[I’ve been working on a longish post addressing the philosophical underpinnings of biorealism as applied to our concept of morality and justice. It’s been slow going – still don’t know when I’ll have something I can read without wincing. Thought I’d crank out some other posts in the meantime to show a pulse and generate some activity.]
Here’s an interesting article from the NY Times by Nicholas Wade that gets into a subject germane to a point I will be arguing in my future philosophical post: our natural inclination as human beings to be concerned with the welfare of others.
What is the essence of human nature? Flawed, say many theologians. Vicious and addicted to warfare, wrote Hobbes. Selfish and in need of considerable improvement, think many parents.
But biologists are beginning to form a generally sunnier view of humankind. Their conclusions are derived in part from testing very young children, and partly from comparing human children with those of chimpanzees, hoping that the differences will point to what is distinctively human.
The somewhat surprising answer at which some biologists have arrived is that babies are innately sociable and helpful to others. Of course every animal must to some extent be selfish to survive. But the biologists also see in humans a natural willingness to help.
In my view, it is such inclinations that serve as a critical ground for a liberal approach in biorealism. Our political system, to be consistent with human nature, must accommodate our wired-in drive to help others.
I think this is a lesson from biology that many on the right in the so-called Human BioDiversity movement — and certainly most of those in the open about their HBD beliefs are from the right — don’t really choose to hear and attend to. It is telling that, typically, those on the right who accept HBD suddenly find themselves invoking highly abstract and bloodless notions, such as an inviolable right to property, when it comes to how our political system should be organized. Yet what does such a formal and idealized notion have to do with human biology, and human inclinations taken as a whole?
It is telling too that those on the right who believe in HBD, who so often find a biological impulse driving virtually every cultural development, seem to envision that someday we will turn away from our current welfare state systems, which are the norm across all industrialized democracies. Isn’t the most natural explanation of mankind’s convergence on such a state that liberalism is built into us? Why deny the possibility of biology playing a crucial role here? Why imagine that we might ever spurn the welfare state?
The difficult question will be how to come to terms with, and reconcile, all of the strong biological inclinations human beings harbor. Sometimes they push one way; sometimes in what seems an opposite way.
But our disposition to care about other people is, I believe, a very potent and basic one, and must be reckoned with.
[Update 12-03-09 — I develop some of these ideas further in the comments on this post]