Neo-Aristotelian Human Nature

Denis Walsh
Bond Life Sciences Center 171

Abstract: Recent work in naturalised metaethics has sought to ground an account of human goodness in a conception of human flourishing borrowed from Aristotle. Human flourishing, on this view, consists in the successful pursuit of those faculties and activities that constitute our human nature. For its part, this conception of ‘human nature’ , it is claimed, is wholly natural, contiguous with the more general concept of an organismal nature. Unfortunately, most evolutionary biologists and philosophers of biology contend that this concept of an organismal nature has been thoroughly discredited. It is an atavistic throwback to a pre-evolutionary biology and has rightly been expunged from biology since the inception of the Modern Synthesis theory of evolution.

Consequently, we cannot look to contemporary biology to naturalise neo-Aristotelian metaethics. I argue that the consensus view on human/organismal nature is mistaken. Contemporary evolutionary biology actually needs a concept of organismal nature, quite like Aristotle’s, if it is to explain the adaptive fit of organisms to their conditions of existence. Human nature is a specific instance of a generalised Aristotelian organismal nature. It isn’t so much that we need a Neo-Aristotelian concept of human nature; rather we need a Neo-Aristotelian evolutionary biology. With it, we get a naturalised concept of human nature for free.

Denis Walsh
Denis Walsh


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