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Is Human Nature Determined by Our Material Conditions?

SLD

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https://isreview.org/issue/82/marxism-morality-and-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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https://isreview.org/issue/82/marxism-morality-and-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
 

steve_bank

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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.
 

T.G.G. Moogly

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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.

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. ''
 

steve_bank

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Culture does vary in terms of say aggression.
 

abaddon

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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.

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.

The rug bugs manifest the behaviors of rug bugs, not humanity. Nature in the form of humans offers up new recipes for what it means to be humans. So, rephrased: humans choose what it is to be human.

How do kids serve as an example of what human nature is? Is the assumption that they're somehow "human nature" in it's more 'pure form' that is not yet 'suppressed' by culture?

That they don't have the same impulse control and degree of enculturation that adults have is exactly why they're a crap analogy for humanity. It makes them more an example of what a not-yet-human is, because one of the most defining traits of humans is how dna and biological evolution don't make us everything that we are. Our culture can modify that, and our choices inevitably modify culture.
 

steve_bank

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Adult humans have impulse control? I'd say history says otherwise.

Social self restraint is a thin veneer that easily breaks down under stress.
 
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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.

If one of these children was a capitalist he would have offered the other kid a dollar for the toy (but what if he doesn't have a dollar? Well I didn't say that he would pay it, just offer to pay). So this proves capitalism is against human nature (human nature as portrayed in this anecdote).
Of course I am joking, but there are people who seriously claim that say socialism is against human nature but capitalism isn't [because apparently non-cooperation and selfishness are ingrained in humans (ignoring that capitalism is not purely predatory and also relies on cooperation and ideally enlightened self-interest)], whereas they are both human inventions.
 

steve_bank

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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.

If one of these children was a capitalist he would have offered the other kid a dollar for the toy (but what if he doesn't have a dollar? Well I didn't say that he would pay it, just offer to pay). So this proves capitalism is against human nature (human nature as portrayed in this anecdote).
Of course I am joking, but there are people who seriously claim that say socialism is against human nature but capitalism isn't [because apparently non-cooperation and selfishness are ingrained in humans (ignoring that capitalism is not purely predatory and also relies on cooperation and ideally enlightened self-interest)], whereas they are both human inventions.

This claptrap mat be more suited to the politics forum and America bashing.

One might argue that the failure of all the communist state experiments and the success of the western systems is based on the fact that free market competitive capitalism is more in line with our basic nature.Soviet and Chinese communism stifled personal initiative and suppressed competition, and both systems failed. China advanced from western investment, but system wise they are limping along.

Modern free market capitalism allows for a wide range of humans and human behaviors.
 

Valjean

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Human Nature is hard-wired into our brains, from a million years of selective breeding for success as hunter-gatherers. Our 'material condition', on the other hand, is a cultural overlay; a veneer, affected by luck and culture.
 

PyramidHead

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Must have been some kind of android or alien

Altruism and social conscience, being adaptive, is a part of our repertoire of traits and abilities of the mind....sadly underutilized. Nice example of altruism over business and profit though.
I agree, I was being sarcastic. The idea that people won't or can't do amazing things that benefit humanity without the incentive of deprivation is a fairly modern invention of reactionary politics.
 

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https://isreview.org/issue/82/marxism-morality-and-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.


SLD said:
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.
 
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ronburgundy

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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.
 

Bomb#20

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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.

Which effectively eliminates the idea of free will?
Wally: Is human motivation the result of genetics or environment?

Pointy-Haired Boss. Both. Duh. But I called you in here so we could discuss your poor job performance.

Wally: We just did. You said it wasn't my fault.
 

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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.

Which effectively eliminates the idea of free will?
Wally: Is human motivation the result of genetics or environment?

Pointy-Haired Boss. Both. Duh. But I called you in here so we could discuss your poor job performance.

Wally: We just did. You said it wasn't my fault.

The ability to make decisions, skills, abilities, adaption, drive, will, are not necessarily examples of 'free will'

Wallly's problems are more complex than his flippant manner suggests.
 

ryan

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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.

Which effectively eliminates the idea of free will?
The ocean/universe would create free will and affect it and even end it.

And any outcome from free will could also defy any set of human natures.
 

DBT

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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.

Which effectively eliminates the idea of free will?
The ocean/universe would create free will and affect it and even end it.

And any outcome from free will could also defy any set of human natures.

How is that possible? It needs to be described with a given definition of free will.
 

DBT

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The ocean/universe would create free will and affect it and even end it.

And any outcome from free will could also defy any set of human natures.

How is that possible? It needs to be described with a given definition of free will.

What are you asking for, a definition for free will?

Both. Two parts. A description of how the "ocean/universe creates free will" with a given definition of free will.
 

ryan

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What are you asking for, a definition for free will?

Both. Two parts. A description of how the "ocean/universe creates free will" with a given definition of free will.

I don't know how free will is created although there are theories that we talked about before. And the definition is what it always is in our conversations: the ability to have done otherwise with everything else staying the same.
 

DBT

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What are you asking for, a definition for free will?

Both. Two parts. A description of how the "ocean/universe creates free will" with a given definition of free will.

I don't know how free will is created although there are theories that we talked about before. And the definition is what it always is in our conversations: the ability to have done otherwise with everything else staying the same.

Yet it is common to regret a decision we made only a moment after having made it, a decision that may have serious consequences.

So if we could have done otherwise in the moment of decision making, why did we not take that option and avoided unwanted problems that could have been avoided had we exercised this form of 'free will?'
 

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In other words, how can the universe with its progression of events allow some of its parts to have done otherwise in any given instance in time?
 

SLD

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In other words, how can the universe with its progression of events allow some of its parts to have done otherwise in any given instance in time?

That's QM. Nobody knows why the universe has QM rather than no QM.

How does QM help you in relation to the decision making process?

QM, or more appropriate, QED governs the electrical impulses in your brain, and the ways photons react to the nerves in your eyes. The wave function collapses one way and you pick the chicken, it collapses another, and you pick steak. Maybe.
 

DBT

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How does QM help you in relation to the decision making process?

QM, or more appropriate, QED governs the electrical impulses in your brain, and the ways photons react to the nerves in your eyes. The wave function collapses one way and you pick the chicken, it collapses another, and you pick steak. Maybe.

Random probability and an absence of will when one option is taken over another being an example of freedom of will?
 

ryan

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In other words, how can the universe with its progression of events allow some of its parts to have done otherwise in any given instance in time?

That's QM. Nobody knows why the universe has QM rather than no QM.

How does QM help you in relation to the decision making process?

Do remember the Posner molecules from Fisher's paper? If true they would make our brains quantum processors.
 

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How does QM help you in relation to the decision making process?

Do remember the Posner molecules from Fisher's paper? If true they would make our brains quantum processors.


Even if that was true, how does it help the case for free will? Does a quantum information processor necessarily have free will?

You are wasting your time. Ryan will always argue for the existence of free will. He couldn't do otherwise.
 

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Even if that was true, how does it help the case for free will? Does a quantum information processor necessarily have free will?

You are wasting your time. Ryan will always argue for the existence of free will. He couldn't do otherwise.

True, but he (or someone else) may have been working on a new argument or angle during the break between free will debates that could be interesting, you never know. :cool:
 

T.G.G. Moogly

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If I claim to have free will it is like saying I am super wealthy, but I don't know how I got all that money or where it is.
 
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ryan

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Even if that was true, how does it help the case for free will? Does a quantum information processor necessarily have free will?

You are wasting your time. Ryan will always argue for the existence of free will. He couldn't do otherwise.

True, but he (or someone else) may have been working on a new argument or angle during the break between free will debates that could be interesting, you never know. :cool:

I am not arguing for the existence of free will. I am only arguing for the possibility of free will.

Even if that was true, how does it help the case for free will? Does a quantum information processor necessarily have free will?

From what I understand QM processors in the brain may allow the agent to make indeterminable choices that are sufficient for the definition of free will.
 

bilby

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True, but he (or someone else) may have been working on a new argument or angle during the break between free will debates that could be interesting, you never know. :cool:

I am not arguing for the existence of free will. I am only arguing for the possibility of free will.
Indeed. And you couldn't do otherwise.
Even if that was true, how does it help the case for free will? Does a quantum information processor necessarily have free will?

From what I understand QM processors in the brain may allow the agent to make indeterminable choices that are sufficient for the definition of free will.

You are mistaken. But it's become crystal clear that you will never accept that fact, so argument is futile.
 

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Ever wonder why quantum uncertainty doesn't impact deterministic behavior in the macro world, it's only operative at the quantum level of material activity. You might have your answer in that simple set of observations. Matter of scale probably, yano, intervening unobservables.
 

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From what I understand QM processors in the brain may allow the agent to make indeterminable choices that are sufficient for the definition of free will.

How exactly do you relate 'indeterminable choices' to 'free will?' That needs to be explained.

Plus, how does an ''indeterminable choice'' work if there is no actual decision making process, just quantum activity that flips between options?
 

ryan

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You are mistaken. But it's become crystal clear that you will never accept that fact, so argument is futile.

You thought you knew things in this area when you didn't. Do you have anything to back your claim up, or do you want me to just trust you.
 

ryan

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From what I understand QM processors in the brain may allow the agent to make indeterminable choices that are sufficient for the definition of free will.

How exactly do you relate 'indeterminable choices' to 'free will?' That needs to be explained.

One should expect a choice to be made with free will would not be determined. Given the definition I am using for FW, it would seem to allow the choice to be a different one.

Plus, how does an ''indeterminable choice'' work if there is no actual decision making process, just quantum activity that flips between options?

Read the "Entangled Neurons" part of https://www.news.ucsb.edu/2018/018840/are-we-quantum-computers
 

DBT

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One should expect a choice to be made with free will would not be determined. Given the definition I am using for FW, it would seem to allow the choice to be a different one.

Plus, how does an ''indeterminable choice'' work if there is no actual decision making process, just quantum activity that flips between options?

Read the "Entangled Neurons" part of https://www.news.ucsb.edu/2018/018840/are-we-quantum-computers

Several problems with that assumption - even if it effects changes to the brain, the quantum state in the instance of an option taken is not a matter of choice.

As you are not aware of what is happening on that scale you cannot have altered what was happening, nor have chosen to have done differently.

In other words, you still have no regulative control.

As for the article, you need to quote whatever part of it you feel supports your claim.
 

ryan

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One should expect a choice to be made with free will would not be determined. Given the definition I am using for FW, it would seem to allow the choice to be a different one.

Plus, how does an ''indeterminable choice'' work if there is no actual decision making process, just quantum activity that flips between options?

Read the "Entangled Neurons" part of https://www.news.ucsb.edu/2018/018840/are-we-quantum-computers

Several problems with that assumption - even if it effects changes to the brain, the quantum state in the instance of an option taken is not a matter of choice.

As you are not aware of what is happening on that scale you cannot have altered what was happening, nor have chosen to have done differently.

In other words, you still have no regulative control.

As for the article, you need to quote whatever part of it you feel supports your claim.

It talks about entire neurons being entangled with other neurons.
 

DBT

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Several problems with that assumption - even if it effects changes to the brain, the quantum state in the instance of an option taken is not a matter of choice.

As you are not aware of what is happening on that scale you cannot have altered what was happening, nor have chosen to have done differently.

In other words, you still have no regulative control.

As for the article, you need to quote whatever part of it you feel supports your claim.

It talks about entire neurons being entangled with other neurons.

There is an awful lot of atoms that make up a single neuron yet alone neurons themselves being entangled....even granting that, you are still left with a lack of regulative control: the ability to have chosen otherwise.

As it is, you are still left with, brain information condition equals decisions made, options taken.
 
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