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Beyond Human Nature: How Culture and Experience Shape the Human Mind Hardcover – November 19, 2012


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Beyond Human Nature: How Culture and Experience Shape the Human Mind + Meditations on First Philosophy (Hackett Classics) + Plato: Five Dialogues: Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, Meno, Phaedo (Hackett Classics)
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; First US Edition edition (November 19, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393061752
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393061758
  • Product Dimensions: 0.6 x 0.1 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #816,388 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

“From start to finish this book is a fine, balanced, enormously learned and informative blast on the trumpet of common sense and humane understanding.” (New Statesman)

“Challenges the tenets of modern evolutionary psychology.” (Wall Street Journal)

“Science writing done right.” (Daily Beast)

“Sophisticated but accessible reading for the Pinker/Damasio/Dennett set.” (Library Journal) --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

About the Author

Jesse J. Prinz is a Distinguished Professor of Philosophy and director of the Committee for Interdisciplinary Science Studies at the City University of New York, Graduate Center. He lives in New York.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By MK on May 8, 2014
Format: Paperback
The book is about two scientific positions that exist since the times of the old Greeks, often reduced to the ‘nature-nurture’ issue. Emotions, language, traits and values – are they part of human nature, genetically determined and hard-wired in our brains, or are they the product of culture? Of course, neither nature nor culture can exist completely without the other, but how great a part each plays has been and is still the point of many academic debates.
Prinz states early on, that he is on the side of culture, so the reader knows what to expect. If you have been a naturist so far, see if he can convince you. If you are a nurturist, see if his arguments are similar to yours. And if you never thought about the issue, then prepare for a roller coaster ride of ideas and reasoning! Prinz structures each chapter around a question (e. g. “Where does thinking come from?”), and answers it first by summarising the arguments of the naturist side. Then he takes them apart, step-by-step. He points at flaws in research methods, logical problems, over-interpretation of results and offers alternative explanations. To underpin his arguments, he quotes about 250 scientific studies from psychology, philosophy, sociology and anthropology, but he gathers these in form of end notes at the end of the book, which makes the text easier to read than a traditional psychological text (which quotes the names of the researcher in parentheses in the text). Sometimes he also speculates, but when he does he tells you, and as the speculations agree with the quoted research results, he thus shows that there are alternative ways to interpret the data, so more and cleverer research is needed.
Reading original research is often hard for an outsider.
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Vivek Tejuja on March 24, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Why do people from one culture think and see things differently from another? Why do they almost feel and also emote differently in some situations? There are so many instances when people from a different race or culture act and think differently and yet while most of us question the differences, there are times when thoughts regarding those do not cross our mind. The differences also stem from the nurture or the nature angle, which there have long gone been debates about in our world.

The book that I have finished reading off-late also talks of the way we view our world and how and why do we do what we do. "Beyond Human Nature: How Culture and Experience Shape Our Lives" by Jesse J. Prinz completely left me astounded by the end of the read. It gave me more perspective to the human condition and what impact do places and upbringing and what surrounds us have on our way of thinking and behaviour.

Prinz asks if the idea of human nature has any place in the sciences and the book tries to unearth or discover that very thought. The argumentation is strong in most places and somehow felt weak in some others, which I ignored, because the overall book appealed to me.

The book is divided into six parts and each part focuses on the idea of where do the following come from: Feelings, Values, Traits, Knowledge, Language, and Thinking. While the book is great overall, the reader cannot start reading the book from any part. The vast diversity of behaviour is explored in great depth in this book with a lot of relevant instances, which both astound and amuse. The conclusions for each argument are valid and rolled out well, also carefully tying the knots. There is no vagueness left for the reader to deal with.
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8 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Cebes on June 8, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition
Today the dominant trend in the study of human nature is genetic and neural determinism, especially the latter. Ten years ago, coming up with a gene for everything - the gay gene, the God gene, the art gene - was all the rage, and the sequencing of the human genome was expected to finally reveal all the secrets of human nature. When that didn't pan out, the trend switched to the hot new field: neuroscience. Now everyone is coming up with a brain region for everything, and a fancy full-color fMRI to prove it.

Jesse Prinz, a philosopher at CUNY, presents a sustained argument against any sort of simple biological determinism, genetic, neural, or anything else. He systematically points out the fallacies in such an approach. While genes have clear influence on simple physical traits (eye color, height, etc.), there is little evidence of their direct influence on psychological or behavioral traits. Similarly, there is little good evidence that the brain is "hard-wired" for particular traits or tendencies, such as Chomsky's "universal grammar" or intelligence/IQ. Prinz is at his best providing a critique of particular studies that purport to demonstrate evidence of fixed "human nature"; he demolishes in two pages for example the claim that there is a "cheater detection" module built into our brain. He criticizes psychologists in particular for their basic methodological assumption that there is a fixed human nature, and that the best way to understand behavior is to study the brain and the genes. This is philosophy at its best, scientifically informed and critiquing the assumptions and hasty conclusions of innumerable psychological studies.
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