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Three Quests for Human Nature: Some Philosophical Reflections

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The notion of 'human nature' has long since captured the interest and imagination of philosophers, theologians, and scientists; as such, it appears that the study of human nature is one amenable to inter-disciplinary cross-fertilization. However, it is not obvious that there is a single coherent project being undertaken, neither between nor within disciplines. Rather, we argue that there are three main quests for human nature – the quest for universal human nature, the quest for human uniqueness, and the quest for innate human nature – and that different philosophical, theological, and scientific enterprises emphasize (or, indeed, neglect) different quests. Furthermore, these different intellectual enterprises may differ more fundamentally, namely in their very object of enquiry, the definition of the theoretical term 'human being.' For scientists, the term 'human being' is often treated as being coterminous with the term Homo sapiens; that is, 'human being' is a biological category, a species. This definition is now, rightly or wrongly, taken for granted by philosophers and theologians, but it is not necessarily the most appropriate. It remains an open question whether, for any given philosophical and/or theological project, the biological concept Homo sapiens is the most appropriate way to understand the term 'human being.' This paper considers these issues by scrutinizing two cases – from evolutionary psychology and theological anthropology – in each case examining the adequacy of the biological concept Homo sapiens for its purpose, as well as the viability of each of the three quests for human nature.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: June 1, 2014

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  • Philosophy, Theology and the Sciences (PTSc) is a new peer-reviewed biannual journal which provides a platform for constructive and critical interactions between the natural sciences in all their varieties (from physics and biology to psychology, anthropology and social science) and the fields of contemporary philosophy and theology. It invites scholars, religious or non-religious, to participate in that endeavor. The journal provides the rare opportunity to examine together the truth claims found in theology, philosophy, and the sciences, as well as the methods found in each disciplines and the meanings derived from them. Each issue will have a topical focus.

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