and learned from a piece of literature. Whether it be poetry or prose, literature provides insight, knowledge or wisdom, and emotion towards the person who partakes it entirely.

Life is manifested in the form of literature. Without literature, life ceases to exist. It is an embodiment of words based on human tragedies, desires, and feelings. It cultivates wonders, inspires a generation, and feeds information. Even though it is dynamic, endless, and multi-dimensional, literature contributes significant purposes to the world we live in.

Literature in History

Literature is present during the era of the ancient world. Even without the invention of words and language, literature was already manifested in the earliest human civilizations. Carvings and paintings on walls inside caves of stone give evidence about the lives of prehistoric people. They explain their way of life.

Literature is also a tool for the foundation of a religion. The Holy Bible, one of the oldest written scriptures, is a compilation of tales, beliefs, and accounts that teach about Christianity (for both the Old and the New Testament) and about Judaism (for some selected books in the Old Testament). Within a span of more than a thousand years from the Prophet Moses to the Apostle Paul, the Bible was written by numerous authors believed to be inspired by God’s divine wisdom and tries to explain about the mysteries of life as well as setting rules for one’s personal faith. The same goes with the Qu’ran for Muslims, Torah for the Jews, and the Bhagavad-Gita, Ramayana and Veda for the Hindus.

Literature explains human values. The works of Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle (the most famous Greek philosophers) contain virtues that promote perfection to a society if only human beings have the willingness to uphold and practice them. Plato’s Allegory of the Cave speaks about the importance of human wisdom and the penalties that one would face to achieve a higher level of understanding. Through these philosophers’ contributions to literature, not only did they craft an artistic convergence of words, but exposed logic and ideas as well.

Literature in Revolution

Literature is an instrument of revolution. Political turmoil, societal injustice, and genocidal conquest can all be ended and resolved in the form of literature. A writer can be a warrior with his words as his weapon. He can be a revolutionist by writing a literary piece that exploits corruption in his nation yet fosters development for his fellow countrymen. Not all revolutions have to be fought in blood.

In Europe, Martin Luther, the German monk most famous for the reformation of the Christian church during the Renaissance Era, nailed his 95 Theses on the door of a cathedral to inform the townspeople about the Roman Catholic Church’s corruption of riches and tithes. Although he was excommunicated eventually because of this mere and blasphemous attempt of protest, the Christian church was then divided into two sectors: Catholicism and Protestantism. Victor Hugo, a notable French writer, gave us a vivid view of the French Revolution in his novel, Les Miserables and an epitome of French romantic literature in The Hunchback of Notre Dame . Anne Frank, a Jewish girl who was a victim of the Holocaust during the reign of Hitler in Nazi Germany, was only an innocent youth when she wrote a diary that details her life and struggles as a captive during that time. The diary became known as The Diary of a Young Girl and was one of the most read books in the twentieth century, with the readers sympathizing the victims of the genocide geared towards the Jews in the Second World War.

In America, the novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet-Beecher Stowe, and the memoir, 12 Years a Slave by Solomon Northup, spoke about the cruelties and the hardships of the Negro slaves in the southern states. These books gained attention and eventually ignited the Civil War that paved the way to the abolition of slavery and the freedom of the African-American people. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous speech, I Have a Dream contains the revolutionist’s desire for a new America – a country filled with liberty, not only for the Whites but for the Blacks as well. With courageous effort and an ambitious zeal, Martin Luther King Jr. wrote his speech and recited it in front of the masses during the Civil Rights Era (1960’s). Another cultural revolution that happened in the late 1960’s made possible the transition of conservativism to modernization in societal norms when the Hippie Movement was practiced. John Lennon’s song, Imagine , basically tells us about the philosophy of the hippie community – make love not war.

In my motherland, the Philippines, or national hero, Jose Rizal, was a revolutionist as well as a writer. He wrote novels that aimed to threaten the Spanish Empire during the colonization of the Philippines by Spain. His best works, Noli Me Tangere and its corresponding sequel, El Filibusterismo , were two of the many revolutionary tools that contributed to my country’s independence from Spain. Both of which didn’t involve violence and bloodshed. They were pieces of literature.

In addition to being a tool for revolution, literature can also be a device for an adoration to a nation. It can do so much for one’s own country. Numerous poems, songs, sonnets, ballads, and odes were written by famous writers as manifestations of their love and patriotism towards their own country. A national anthem, with its sole purpose to praise a nation, is a form of literature. A national anthem is a lyrical verse. Not only does it praise the country, it also emphasizes its beauty, acknowledges its history, and signifies its majesty.

Literature in the Modern Era

Literature in the present generation still exists as an expression of art, a source of knowledge, and an instrument of entertainment. Books are being read seriously by readers who crave for information and recreationally by those who are passionate in exploring their imagination. Literature kindles new ideas. It gives voice to the people who want to express their opinions about certain things in life – whether it be in politics, health, religion, and the like. Literature is the heart of songs, rhythmic and harmonious pieces that give message and inspiration to people. Films are visual representations of literature, they give life and action to the words written on a page. Magazines, newspapers, the television, the radio, and even the internet contain literature. It is found everywhere and anywhere. The power of literature affects all of us. It is complex, intergenerational, and long-lasting.

Angelo Lorenzo

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Power of Humans

Ozymandias was a harsh dictator and the sculpture reflects his strong personality:

  • ‘wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command’
  • -‘The hand that mocked them’
  • _‘words appear: ‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’ ’ _

The people of London are in a helpless situation, because of the decisions made by the government:

  • ‘I wander through each chartered street’
  • ‘mind-forged manacles’
  • ‘Every black’ning Church appalls’
  • ‘the hapless Soldiers sigh’

Extract from the Prelude

The young boy steals a boat and goes on a journey by himself:

  • _‘Straight I unloosed her chain’ _
  • ‘an act of stealth And troubled pleasure’
  • ‘I fixed my view Upon the summit of a craggy ridge’
  • _‘lustily I dipped my oars into the silent lake’ _
  • ‘I struck and struck again’

My Last Duchess

The Duke aimed to control his wife and others; the messenger and the reader too.

  • ‘Will’t please you look sit and look at her?’
  • ‘(since none puts by The curtain I have drawn for you, but I)’
  • ‘I gave commands; Then all smiles stopped together.’

Charge of the Light Brigade

Every person is fallible. Unfortunately, the decisions made by those with authority can result in calamitous consequences.

  • ‘ “Charge for the guns!” he said.’
  • ‘ “Forward, the Light Brigade!” ’
  • ‘Someone had blunder’d’
  • ‘Theirs not to make reply… but to do and die’
  • ‘Boldly they rode and well’
  • ‘Sabring the gunners there’
  • ‘O the wild charge they made!’

Storm on the Island

Bayonet charge.

The soldier is questioning his role in the war:

  • ‘Suddenly he awoke and was running- raw”
  • ‘Stumbling across a field of clods’
  • ‘The patriotic tear that had brimmed in his eye’
  • ‘In bewilderment then he almost stopped-‘
  • ‘In what cold clockwork of the stars and the nations Was he the hand pointing that second?’
  • ‘King, honour, human dignity, etcetera dropped like luxuries’

The soldiers are performing their duty; they have been deployed to kill rebels:

  • ‘we got sent out’
  • ‘Well myself and somebody else and somebody else are all of the same mind’
  • ‘Three of a kind all letting fly’
  • I see every round as it rips through his life
  • ‘tosses his guts back into his body’
  • ‘his bloody life in my bloody hands’

War Photographer

The photographer is capturing evidence of the conflict that humans are causing in war zones. Humans have the power to stop such conflicts but some just do not want to:

  • ‘spools of sufferings set out in ordered rows’
  • ‘He has a job to do.’
  • ‘his editor will pick out five or six for Sunday’s supplement
  • ‘reader’s eyeballs prick with tears’
  • ‘where he earns his living… they do not care.’

People have passed on ideas through books and concepts:

  • ‘written in names and histories’
  • _ ‘see how easily they fall away on a sigh’_
  • ‘a shift in the direction of the wind’
  • ‘An architect could use all this’
  • ‘with living tissue, raise a structure’

The Emigree

The speaker had to leave their country and their youth was disturbed, because she lived in a war-torn land:

  • ‘There once was a country… I left it as a child’
  • ‘It may be at war, it may be sick with tyrants’
  • _ ‘I have no passport, there’s no way back at all’_
  • They accuse me of absence… being dark in their free city.’

Japanese pilots faced peer pressure from many sources: government, family and the community:

  • ‘Her father embarked at sunrise’
  • ‘a shaven head of full of powerful incantations’
  • ‘journey into history’
  • ‘they treated him as though he no longer existed’
  • ‘till gradually we too learned to be silent’

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Research essay: a ‘monster’ and its humanity.

power of humanity essay

Professor of English Susan J. Wolfson is the editor of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein: A Longman Cultural Edition and co-editor, with Ronald Levao, of The Annotated Frankenstein.  

Published in January 1818, Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus has never been out of print or out of cultural reference. “Facebook’s Frankenstein Moment: A Creature That Defies Technology’s Safeguards” was the headline on a New York Times business story Sept. 22 — 200 years on. The trope needed no footnote, although Kevin Roose’s gloss — “the scientist Victor Frankenstein realizes that his cobbled-together creature has gone rogue” — could use some adjustment: The Creature “goes rogue” only after having been abandoned and then abused by almost everyone, first and foremost that undergraduate scientist. Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg and CEO Sheryl Sandberg, attending to profits, did not anticipate the rogue consequences: a Frankenberg making. 

The original Frankenstein told a terrific tale, tapping the idealism in the new sciences of its own age, while registering the throb of misgivings and terrors. The 1818 novel appeared anonymously by a down-market press (Princeton owns one of only 500 copies). It was a 19-year-old’s debut in print. The novelist proudly signed herself “Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley” when it was reissued in 1823, in sync with a stage concoction at London’s Royal Opera House in August. That debut ran for nearly 40 nights; it was staged by the Princeton University Players in May 2017. 

In a seminar that I taught on Frankenstein in various contexts at Princeton in the fall of 2016 — just weeks after the 200th anniversary of its conception in a nightmare visited on (then) Mary Godwin in June 1816 — we had much to consider. One subject was the rogue uses and consequences of genomic science of the 21st century. Another was the election season — in which “Frankenstein” was a touchstone in the media opinions and parodies. Students from sciences, computer technology, literature, arts, and humanities made our seminar seem like a mini-university. Learning from each other, we pondered complexities and perplexities: literary, social, scientific, aesthetic, and ethical. If you haven’t read Frankenstein (many, myself included, found the tale first on film), it’s worth your time. 

READ MORE  PAW Goes to the Movies: ‘Victor Frankenstein,’ with Professor Susan Wolfson

Scarcely a month goes by without some development earning the prefix Franken-, a near default for anxieties about or satires of new events. The dark brilliance of Frankenstein is both to expose “monstrosity” in the normal and, conversely, to humanize what might seem monstrously “other.” When Shelley conceived Frankenstein, Europe was scarred by a long war, concluding on Waterloo fields in May 1815. “Monster” was a ready label for any enemy. Young Frankenstein begins his university studies in 1789, the year of the French Revolution. In 1790, Edmund Burke’s international best-selling Reflections on the French Revolution recoiled at the new government as a “monster of a state,” with a “monster of a constitution” and “monstrous democratic assemblies.” Within a few months, another international best-seller, Tom Paine’s The Rights of Man, excoriated “the monster Aristocracy” and cheered the American Revolution for overthrowing a “monster” of tyranny.

Following suit, Mary Shelley’s father, William Godwin, called the ancien régime a “ferocious monster”; her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, was on the same page: Any aristocracy was an “artificial monster,” the monarchy a “luxurious monster,” and Europe’s despots a “race of monsters in human shape.” Frankenstein makes no direct reference to the Revolution, but its first readers would have felt the force of its setting in the 1790s, a decade that also saw polemics for (and against) the rights of men, women, and slaves. 

England would abolish its slave trade in 1807, but Colonial slavery was legal until 1833. Abolitionists saw the capitalists, investors, and masters as the moral monsters of the global economy. Apologists regarded the Africans as subhuman, improvable perhaps by Christianity and a work ethic, but alarming if released, especially the men. “In dealing with the Negro,” ultra-conservative Foreign Secretary George Canning lectured Parliament in 1824, “we are dealing with a being possessing the form and strength of a man, but the intellect only of a child. To turn him loose in the manhood of his physical strength ... would be to raise up a creature resembling the splendid fiction of a recent romance.” He meant Frankenstein. 

Mary Shelley heard about this reference, and knew, moreover, that women (though with gilding) were a slave class, too, insofar as they were valued for bodies rather than minds, were denied participatory citizenship and most legal rights, and were systemically subjugated as “other” by the masculine world. This was the argument of her mother’s Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792), which she was rereading when she was writing Frankenstein. Unorthodox Wollstonecraft — an advocate of female intellectual education, a critic of the institution of marriage, and the mother of two daughters conceived outside of wedlock — was herself branded an “unnatural” woman, a monstrosity. 

Shelley had her own personal ordeal, which surely imprints her novel. Her parents were so ready for a son in 1797 that they had already chosen the name “William.” Even worse: When her mother died from childbirth, an awful effect was to make little Mary seem a catastrophe to her grieving father. No wonder she would write a novel about a “being” rejected from its first breath. The iconic “other” in Frankenstein is of course this horrifying Creature (he’s never a “human being”). But the deepest force of the novel is not this unique situation but its reverberation of routine judgments of beings that seem “other” to any possibility of social sympathy. In the 1823 play, the “others” (though played for comedy) are the tinker-gypsies, clad in goatskins and body paint (one is even named “Tanskin” — a racialized differential).

Victor Frankenstein greets his awakening creature as a “catastrophe,” a “wretch,” and soon a “monster.” The Creature has no name, just these epithets of contempt. The only person to address him with sympathy is blind, spared the shock of the “countenance.” Readers are blind this way, too, finding the Creature only on the page and speaking a common language. This continuity, rather than antithesis, to the human is reflected in the first illustrations: 

power of humanity essay

In the cover for the 1823 play, above, the Creature looks quite human, dishy even — alarming only in size and that gaze of expectation. The 1831 Creature, shown on page 29, is not a patent “monster”: It’s full-grown, remarkably ripped, human-looking, understandably dazed. The real “monster,” we could think, is the reckless student fleeing the results of an unsupervised undergraduate experiment gone rogue. 

In Shelley’s novel, Frankenstein pleads sympathy for the “human nature” in his revulsion. “I had worked hard for nearly two years, for the sole purpose of infusing life into an inanimate body. For this I had deprived myself of rest and health ... but now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart. Unable to endure the aspect of the being I had created, I rushed out of the room.” Repelled by this betrayal of “beauty,” Frankenstein never feels responsible, let alone parental. Shelley’s genius is to understand this ethical monstrosity as a nightmare extreme of common anxiety for expectant parents: What if I can’t love a child whose physical formation is appalling (deformed, deficient, or even, as at her own birth, just female)? 

The Creature’s advent in the novel is not in this famous scene of awakening, however. It comes in the narrative that frames Frankenstein’s story: a polar expedition that has become icebound. Far on the ice plain, the ship’s crew beholds “the shape of a man, but apparently of gigantic stature,” driving a dogsled. Three paragraphs on, another man-shape arrives off the side of the ship on a fragment of ice, alone but for one sled dog. “His limbs were nearly frozen, and his body dreadfully emaciated by fatigue and suffering,” the captain records; “I never saw a man in so wretched a condition.” This dreadful man focuses the first scene of “animation” in Frankenstein: “We restored him to animation by rubbing him with brandy, and forcing him to swallow a small quantity. As soon as he shewed signs of life, we wrapped him up in blankets, and placed him near the chimney of the kitchen-stove. By slow degrees he recovered ... .” 

The re-animation (well before his name is given in the novel) turns out to be Victor Frankenstein. A crazed wretch of a “creature” (so he’s described) could have seemed a fearful “other,” but is cared for as a fellow human being. His subsequent tale of his despicably “monstrous” Creature is scored with this tremendous irony. The most disturbing aspect of this Creature is his “humanity”: this pathos of his hope for family and social acceptance, his intuitive benevolence, bitterness about abuse, and skill with language (which a Princeton valedictorian might envy) that solicits fellow-human attention — all denied by misfortune of physical formation. The deepest power of Frankenstein, still in force 200 years on, is not its so-called monster, but its exposure of “monster” as a contingency of human sympathy.  

  • Boredom Makes Us Human

Young depressed female character sitting on the floor and holding their knees, a cartoon scribble above their head, mental health issues

I n a recent article in the Financial Times, Markham Heid shares with us a peculiar life crisis. At 41, he has built what many would regard as the good life: he has a family; he is healthy, productive, and creative; he has time to travel, read, exercise, and see friends. Yet, he feels that “something is off.” He gives this state a variety of names, including mid-life melancholy, ennui, and despair. He also diagnoses it in others all around him. To fight against it, some of his friends have turned to ayahuasca retreats, others to fitness. What renders Heid’s malaise somewhat strange is that it does not seem to arise from anything specific. If Heid had lost his job, had no time for himself, or was struggling in his marriage, some of these feelings would seem less puzzling. 

In the history of philosophy, there have been many attempts to understand such powerful but objectless feelings. Boredom , anxiety , and despair are some of the descriptions these moods have received. In the novel Nausea , the French existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre describes someone who mysteriously experiences that feeling whenever they are confronted with ordinary objects, like a pebble on the beach. The German philosopher Martin Heidegger describes an uncanny unease we may feel when we are bored and searching desperately for distractions. The Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard speaks of a silent despair in the background of our lives, a sense of discord or dread of an unknown something that can grab us momentarily.

Sadly, the philosophical descriptions of such moods have often been misunderstood as sombre or romantic moments of existential reflection where we recognize our mortality or the meaninglessness of life. Pictured in this way, these moments are bound to stay isolated from the anxiety, despair, and melancholy that we face in our ordinary life and seek help for. But if we look beyond the existentialist clichés, the philosophical ideas on such moods can offer a new way forward. What could Heid have learnt from the philosophers?

Moods of nothing

Despite Heid’s references to Heidegger, we do not read anything about the philosopher’s own ruminations of a very similar experience of flatness: a feeling that all things (and we ourselves) sink into indifference; a sense that things around us slip away or we slip away from ourselves; a malaise related to a vacant stillness. What is remarkable, for Heidegger, is that such intense affects arise despite the fact that nothing may have changed in our lives: one is still surrounded by the same people, events, and activities, but these do not engage us as they used to. It is this feature that makes him describe what he calls “anxiety” as a mood generated by nothing in particular.

This makes such feelings doubly unwelcome. Most of us can tolerate negative emotions if we see them as instrumental to something desirable—we do not run to a therapist to treat a fear if we think that it holds us back from doing something obviously risky. But unlike fear, what Heidegger calls anxiety and what Heid’s article describes do not protect us from anything specific. No wonder why Sigmund Freud called anxiety a “ riddle .”

But this view is too simplistic for Heidegger. It risks concealing both the value and meaning of the feelings he describes. First, the human emotional life is much more complex than a simple battle between positive and negative feelings, or useful and useless emotions. Second, objectless moods can teach us something significant not about specific risks or problems in our lives but about the fact that we have a life to live at all. Learning from them can allow us to find what Heidegger describes as a sense of peace and joy within the malaise.

What’s missing?

Heid says that “some essential aspect of life is missing or not sufficiently represented.” He ends up attributing his melancholy to the lack of new experiences. Kierkegaard calls this the illusion of “crop rotation,” the idea that changing the soil frequently can save us from boredom and despair. 

But what really drives such moods is not the need for new experiences. It is not even the particulars of our individual lives or the culture we belong to, but that we have been given a life to live in the first place, the taste of possibility that comes with being alive. The kinds of questions that arise are not questions like “have I married the right person?” “will parenthood enrich my life?” or “do I have enough hobbies?” It is the more fundamental questions like “what does it mean to be human?” “what am I supposed to do with the fact that I was given a life?” and “what kind of life is possible for me?” that best explain our human tendency for anxiety, despair, or boredom .

This is why such moods are likely to appear as a mid-life crisis. With many of our life goals fulfilled, we start to wonder what life is for, what is possible for human existence, and what we are doing for it. Humans are inherently ambivalent toward possibility, attracted but also repelled by it. On one hand, we can experience it as a radical openness, an appreciation of our life as a gift. On the other, the open-endedness of possibility, the sense that one could always be doing more with their life, can create a great sense of agony about who we are and how we should go on. 

Throwing us out of our everyday lives, such moods make us ponder existence itself. They are cases where who we are and what we are for becomes an issue for each one of us. These questions never assume a final answer. Hovering over our lives, they can always leave us with a sense of unease. Recognizing that these questions are there, and that they matter, can at least allow us to know what may be missing, even when all is good.

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The Duality of Human Nature: a Cinematic Exploration of “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

This essay about the cinematic adaptation of “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” explores the enduring fascination with Robert Louis Stevenson’s exploration of human nature’s duality. It highlights Fredric March’s masterful portrayal of the titular characters, the film’s thematic depth in depicting moral ambiguity and societal repression, and its timeless visual aesthetics. Through its exploration of the internal struggle between good and evil and the tension between individual desires and societal norms, the film continues to resonate with audiences, offering profound insights into the complexities of the human psyche.

How it works

Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic tale “Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” has been a subject of fascination for over a century, captivating audiences with its exploration of the duality of human nature. Through various adaptations, one of the most notable being the 1931 film starring Fredric March, filmmakers have sought to capture the essence of this timeless story on the silver screen.

The movie adaptation of “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” delves deep into the psychological complexities of its titular characters.

Fredric March’s portrayal of both Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is masterful, effectively conveying the internal struggle between good and evil. The transformation scenes, achieved through impressive makeup and special effects for its time, add a sense of eerie realism to the story.

One of the strengths of the film lies in its ability to highlight the moral ambiguity inherent in human nature. Dr. Jekyll’s noble intentions to separate the good and evil within himself ultimately lead to his downfall, as he becomes consumed by the darker aspects of his psyche embodied by Mr. Hyde. This exploration of the shadow self resonates with audiences, forcing them to confront their own inner demons.

Furthermore, the film’s exploration of societal expectations and repression adds depth to its narrative. Dr. Jekyll’s struggle to conform to societal norms while grappling with his darker impulses reflects the tension between the individual and society. This thematic element elevates the story beyond a simple tale of horror, offering profound insights into the human condition.

In addition to its thematic richness, the film’s visual aesthetics contribute to its enduring appeal. From the fog-drenched streets of Victorian London to the haunting interiors of Dr. Jekyll’s laboratory, the cinematography creates a sense of atmosphere that immerses viewers in the world of the story. The use of light and shadow further enhances the mood, reinforcing the dichotomy between good and evil.

Despite being a product of its time, the 1931 adaptation of “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” remains relevant today. Its exploration of the duality of human nature, moral ambiguity, and societal repression continues to resonate with audiences, prompting reflection on the complexities of the human psyche. Through its compelling performances, thematic depth, and visual artistry, the film stands as a timeless testament to the enduring power of Stevenson’s original work.


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"The Duality of Human Nature: A Cinematic Exploration of "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde." , 21 May 2024, (2024). The Duality of Human Nature: A Cinematic Exploration of "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde . [Online]. Available at: [Accessed: 21 May. 2024]

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"The Duality of Human Nature: A Cinematic Exploration of "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," , 21-May-2024. [Online]. Available: [Accessed: 21-May-2024] (2024). The Duality of Human Nature: A Cinematic Exploration of "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde . [Online]. Available at: [Accessed: 21-May-2024]

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