Being Human: Historical Knowledge and the Creation of Human Nature

Overview

Challenging commonly held biological, religious, and ethical beliefs, internationally well known historian of science Roger Smith boldly argues that human nature is not some "thing" awaiting discovery but is active in understanding itself. According to Smith, "being human" is a self-creation made possible through a reflective circle of thought and action, with a past and a future, and studying this "history" from a range of perspectives is fundamental to human ...

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Overview

Challenging commonly held biological, religious, and ethical beliefs, internationally well known historian of science Roger Smith boldly argues that human nature is not some "thing" awaiting discovery but is active in understanding itself. According to Smith, "being human" is a self-creation made possible through a reflective circle of thought and action, with a past and a future, and studying this "history" from a range of perspectives is fundamental to human self-understanding.

Smith's argument brings together historical and contemporary debates concerning materialism and human nature and the relations of the different fields of knowledge. He draws on classic writings from across the human sciences, touching on sociology, anthropology, brain sciences, history, philosophical hermeneutics, and critical theory, and demonstrates that there is no position outside history for an absolutely objective or eternally valid view of human nature. The question "what is human?" does not have and could not possible have one answer. Instead, there exists a variety of answers for different purposes, and there are good reasons for the many conceptions of what it is to be human.

Smith does not treat human nature as only biological, economic, or moral, but as a multidimensional subject that should be considered in its proper historical context. By understanding this context, Smith believes, we can come to a truer understanding of ourselves. Persuasively and elegantly written, Being Human takes an important new turn in the philosophical study of being human.

Columbia University Press

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What People Are Saying

Hayden White

Providing important new insights into the history of (Western) science, the nature of the human sciences and their relation to the natural sciences, the scientific status of historical inquiry, and the importance of history for understanding the complex relations among the natural, social, and human sciences in our time, this book has the potential to move thought about the human sciences and a great deal of the thought about history, historical consciousness, and philosophy of history onto a new and original level of discussion.

Hayden White, University of California, Santa Cruz

Robert Maxwell Young

Highly ambitious, the scope of Roger Smith's argument is impressive, as are the breadth of references and the clear summarizing of daunting works and complex controversies. Being Human will appeal to a wide range of scholars and students in the human sciences and the history of science and philosophy.

Robert Maxwell Young, University of Sheffield

Hayden White

Providing important new insights into the history of (Western) science, the nature of the human sciences and their relation to the natural sciences, the scientific status of historical inquiry, and the importance of history for understanding the complex relations among the natural, social, and human sciences in our time, this book has the potential to move thought about the human sciences and a great deal of the thought about history, historical consciousness, and philosophy of history onto a new and original level of discussion.

Robert Maxwell Young

Highly ambitious, the scope of Roger Smith's argument is impressive, as are the breadth of references and the clear summarizing of daunting works and complex controversies. Being Human will appeal to a wide range of scholars and students in the human sciences and the history of science and philosophy.

Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780231141673
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press
  • Publication date: 5/1/2007

Meet the Author

Roger Smith is reader emeritus in the history of science at Lancaster University, consultant at the Institute for the History of Science and Technology, and associate at the Institute of Psychology, the Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow.

Columbia University Press

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Table of Contents


Preface     vi
Introduction     1
Being human     16
Reflexive knowledge     62
Relations of the natural and human sciences     93
Precedents for the human sciences     122
Historical knowledge     173
Values and knowledge     197
Epilogue: on human self-creation     243
Bibliography     260
Index     281
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