"escaping from our Cartesian prison"

thinking must first emancipate itself from the Cartesian presuppositional generative matrix--the ontological presupposition of the Cartesian self and its associated rhetorical elements of consciousness, belief, motive, ideology and interest.  Failure to do so has the effect, a priori, of blocking conceptualization of questions of ontology, agency, intentionality, habitus, networks and contexts.

from Friedrich Nietzsche (KGW VII/3, 55 [35]), quoted in Christian J. Emden, Nietzsche on Language, Consciousness, and the Body (University of Illinois Press, 2005), p. 80

That which separates me most thoroughly from the metaphysicians is: I do not agree to their view that is it the “I” which thinks: rather, I take the “I” itself to be a mental construction, which is of the same category as “matter,” “thing,” “substance,” “individual,” “purpose,” “number”: therefore as a merely regulative fiction according to which we project some kind of permanence . . . onto a world of becoming.

from Joseph Margolis, The Unraveling of Scientism: American Philosophy at the End of the Twentieth Century (Cornell University Press, 2003)

 . . . the record of the last half-century is, philosophically, largely a record of the dawning exhaustion of an impressive vision (scientism) and the incompletely developed, still somewhat inchoate, possibilities of a promising alternative philosophy (pragmatism).  The strength of the latter lies, I think, in being closer to the corrective lessons of the post-Kantan and post-Hegelian world that never lost sight of the inescapable strategy by which to escape the paradoxes of pre-Kantian philosophy.  But, truth to tell, it has never managed to overcome the nagging aporiai of what is now read as Catersianism. p. xii

For the truth is that Hegel introduces the theme of history and cultural evolution into the debate about cognition in an inexpungeable way, although he does not quite explicitly develop his idea along specifically historicist and collective lines.  p. 13

By 'Cartesianism' or 'Cartesian realism' I mean any realism, no matter how defended or qualified, that holds that the world has a determinate structure apart from all constraints of human inquiry and that our cognizing faculties are nevertheless able to discern those independent structures reliably.  'Cartesianism' serves here as a term of art, as not confined to Descartes's own doctrine.  It ranges over pre-Kantan philosophy, Kant's own philosophy (quixotically), and even over the views of such contemporary theorists as Putnam and Davidson.  Twentieth-century analytic philosophy is, in this respect, thoroughly pre-Kantian or Kantan in a way in which Kant himself is pre-Kantian: it is an unabashed continuation of seventeenth and eighteenth-century philosophy threatened in precisely the same way its ancestors originally were. . . .  The main feature of Hegel's strategy, which, in American  philosophy, is preserved (almost without attribution) among the classic pragmatists (particularly Dewey) retires altogether the very idea of reference to a 'noumenal' world or a world the properties of which are seperable from from whatever they are said to appear to be to human inquirers, and reinterprets 'appearances' (Erscheinungen) as  open to the recovery of no more than a 'constructed' realism, that is, a realism shorn of the recuperative use of the 'Cartesian' habit of opposing or disjoining 'appearance' and 'reality' completely.  (If, that is, 'realism' is a proper term for rendering the sense of the Phenomenology's argument.)  49-50

Daniel Dor, "The instruction of imagination: language and its evolution as a communication technology," in Daniel Dor, Chris Knight, and Jerome Lewis, The Social Origins of Language (Oxford, 2014)

Current discourse on human experiencing tends to ignore the privacy of experience for a very good theoretical reason: much of the discourse has emerged as a counter-reaction to the solipsistic view of human experiences based on Cartesian philosophy, and has thus sytematically highlighted the intersubjective nature of human experiencing—the primacy of the interpersonal over the intrapersonal.  p. 108

In order to understand language, then, I suggest that we have to abandon both the Kantian dictum, the foundational presupposition of the cognitive sciences, that all human experiences comply with a universal interpretive scheme, and the neo-Kantian conviction, the foundational presupposition of most of the social sciences, that the members of every culture and sub-culture experience the world in the same ways.  We have to begin with the acknowldgement that each human individual lives in a private, experienctial world which is different from that of the others, and is inaccessible to them.  p. 109  Roper, Lacan

All languages are socially constructed technologies for the instruction of imagination, but the actual dynamics of exploration and stabilization in each and every language could be as variable as their communities, their histories, their particular communicative needs, their collective capacities, and the private experiential worlds of their speakers. 124
This assumption of an already formed and unproblematic character is a staple of modern liberalism*BOOK (of which Marxism, as I will argue later, is only a variant).  This page is based on the opposite assumption (and on the work of William Calvin, etc. REF): that an extraodinarily rapid phase of post-biological development (or evolution by means  other than genetic--cultural) (cultural evolution) man is a bridge.html  -- the uncertaintly of its further development, the possbility of regression, the fundamental role of the state (euphemistically refered to as the public sector) in the development of human capital; Bildung; what next?

the biocultural niche of mask defiance.  mask defiance as performative . . .  of what?
Michael Walzer, Puritanism as a Revolutionary IdeologyHistory and Theory, Vol. 3, No. 1 (1963), pp. 59-90

For all his concern with revolution, Marx was himself the product of the same world which produced the great social novels, those elaborate, many-volumed studies of manners, status, and class relationships in which the fundamental stability of the society as a whole and of character (what would today be called 'identity') within the society was always assumed.  And Marx never questions the second of these assumptions: bourgeois and proletarian appear in his work as formed characters, free at least from psychological instability even while their struggle with one another tears apart the social order.

from Daniel Dor, “The Instruction of Imagination,”  in The Social Origins of Language (Oxford, 2014)

Current discourse on human experiencing tends to ignore the privacy of experience for a very good theoretical reason: much of the discourse has emerged as a counter-reaction to the solipsistic view of human experiences based on Cartesian philosophy, and has thus systematically highlighted the intersubjective nature of human experiencing—the primacy of the interpersonal over the intrapersonal.  p. 108

In order to understand language, then, I suggest that we have to abandon both the Kantian dictum, the foundational presupposition of the cognitive sciences, that all human experiences comply with a universal interpretive scheme, and the neo-Kantian conviction, the foundational presupposition of most of the social sciences, that the members of every culture and sub-culture experience the world in the same ways.  We have to begin with the acknowldgement that each human individual lives in a private, experienctial world which is different from that of the others, and is inaccessible to them.  p. 109
The "Media": a small squad of dead metaphors
from F. Nietzsche, On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense

A mobile army of metaphors, metonyms, and anthropomorphisms—in short, a sum of human relations which have been enhanced, transposed, and embellished poetically and rhetorically, and which after long use seem firm, canonical, and obligatory to a people: truths are illusions about which one has forgotten that this is what they are; metaphors which are worn out and without sensuous power; coins which have lost their pictures and now matter only as metal, no longer as coins.

from Wikipedia:

Heidegger sought to use the concept of Dasein to uncover the primal nature of "Being" (Sein), agreeing with Nietzsche and Dilthey that Dasein is always a being engaged in the world: neither a subject, nor the objective world alone, but the coherence of Being-in-the-world. This ontological basis of Heidegger's work thus opposes the Cartesian "abstract agent" in favour of practical engagement with one's environment. Dasein is revealed by projection into, and engagement with, a personal world - a never-ending process of involvement with the world as mediated through the projects of the self.

from a review of Antonio Damasio, The Strange Order of Things (Pantheon, 2018), "Why feelings are the unstoppable force," the Guardian, Feb 2, 2018

From Plato onwards, western philosophy has favoured mind over “mere” body, so that by the time we get to Descartes, the human has become hardly more than a brain stuck atop a stick, like a child’s hobbyhorse. This is the conception of humanness that Damasio wishes to dismantle. For him, as for Nietzsche, what the body feels is every bit as significant as what the mind thinks, and further, both functions are inextricably intertwined. Indeed, from the very start, among the earliest primitive life forms, affect – “the world of emotions and feelings” – was the force that drove unstoppably towards the flowering of human consciousness and the creation of cultures, Damasio insists.

from Alexander Luria, Luria, The Making of Mind, (Harvard, 1979)

We dubbed these later observations "anti-Cartesian experiments" because we found critical self-awreness to be the final product of socially determined psychological development, rather than its primary starting point, as Descartes' ideas would have led us to belief. Luria, 80

Rick Tillman, The Intellectual Legacy of Thorstein Veblen (Greenwood Press, 1996)

C. Wright Mills has argued that 'both Marxism and Liberalism make the same rationalist assumption that men, given the opportunity, will naturally come to political consciousness of interests, of self, or of class.  p. 115

Malafouris and Renfrew, Introduction: The Cognitive Life of Things: Archeology, Material Engagement and the Extended Mind ()

 . . . our deeply rooted Cartesian visions and modes of thinking . . .  p. 1

Descola, p. 117-125; "the preconceptions of modernity" (p. 405)

Pauketat, p. 5 (on ontologies, p. 6 [also Descola]; p. 11 on "motivated human agents"; p. 13 on "methodological individualism"; p. 28 on "rational actors"

from Review of "C" in LRB "Seeing Things Flat," by Jenny Turner.   

‘Liberals. Liberal humanists. That would be the enemy, in all positions … [The illusion that] there is a self who exists prior to anything who goes around emoting, experiencing and developing. This is what I hate.’

Philip Roth, The Counterlife, pp. 319-24--a must-read.

Nima Bassiri, "What Kind of History is the History of the Self?  New Perspectives from the History  of Mind and Brain Medicine," Modern Intellectual History / Volume 16 / Issue 2 / August 2019, pp. 653-665

Of particular value to this scholarship is the Foucauldian legacy of thinking in terms of “technologies of self”; that is to say, imagining selfhood less as an elaborated concept and more as a process, activity, or practice—in short, an intelligible framework that congeals only through situated enactments.

should the self be viewed according to concepts, theories, principles, and abstractions or according to praxes, sensibilities, materialities, and situated performances?

from Lambros Malafouris, How Things Shape the Mind (MIT Press, 2013)

Escaping from our Cartesian prison requires more than a change in our academic language games.

from Friederich Nietzsche,  Twilight of the Idols (Penguin, 1968)

"The so-called 'motive': another error.  Merely a surface phenomenon of consciousness, an accompaniment to an act, which conceals rather than exposes the antecedentia of the act." {re Imus and that which is called racism} p. 49

from Friederich Nietzsche, Geneology of Morals, I, 13 p. 45 (Vintage, 1967)

 . . . there is no "being" behind doing, effecting, becoming; the "doer" is merely a fiction added to the deed--the deed is everything.

from Ian Hacking (CollŤge de France), review of Jan Goldstein, The post-revolutionary self: politics and psyche in France, 1750-1850 (Harvard, 2008)

Today's discussions of 'consciousness' and 'the self' too often suppose that items such as these . . . are timeless elements of the human condition. Goldstein's work shows how strongly they have been formed by forgotten events in our past.

from Episteme (Wikipedia)

Foucault's epistemes are something like the 'epistemological unconscious' of an era; the configuration of knowledge in a particular episteme is based on a set of fundamental assumptions that are so basic to that episteme so as to be invisible to people operating within it.

Michel Foucault, Remarks on Marx : conversations with Duccio Trombadori, translated by R. James Goldstein and James Cascaito (Semiotext(e), 1991)

It was a matter of calling the theme of the subject into question once again, that great, fundamental postulate which French philosophy, from Descartes until our own time, had never abandoned.  Setting out with psychoanalysis, Lacan discovered, or brought out into the open, the fact that the theory of the unconscious is incompatible with a theory of the subject (in the Cartesian sense of the term as well as the phenomenological one). . .  Indeed, Lacan concluded that is was precisely the philosophy of the subject which had to be abandoned on account of this incompatibility, and that the point of departure should be an analysis of the mechanisms of the unconscious. p. 56-7

from Karen Barad, Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning (Duke University, 2007)

Discourse is not a synonym for language.  Discourse does not refer to lingusitic or signifying systems, grammars, speech acts, or conversations.  To think of discourse as mere spoken or written words forming descriptive statements is to enact the mistake of representationalist thinking.  Discourse is not what is said;  it is that which constrains and enables that which can be said.  Discursive practices define what counts as meaningful statements.  Statements are not the mere utterances of the originating consciousness of a unified subject; rather, statements and subjects emerge from a field of possibilities.  This field of possibilities is not static or singular but rather is a dynamic and contingent multiplicity.  146-7

. . . the primary ontological units are not 'things' but phenomena--dynamic topological / reconfigurings / entanglements  / relationalities / (re)articulations of the world.  And the primary semantic units are not 'words' but material-discursive practices through which (ontic and semantic) boundaries are constituted.  This dynamic is agency.

David Bakhurst, Formation of Reason


p. 51, n.39  See, e.g., LÝvlie (2003), who argues that a postmodern conception of Bildung must reject a ‘neo-liberal’ conception of the individual as a ‘free, rational agent firmly centered on his own ego and preferences’ and deny that ‘the linguistic and historical subject’ has ‘privileged access to itself as its own property’. He continues: ‘The “I” is neither a homunculus—the little man or agent within consciousness—nor is it free and independent in its capacity as an ego that plays with its different faces or identities. It seems, indeed, that the subject is not identical with itself in the process of Bildung. The subject cannot succeed in its quest for identity because this endeavour is suspended in non-identity, that is, in the impossibility of defining oneself as this person’ (p. 157). This passage is insightful, but its conclusion exaggerated.

LÝvlie, L. (2003) , in: LÝvlie et al., 2003, pp. 151–170.
LÝvlie, L., Mortensen, K. and Nordenbo, S. (eds) (2003) Educating Humanity: Bildung in Postmodernity (Oxford, Blackwell).

The excerpt below is from John Duprť, "Causality and Human Nature in the Social Sciences," in Processes of Life: Essays in the Philosophy of Biology (Oxford, 2012)

It is . . . clear that recognition of the variety of factors involved in development makes possible a diversity of individual outcomes within even quite narrowly defined populations. (285)

 . . . the human mind . . . involves a new level of capacity to transform the world beyond the organism. (291)

If I simply act in pursuit of whatever passing whim is uppermost at the moment I exhibit no more causal power than any other animal.  If I choose to build a bridge, write a book, or cook dinner, and subordinate my choice of actions to this decision, I exercise to a greater or lesser degree a distinctively human ability to shape the world.  In the social realm, the ability to confrom to principle, above all moral principle, is the kind of regimentation of behaviour that constitutes a uniquely human achievement. (291)

 . . . it is the fitting of action into some kind of systematic pattern that distinguishes the truly free agent from one who merely has the ability to respond to the whim of the moment; and . . .  [what emerges is] the ontological picture of the human agent as an entity enabled to pursue complex goals or engage in patterns of action over time by the acquisition of a uniquely rich range of capabilities. (293)

I wish to emphasize particularly the ability of cultural evolution to transform the developmental niche.  And here, at least in contemporary developed countries, it seems clear that humans have learned in quite recent times to construct a remarkably novel environment for the development of their young. . . .  [T]hese prodigious changes to the human environment, concretizations of our rapidly evolving culture, profoundly affect the developmental resources available to growing humans.  For that reason their introduction should be seen as representing major evolutionary change. (284)

1.  Gilbert Simondon on "human nature"

from Andrea Bardin, Epistemology and Political Philosophy in Gilbert Simondon: Individuation, Technics, Social Systems

“Simondon’s view on the complex nature of social processes derives from his adoption of the paradigm of quantum physics for the study of social systems.  Although he does not always make it explicit, a conception of human nature as a ‘work in progress’ is implicit in his epistemology.  Hence his philosophy allows for a critique of the modern imagination—both ideological and scientific—of the contraposition between individuals and society, and can be a useful tool for questioning the contemporary relation between technological and social innovation in complex societies.  p. 2

Simondon’s model plays thus a demystifying role against this apparent alternative, be demounting, first of all, the very image of human nature that all philosophical political imagination has ever been based on.  Simondon’s ground breaking contribution is neither a restoration of the classical role played by human beings between divinity and nature, nor the discover of a new ‘place de l’homme dans la nature’ (De Chardin 1956).  It is rather the dissolution of the very myth of a human nature grounding both sides of this false alternative.  pp. 229-30

 . . .  Simondon’s perspective entails the full acceptance of the achievements of the empirical sciences and the integration of evolutionism in the philosophical worldview.  This means not only the acceptance, of course, that homo sapiens are an animal species, but also the clarification that political problems do not strictly pertain to a species, because societies are complex systems made of so many differently evolving processes taking place at so many different levels, that they cannot be reduced to any ultimate ‘model’.  Finally, such processes can only very approximately be qualified as ‘human progress’.  And, more importantly from a philosophical point of view, this allows for a rereading of all that has been traditionally referred to as ‘human nature’ in terms of a complex intertwining of processes, that it makes no sense anymore to reduce it to any supposed stable identity, whether individual [Roth] or collective. p. 230

Through his philosophy of individuation Simondon succeeded in keeping at a distance the reassuring image of a ‘human nature’, an essence to which political philosophy had for a long time secured its promise of a ‘normal’ functioning of the ‘body politic’.  p. 234

John Pettegrew, Brutes in Suits: Male Sensibility in America, 1890-1920 (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2012).

"human nature" continued below

from "'Species-Being' and 'Human Nature' in Marx", by Thomas E. Wartenberg, in Human Studies, Vol. 5, No. 2 (Apr. - Jun., 1982), pp. 77-95

Marx's great insight was to show how much of what we take to be' 'natural' ' and ' 'fixed' ' is the result of the social activities of human beings and therefore is subject to conscious manipulation. (Wartenberg, p. 82)

This critique asserts neither that capitalism will inevitably fall apart, nor that it is unfair insofar as it is based upon exploitation of the worker, although it is arguable that such critiques are also present in Marx's writings.  The best metaphor for this aspect of Marx's criticism of capitalism is that it stunts development of the human species, reducing the human being to a mere animal.  (87)

What I want to suggest is that, in rejecting the notion of a fixed human nature, Marx is following a basic claim of Hegel's social theory, the claim that the form in which individuality is conceptualized or instantiated in a given social structure depends upon that very structure itself. Marx accepts this view of human individuality as historically and socially conditioned, and then he turns it upon those theorists, both philosophers and political economists, who accept a particular stage of human development as definitive of "human nature." In a move similar to the one he makes against Hegel--but this time following Hegel's lead--Marx argues that such views of a fixed, ahistorical human nature treat a particular form of development--one that is empirically accessible--as yielding a metaphysical truth about the world. . . . 
1. on the Cartesian synthetic a priori

from Levi R. Bryant, Difference and Givenness: Deleuze's Transcendental Empiricism and the Ontology of Immanence (Northwestern University Press, 2008)

. . . . so long as philosophy assumes that thought has a natural affinity with the true . . . a specific form of objectivity (natural common sense), and bases itself on the model of recognition, thought cannot help but become unconsciously trapped in its own implicit presuppositions which are culturally, historically, and socially contingent. . . .  Deleuze thus begins with a critique of the transcendental subject as a structure consisting of invariant categories. (17)

 . . . the error will arise in that Kant treats concepts and intuitions as differing in kind, and thus being externally related, rather than discerning the manner in which they only differ in degree. (28)

from Robert B. Brandom, "The Centrality of Sellars's Two-Ply Account of Observations to the Arguments of 'Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind', in Robert B. Brandom, Tales of the Mighty Dead: Historical Essays in the Metaphysics of Intentionality (Harvard University Press, 2002)

. . . according to Sellars's view, the difference between theoretical objects and observable objects is methodologcal rather than ontological.  That is, theoretical and observable objects are not different kinds of things.  They differ only in how we come to know about them." (362)

from Stephen Houlgate, "Hegel and Brandom on Norms, Concepts and Logical Categories", in Espen Hammer, ed., German Idealism: Contemporary Perspectives (Routledge, 2007)

Hegel is a particular hero of Brandom's because he recognizes that concepts are not 'fixed or static items' but the changing products of social and historical practices. (p. 137)

from F. Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols (VI:3)

The “inner world” is full of phantoms…: the will is one of them. The will no longer moves anything, hence does not explain anything either — it merely accompanies events; it can also be absent. The so-called motive: another error. Merely a surface phenomenon of consciousness — something alongside the deed that is more likely to cover up the antecedents of the deeds than to represent them…. What follows from this? There are no mental [geistigen] causes at all.
Marshall Sahlins on "human nature"
from Hierarchy, Equality, and the Sublimation of Anarchy: The Western Illusion of Human Nature, The Tanner Lectures on Human Values Delivered at The University of Michigan November 4, 2005

[see also Marshall Sahlins, “The Sadness of Sweetness: The Native Anthropology of Western Cosmology,” Current Anthropology  Volume 37, Number 3, June 1996]

"The conscious invention of human nature is the ultimate cultural specification."  p. 404, n. 28  Quote 403-404 on this.

"Given that biologically we are human beings only in potentia, indeterminate creatures whose inclinations remain to be culturally specified, society might be better conceived as a means of empowering people rather than subduing them." 404  UAW

on language contra Lacan: 404

on conflation of "the origin of society with the origin of state"  405
Tanner Lecture

Here was the dualism that established the natural ground of our metaphysical Triangle: the antisocial human nature that equality and hierarchy themselves contend to control.  95

Indeed, the American imperialist project of neoliberal democratization has the same ancient premise. It assumes that the innate practical rationality common to mankind, if it can be relieved of local culture idiosyncrasies, as by employing the kind of force anyone would naturally understand, will make other peoples happy and good, just like us.  96

more cynical (and more up to date sociobiologically speaking) is Callicas’s complex argument in the Gorgias (482c–484a, 492a–c) that such good order and noble sentiments are merely mystifications of an irrepressible self-interest: merely public right thinking by which the weak vainly attempt to suppress the gainful inclinations of the strong.  [contra Cliff Williams UAW]  96

Beyond the ancient arguments about whether human nature was good or bad and the cultural constructions that could be made of it, the Western tradition has long harbored an alternative conception of order, of the kind anthropologists traditionally studied: kinship community. It is true that in the West this is generally the unremarked human condition, despite that—or perhaps because—family and kindred relations are sources of our deepest sentiments and attachments.  Ignoring these, our philosophies of human nature generally come from the larger society, organized on radically different principles.  In the occurrence, “human nature” almost always consists of the imagined dispositions of active adult males, to the exclusion of women, children, and old folks and the neglect of the one universal principle of human sociality, kinship. 97

In this condition of mutuality of being, interests are no more confined to the satisfactions of the individual body than selves are to its boundar-ies.  Ethnographic notices tell rather of “the transpersonal self ” (native americans), of the self as “a locus of shared social relations or shared biographies” (Caroline Islands), of the person as “the plural and composite site of the relationships that produced them” (New Guinea Highlands).  Observations of this kind are easily multiplied, and what they all indicate is a certain disconformity between the self as being and the person as singular agent. On the one hand, the self transcends the person and is present in other persons. People enter into mutual relationships of being by virtue of birth, residence, marriage, common descent, gift exchange, dependence on the same land, feeding and nurturing, or other such means by which kinship is locally established. On the other hand, then, the single person includes the multiple selves with whom he or she is in such communion. Through various kin relationships, others become predicates of one’s own existence.  I do not mean the interchange of standpoints that is a feature of all direct social relationships according to the phenomenologists. I mean the integration of certain relationships, hence of certain others, in one’s own being. We have not to do here with the self-contained, self-loving individuals of the native Western folklore. Indeed, for them, not even experience, that ultimate individual function, is in fact individual. 99-100
 . . . .
Here is the very opposite of bourgeois possessive individualism: in a community of reciprocal being, not even a person’s body is his or her own; it is a social body, the subject of the empathy, concern, and responsibility of others. . . .  natural self-interest? For the greater part of humankind, self-interest as we know it has been madness, witchcraft, or some such grounds for ostracism, execution, or at least therapy. 100

There is no such “nature” as we know it, and a fortiori no dualism of nature and culture.101

The Illusion of Human nature

The problem is not whether human nature is good or bad. The many “anti- Hobbists” of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries who attacked innate egoism on the grounds of natural goodness or natural sociability remained within the same sclerotic framework of a corporeal determination of cultural forms. But beginning in the enlightenment, the idea of the human condition as a culturalized nature appeared within the Western tradition. Thus Adam Ferguson’s observation that individuals do not exist before or apart from society but are constituted therein. In society they are born, and there they remain—capable of all the sentiments on which diverse peoples construct their existence, amity prominent among them and enmity as well. For Marx similarly, the “human essence” exists in and as social relationships, not in some poor bugger squatting outside the universe.Men individualize themselves only in the context of society, as notably in the European society of the eighteenth century, which thus gave rise to the economists’ fantasies (“robinsonades”) of constructing their science from the supposed dispositions of a single isolated adult male. Nor did Marx indulge in reading from social formations to innate dispositions, although again one could certainly read from bourgeois society to the mythical Hobbesian war of each against all. Born neither good nor bad, human beings form themselves for better or worse in social activity (praxis) as it unfolds in given historical circumstances. One might suppose that some knowledge of colonized others contributed to this anthropology.  In any case, with the important proviso that “given cultural orders” replace “given historical circumstances” in the Marxist formulation, in other words that the praxis by which people make themselves is itself culturally informed, this notion of the human condition is an ethnographic commonplace.

No ape can tell the difference between holy water and distilled water, Leslie White used to say, because there is no difference chemically—although the meaningful difference makes all the difference for how people value the water, even as, unlike apes, whether or not they are thirsty makes no difference in this regard. That was my brief lesson on what means “sym-bol” and what means “culture.” regarding the implications for human nature, leading a life according to culture means having the ability and knowing the necessity of achieving our natural inclinations symbolically, according to meaningful determinations of ourselves and the objects of our existence. Human culture, it needs be considered, is much older than human nature: culture has been in existence for two million years or more, ten or fifteen times longer than the modern human species, homo sapiens. respectable biological opinion has come around to seeing the human brain as a social organ, evolving in the Pleistocene under the “pressure” of maintaining a relatively extended, complex, and solidary set of social relationships. This is to say that culture, which is the condition of the possibility of this successful social organization, thereby conditioned the possibilities of the human organism, body and soul. The “pressure” was to become a cultural animal, or, more precisely, to culturalize our animality. For two million years, we have evolved biologically under cultural selec- tion.  not that we are or were“ blank slates,”lacking anyinherent biological imperatives, only that what was uniquely selected for in the genus homo was the ability to realize these imperatives in the untold different ways that archaeology, history, and anthropology have demonstrated. Biology became a determined determinant, inasmuch as its necessities were mediated and organized symbolically. We have the equipment to live a thousand different lives, as Clifford Geertz says, although we end up living only one. But this is possible only on the condition that biological imperatives do not specify the objects or modes of their realization.

So who are the realists? Fijians say that young children have “watery souls,” meaning they are indeterminate until they demonstrate their social being by the practice of Fijian relationships. as in many kinship-domi- nated communities, humanity is defined by reciprocity. “The mind (will, awareness),” strathern was told in Hagen, “first becomes visible when a child shows feeling for those related to it, and comes to appreciate the interdependence or reciprocity that characterizes social relationships.”  Although from augustine to Freud the needs and dependencies of infants have been taken as evidence of their egoism—consider how we gratuitously speak of the child’s needs as “demands”—the prevalent interpretation among the anthropological others is simply that the child is incomplete, not yet defined as human by engagement in the cultural praxis of relation- ships. Human nature then becomes a specific cultural kind. so when in Java “the people quite frankly say, ‘To be human is to be Javanese,’” Geertz, who reports it, says they are right—in the sense that “there is no such thing as human nature independent of culture.” again, not that there is no such nature, but that its mode of existence and social efficacy depends on the culture concerned—a mediated and thus determined determinant.

What is most pertinent to the relations between physis and nomos is not (for example) that all cultures have sex but that all sex has culture. sexual drives are variously expressed and repressed according to local de- terminations of appropriate partners, occasions, times, places, and bodily practices. We sublimate our generic sexuality in all kinds of ways—includ- ing its transcendence in favor of the higher values of celibacy, which also proves that in symbolic regimes there are more compelling ways of achiev- ing immortality than the inscrutable mystique of the “selfish gene.” after all, immortality is a thoroughly symbolic phenomenon—what else could it be? (In The Theory of moral sentiments, adam smith observes that men have been known to voluntarily throw away lives to acquire after death a renown that they could no longer enjoy, being content to anticipate in the imagination the fame it would bring them.) Likewise, sexuality is realized in various meaningfully ordered forms. some even do it by telephone. or for another example of conceptual manipulation (pun intended), there is Bill Clinton’s “I did not have sex with that woman.”

As it is for sex, so for other inherent needs, drives, or dispositions: nutritional, aggressive, egoistic, sociable, compassionate—whatever they are, they come under symbolic definition and thus cultural order. In the occurrence, aggression or domination may take the behavioral form of, say, the new Yorker’s response to “Have a nice day”—“don’t tell me what to do!” We war on the playing fields of eton, give battle with swear words and insults, dominate with gifts that cannot be reciprocated, or write scathing book reviews of academic adversaries. eskimos say gifts make slaves, as whips make dogs. But to think that, or to think our prover- bial opposite, that gifts make friends—a saying that like the eskimos’ goes against the grain of the prevailing economy—requires that we are born with “watery souls,” waiting to manifest our humanity for better or worse in the meaningful experiences of a particular way of life. not, however, as in our ancient philosophies and modern sciences, that we are condemned by an irresistible human nature to look to our own advantage at the cost of whomever it may concern and thus become menaces to our own social existence.

It’s all been a huge mistake. my modest conclusion is that Western civi- lization has been largely constructed on a mistaken idea of “human nature.” (sorry, beg your pardon; it was all a mistake.) It is probably true, however, that this mistaken idea of human nature endangers our existence.

92. Ferguson, an Essay on the history of civil society, edited by Fania oz-salzberger (cambridge: cambridge university Press, 1995). “If both the latest and earliest accounts col- lected from every quarter of the earth, represent mankind as assembled in troops and compa- nies; and the individual always joined by affection to one party, while he is possibly opposed to another; employed in the exercise of recollection and foresight; inclined to communicate his own sentiments, and to be acquainted with those of others; these facts must be admitted as the foundation of all our reasoning relative to man” (9).

93. seeLawrenceKrader,“Karlmarxasethnologist,transactionsofthenewYorkacad- emy of sciences, ser. 2, 35, no. 4 (1973); and his “critique dialectique de la nature humaine,” l’homme et al sociťtť, no. 10 (1968).

94. BernardG.campbell,JamesD.Loy,andKathryncruz-uribe,humankindEmerg- ing, 9th ed. (Boston: Pearson, allyn, and Bacon, 2006), 257 and passim.

95. Geertz,TheInterpretationofcultures(newYork:BasicBooks,1973),45.

96. strathern,GenderoftheGift,90.

97. Geertz,TheInterpretationofcultures,52–53,49.

98. We would know more of the variety of cultural conceptions of human nature if anthropologists had bothered to investigate them. curiously, inquiry into peoples’ ideas of human nature is not in the standard protocols of ethnographic fieldwork. There is no such category in the hallowed fieldwork manual notes and Queries in anthropology. In the Human relations area Files, it is a minor subcategory, rarely reported on. Is this neglect because we already know what human nature is? Because we think it is a scientific category, thus the intel- lectual concern of the anthropologists rather than their interlocutors? or maybe because the other peoples have no such concept and the question would be meaningless? Probably all of the above.

4.  Wozniak-Vygotsky-Piaget  on "human nature"

Robert H. Wozniak, "Qu'est-ce l'intelligence?  Piaget, Vygotsky, and the 1920s crisis in psychology," chapter 2 in Piaget Vygotsky: The Social Genesis Of Thought (Psychology Press, 1996)

“For Vygotsky, the emphasis was on the constant process of transformation and reorganization, the formation of novel structures and the functioning of such structures in the further synthesis of even newer forms.  The similarity of this analysis to that of Piaget is evident” 14

“ . . .  Piaget and Vygotsky also took somewhat parallel routes—constructing developmental conceptions of mind/environment transaction . . .” 14

“sociality and historicity” p. 17 re. Sahlins et. al.

“In development, human nature is not simply socialized, it is transformed by society and history embedded in the very system of meanings by which humans make sense of their experience and action.”  p. 17  More!  also W. critiques V. on p. 17

on intersubjectivity  p. 22


Descola, pp. 93-98

Alice Munro, "Family Furnishings"

Review: Alice Munro's 'Family Furnishings' is deep and surprising 

Joseph E. Lowndes, From the New Deal to the New Right: Race and the Southern Origins of Modern Conservatism (Yale Univesity Press, 2008)

see Miles, Carter

"foundational violence of modern Republicanism" (2)

"But it has not been easy for the GOP to shed its racial legacy because the party became dominant through racially inflected positions on poverty, crime, affirmative action, and government assistance." (2)  Atwater-Lacan signifying chain

critiques "backlash" theory, Edsall. 3

"Politics is not merely the realm where preexisting interests, grievances, and passions are given expression.  Rather, it is in and through politics that interests, grievances, and passions are forged and new collective identities created.  Backlash, the ideological cornerstone and justification for modern conservatism, masks what was a long-term process whereby various groups in different places and times attempted to link racism, anti-government populism, and economic conservatism into a discourse and institutional strategy through linguistic appeals, party-building, social movement organizing, and the exercise of state power.  In the process, the very interests and self-understanding of these groups were continually under construction as they moved from coalition to collective political identity.  As opposed to being entrenched and traditionalist (or reactionary, depending on one's politics),  the Right that developed is better viewed as contingent, mobile, and highly adaptive, constantly responding to changing conditions on the ground." 4-5