What do we mean by “Nature”? And what do we mean by “Human Nature”?

Here’s the intro to my latest 3QD essay:

I’ve always had a problem with the word ‘nature’. It seems to serve as a label for multiple, mutually inconsistent notions. This in itself is not a reason to dislike a word — we seem to have little problem with most words that have multiple meanings. (Surely “right” as in “right versus wrong”, is easy to separate from “right” as in “right versus left”? Surely it isn’t semantic confusion that causes left-handed people and leftists to be accused of being wrong, and even unnatural?) What seems to make the concept of “naturalness” especially problematic is the way it is used to justify particular situations or courses of action.

So what are the multiple senses of the concept of nature? I think we can discern at least three, which can be best described in terms of dichotomies. We have:

  1. Nature versus the Supernatural
  2. Nature versus Nurture
  3. Nature versus Culture

Let’s examine them one by one, and then see what they imply for ‘human nature’.

3quarksdaily: What do we mean by “Nature”? And what do we mean by “Human Nature”?


About Yohan

I'm a neuroscience postdoc at the Neural Systems Laboratory in Boston University. My PhD was in Cognitive and Neural Systems, and my work involves computational neural network modeling, mostly of cognitive-emotional interaction. Apart from neuroscience, I spend a lot of time engaging with music, history, politics, philosophy, and religion.
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