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    Is Human Nature Determined by Our Material Conditions?

    https://isreview.org/issue/82/marxis...d-human-nature

    In another thread, someone posted a picture of Engels holding his book, The origin of the family, private property and the state, and pointing out that what we view as human nature depends on our material conditions. I was intrigued and had never considered this. I always assumed that what we meant by human nature was something eternal that exists across different societies. So I googled the issue and found this article from a socialist website. I found it an interesting article and thought I would throw this out for criticism and discussion. Is what we think of as human nature then not really set, but is it dependent on how society is organized and what our material conditions are?

    One of the criticisms of Marxism I’ve seen from others is that it contradicts human nature. But if human nature is not so set, then the question becomes whether human nature could thus be altered in a way that socialism becomes feasible. If human nature is malleable, then do we always need a profit motive to be productive? By socialism, I mean the ownership of the means of production by society as a whole, rather than by shares of stock by individuals who thereby benefit from the profits of the enterprise. In true socialism there’d be no profits and all would share equally in work and what is produced. I’m not sure how human nature could be altered so that ideal would work. I think the article does have a point that in our distant past, we were probably very socialist in our organization. But our society is no longer a hunter gatherer society and we are not going back to that. (See my post in Nature and Science about Agriculture which also spun off from reading this article.)

    Still the basic question remains, is human nature truly malleable, set by our material conditions? Or is it something more eternal?

    SLD

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    Quote Originally Posted by SLD View Post
    https://isreview.org/issue/82/marxis...d-human-nature

    In another thread, someone posted a picture of Engels holding his book, The origin of the family, private property and the state, and pointing out that what we view as human nature depends on our material conditions. ... Still the basic question remains, is human nature truly malleable, set by our material conditions? Or is it something more eternal?

    SLD
    So the theory is, if only Engels had been raised in a society that had "passed beyond class morality" he wouldn't have been a genocidal racist?

    Here's a competing theory on the topic: Steven Pinker's The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bomb#20 View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by SLD View Post
    https://isreview.org/issue/82/marxis...d-human-nature

    In another thread, someone posted a picture of Engels holding his book, The origin of the family, private property and the state, and pointing out that what we view as human nature depends on our material conditions. ... Still the basic question remains, is human nature truly malleable, set by our material conditions? Or is it something more eternal?

    SLD
    So the theory is, if only Engels had been raised in a society that had "passed beyond class morality" he wouldn't have been a genocidal racist?

    Here's a competing theory on the topic: Steven Pinker's The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature
    Pinker's book is not a competing theory, because Marx's view was not at all that people are blank slates and have no natural innate dispositions. His view is that our "nature" is to have a number of possible behavioral repertoires available and to respond to the conditions we exist in. Since human beings evolved within social systems and only flourished via cooperating with others for shared goals, it is extremely likely that non-adversarial cooperation is among our most selected for and ingrained behavioral repertoires. At the same time, there are contexts of scarce resources where aggressive competition against others is required for survival, so that would also be an available behavioral repertoire.

    Different social and economic systems can be created that will amplify one type of behavior more than others, or highlight different features of our nature.


    Quote Originally Posted by SLD
    do we always need a profit motive to be productive?
    Depends on what you mean by "profit". All we need to have the motive to produce something is for that something to have value to us.
    By definition, "productive work" produces something of value. If that value is split evenly among those who worked to produce it, then everyone has acquired something of value and thus everyone in rewarded and incentive to do that productive work.
    Last edited by ronburgundy; 05-23-2019 at 05:54 PM.

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    Another wrench in the discussion (or maybe just another way to frame what I said above) is that there is no single "human nature" but rather countless complex psychological and behavioral tendencies, many which directly contradict each other. For example, while it might be "natural" for people to cheat/game a system for personal advantage, people have evolved cognitive system for detecting cheaters and an innate desire to punish them.
    Therefore, a system that monitors and punishes selfish cheating is not going against human nature, but going with one aspect of human nature to constrain another aspect of human nature that can be destructive for shared outcomes.

    Since no human has ever existed in a non-variable context, we would never have been successful species if our "nature" was not highly context dependent, meaning that context determines which of the countless and often conflicting aspects of our nature are accentuated.

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    If X is our human nature, then it would be only there because of the environment that gave birth to us. Seems like we are islands that oceans make, change or destroy.

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    Quote Originally Posted by ryan View Post
    If X is our human nature, then it would be only there because of the environment that gave birth to us. Seems like we are islands that oceans make, change or destroy.
    Which effectively eliminates the idea of free will?

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    I'd say material conditions manifest which aspects of human nature manifest.

    I was at a friend's house for dinner and they had a rug rat. Another couple was there with a rug rat.

    The two kids were sitting upright on the floor toe to toe pulling back and forth on a toy.

    Fighting over possessions before they could talk.

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    Quote Originally Posted by steve_bank View Post
    I'd say material conditions manifest which aspects of human nature manifest.

    I was at a friend's house for dinner and they had a rug rat. Another couple was there with a rug rat.

    The two kids were sitting upright on the floor toe to toe pulling back and forth on a toy.

    Fighting over possessions before they could talk.
    Without survival there is no human nature to discuss. Those rug bugs were merely manifesting generations of natural selection for behaviors. But nature is constantly offering up new recipes for what it means to be human, so those behaviors are not set, they change based on what the environment dictates.

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    An interaction of genes and environment. We are shaped by our environment, culture, outlook, values, language, education, etc.

    Quote;
    ''Human behavior is affected both by genetic inheritance and by experience. The ways in which people develop are shaped by social experience and circumstances within the context of their inherited genetic potential. The scientific question is just how experience and hereditary potential interact in producing human behavior.

    Each person is born into a social and cultural setting, family, community, social class, language, religion and eventually develops many social connections. The characteristics of a child's social setting affect how he or she learns to think and behave, by means of instruction, rewards and punishment, and example. This setting includes home, school, neighborhood, and also, perhaps, local religious and law enforcement agencies. Then there are also the child's mostly informal interactions with friends, other peers, relatives, and the entertainment and news media. How individuals will respond to all these influences, or even which influence will be the most potent, tends not to be predictable. There is, however, some substantial similarity in how individuals respond to the same pattern of influences, that is, to being raised in the same culture. Furthermore, culturally induced behavior patterns, such as speech patterns, body language, and forms of humor, become so deeply imbedded in the human mind that they often operate without the individuals themselves being fully aware of them. ''

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    No expert hat on here. We are evolved social animals with strong component of empathy equipment. Of course we're products of our environment and we are products of our nature. Parsing not recommended. Package deal.

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