|Theories of Human Nature
Instructor: Eddy Nahmias
282 Dodd Hall
Office Hours: Tues. 9:30-10:30, Wed. 9:30-11:30, and by appointment.
Course Description and Objectives:
What is human nature? Is there such a thing? If so, is it the result of nature or nurture, birth (genes) or upbringing (environment)? Can it be changed? How? Is it inherently good or evil (or neither)? Selfish or social? Does it suggest hope or despair for our future? What does it suggest about how to be happy? Is human nature the same for men and women, people of all ages? Does it allow for free will and moral responsibility?
Religions, philosophers, and scientists have developed various theories of human nature, answering the above questions in radically different ways. And these differences make a big difference. They shape how we see ourselves and influence how we act. They have implications for what it means to lead a good life, to create a good society, and to be good to each other.
We will examine a dozen or so theories of human nature, and discuss how they answer some of the questions raised above. We will compare them and contrast them, examine what they mean for our conception of ourselves, and ultimately, see if we think any of them are right. We will also read a few pieces of literature to remind us of another—perhaps the best—window into human nature.
You will leave the course with a better understanding of some very important thinkers and ideas and with a better ability to assess, analyze and criticize such ideas. You will also develop your ability to articulate and write about philosophical questions and arguments. Most of all, I hope, you will care more about the questions we ask and exploring them further.
Assignments and Grades:
Participation: This course is a seminar. Your attendance and active participation are required both for the course to succeed and for you to succeed in the course. Ten percent of your final grade will be based on participation, sometimes in structured discussions or debates. Of course, attendance is required for participation. More than two unexcused absences will adversely effect this (and perhaps other) components of your grade.
Critical responses: A significant part of your grade (30%) will be based on critical responses you write about the authors we read. You must carefully read and think about the assigned texts before each class. As often as possible, you should also re-read the texts after we discuss them (you’ll be amazed how much more you will understand the ideas and take issue with them). For the 11 readings marked by an asterisk below, you will respond to six or seven questions: (1) a question of clarification (what does the author mean when he/she says…?); (2) a point of agreement with the author; (3) a point of disagreement with the author; (4) a comparison with another author we have discussed; (5) a moral or political implication of the author’s view of human nature; (6) a checklist of basic views the author holds about human nature (e.g. is it good or evil, selfish or social?); and on some occasions (7) a question I will ask you to consider before you read. These responses are meant to be concise (though you should try to refer to specific passages when possible), except for your disagreement with the author (question 3). Here, you should develop a short argument attacking a particular claim the author advances.
Each critical responses should be no longer than 2 typed, double-spaced pages (about a page for the disagreement). They are due at the beginning of class on the assigned days and will not be accepted late (without a legitimate excuse). They will be graded primarily for effort and engagement with the reading (A, A-, or B). You can miss one of the 11 critical responses without penalty.
Papers: You will write three short papers, with topics to be announced. The first two will be 3-5 pages and each will count 15% of your grade. The third paper will be 4-6 pages, count 20% of your grade, and be due during finals week. There are no exams.
Group Presentation: In small groups you will lead a discussion on a particular question about human nature. The topics and dates will be announced and the presentation will count 10% of your grade.
Quizzes: At my discretion I may have unannounced pop quizzes at the beginning of class to ensure that students are carefully reading the material. If so, these quizzes will be factored into the participation component of the final grade.
Participation/ quizzes 10%
Critical Responses 30%
Paper 1 15%
Paper 2 15%
Paper 3 20%
Group Presentation 10%
Attendance and Classroom Courtesy: As stated above, attendance is essential for success in this course. Given your careful reading and critical responses, you should have insightful questions and comments each class. You will also have disagreements with what I say and with what your classmates say, and you should express these criticisms. But in disagreeing, do not be disrespectful. Practice critiquing ideas without criticizing people and without trying to dominate discussions.
Please be respectful as well by showing up to class on time and remaining seated until I conclude the class discussion, by staying alert and focused on our discussion, by turning off cell phones, and by refraining from conversations while others are speaking.
Late work: All assigned papers and critical responses will be due at the beginning of class. Late critical responses will not be accepted. Late papers will be penalized (5 points every 24 hours). Absences or late work due to excused absences require legitimate, written documentation (e.g. medical provider’s note).
Academic Honor Code: Students are expected to strictly uphold the FSU Academic Honor Code as specified in the Florida State University General Bulletin (pages 75-76). Each student has the responsibility to uphold the highest standards of academic integrity and to refuse to tolerate violations of academic integrity. The instructor reserves the right to assess penalties for violations, which may involve a failing grade for the assignment or for the entire course. Plagiarism includes submitting written work which you have not composed yourself (i.e. downloading passages or papers from the internet, copying from another student’s work), using another’s ideas without proper citation, or failing to use quotation marks appropriately.
Students with disabilities: I am happy to accommodate students with disabilities requiring academic accommodation. Those students should notify me in the first week, register with the Student Disability Resource Center (SDRC) and provide me with a letter from the SDRC detailing the need for academic accommodations.
Office Hours: Please feel comfortable talking with me after class, and make use of my office hours for assistance on papers or readings, to discuss grades, or simply to chat about the ideas we’re discussing.
Texts: The Study of Human Nature, A Reader, edited by Leslie Stevenson (HN)
Ten Theories of Human Nature, Leslie Stevenson & David Haberman (TT)
Leviathan, Thomas Hobbes
Civilization and Its Discontents, Sigmund Freud
Equus, Peter Shaffer
* Books available at FSU Bookstore and Bill’s Books
Schedule of Readings and Assignments (subject to revisions):
Thur 1/6: Introductions to each other, philosophy, human nature, and course information
Tues 1/11: Confucianism TT 2 (25-44)
* Mencius and Hsun-tzu HN 22-33
* NO CLASS Thur 1/13 *
Tues 1/18: Plato TT 5 (89-108)
* Plato’s Republic HN 34-55
Thur 1/20: Plato Phaedrus (H)
Hinduism Katha Upanishad HN 19-21; TT 50-56
Tues 1/25: Islam * Mutahhari “Man and Faith” HN 69-83
Thur 1/27: Descartes Discourse on Method HN 84-89
Hobbes Leviathan TBA
Tues 2/1: Hobbes * Leviathan TBA
Thur 2/3 : Hobbes Leviathan TBA
Tues 2/8: Kant TT 6 (110-129)
Anthropology... HN 117-127
* Paper 1 Due *
Thur 2/10: Kant The Metaphysics of Morals (H)
Tues 2/15: Marx TT 7 (130-148)
* The Materialist Theory of History HN 139-152
Thurs 2/17: Marx The Communist Manifesto (H)
Tues 2/22: Freud TT 8 (149-168); Suggested Farrell HN 169-184
* Civilization and Its Discontents I-II (10-36)
Thur 2/24: Freud Civilization and Its Discontents II-IV (37-63)
Tues 3/1: Freud Civilization and Its Discontents V-VII (64-96)
Thur 3/3: Freud * Civilization and Its Discontents VIII (97-112)
* SPRING BREAK *
Tues 3/15: Shaffer Equus
Thur 3/17: Skinner TT 10 (189-207)
* About Behaviorism HN 208-221
Tues 3/22: Skinner Beyond Freedom and Dignity (H)
Zimbardo TBA (H)
* NO CLASS Thur 3/24 (make-up class TBA: movie and dinner at Chez Eddy’s) *
Tues 3/29: Kurt Vonnegut “Harrison Bergeron” (H)
* Paper 2 Due *
Thur 3/31: Darwin The Descent of Man HN 162-168
Lorenz TT 11 (207-222)
On Aggression HN 223-236
Tues 4/5: Wilson * On Human Nature HN 270-287 (and H)
Thur 4/7: de Waal The Ape and the Sushi Master (H)
Tues 4/12: Ridley * The Origins of Virtue HN 316-330
Thur 4/14: Rose et al. Not in Our Genes HN 303-315
Holstrom “Do Women Have a Distinct Nature?” HN 288-302
Tues 4/19: Sartre TT 9 (169-186)
* Existentialism and Humanism HN 185-206
Thur 4/21: Conclusions and Evaluations
Thur 4/28: * Paper 3 Due * by 10 AM.