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Beyond Human Nature: How Culture and Experience Shape Our Lives [Hardcover]

Jesse J. Prinz
2.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Book Description

26 Jan 2012

In this provocative, revelatory tour de force, Jesse Prinz reveals how the cultures we live in - not biology - determine how we think and feel. He examines all aspects of our behaviour, looking at everything from our intellects and emotions, to love and sex, morality and even madness. This book seeks to go beyond traditional debates of nature and nurture. He is not interested in finding universal laws but, rather, in understanding, explaining and celebrating our differences.

Why do people raised in Western countries tend to see the trees before the forest, while people from East Asia see the forest before the trees? Why, in South East Asia, is there a common form of mental illness, unheard of in the West, in which people go into a trancelike state after being startled? Compared to Northerners, why are people in the American South more than twice as likely to kill someone over an argument? And, above all, just how malleable are we?

Prinz shows that the vast diversity of our behaviour is not engrained. He picks up where biological explanations leave off. He tells us the human story.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Allen Lane (26 Jan 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0713998172
  • ISBN-13: 978-0713998177
  • Product Dimensions: 16.2 x 24.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 2.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 333,997 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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This bracing book leads the charge against the idea that genetics explains all ... Compelling ... urgent and persuasive ... sophisticated but never obscure ... "By nature," Prinz concludes, "we transcend nature." (James McConnachie Sunday Times)

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

The nature versus nurture tussle has been running for centuries...into this fervid arena steps Jesse J Prinz...who sets out the arguments made on either side of the debate...before exploring a middle ground...Beyond Human Nature explores the origins of knowledge, language, thought and emotion and argues that there is not one human nature, but many (Carl Wilkinson Financial Times)

New York philosopher Jesse Prinz wants to call a halt to the ''century of the gene''. In a new book, Beyond Human Nature, he gathers the arguments of a growing number of scientists who take the side of nurture against nature, in a backlash against the tyranny of DNA (Nick Miller Sydney Morning Herald)

Compelling arguments that cover a vast range of human behaviours ... [easy] to read ... We are not prisoners of our genes. The societies we have created by following careful rules of engagement largely leave us free to act as we see fit, for good - and bad (Robin McKie Guardian)

About the Author

Jesse J. Prinz is currently a Distinguished Professor of philosophy at the City University of New York and an Adjunct Professor of Philosophy at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where he taught until January 2009. He works primarily in the philosophy of psychology and has produced books and articles on emotion, moral psychology, aesthetics and consciousness.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars fascinating account of why we are the way we are 26 Feb 2012
By markr TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is a very enjoyable and informative account of the factors which shape human beings. Jesse Prinz deals here with the debate about whether nature or nurture is the more important in determining the kind of people we become. Through wide ranging analyses of research into genetics, including the development of the human genome, of cultures across time, and of socialisation in a wide range of communities and national groups, Prinz concludes that nurture is the predominant factor.

This is a scholarly work, which in the main is also highly enjoyable for the general reader. I must admit i found the early chapters, in which Prinz systematically refutes studies which proport to show that nature and evolution are the only, or most, important determinants, to be quite heavy going. For me the book came alive in the last two thirds, when many examples of how culture is so significant are given. In these chapters the author deals a with wide range of cultural factors including language, and how this can effect the way we think and perceive; emotions, and how they are displayed; love, and what drives sexual preference; and taboos, including why they have been formed; and the effects of these factors on individuals and societies.

The conclusions reached are balanced - showing that nature and nurture are both important, and suggesting lines of further enquiry.

A highly enjoyable book then, which, but for the rather academic approach in the early chapters, would have been a five star review.

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5 of 28 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Is human nature merely a social construct? 11 Aug 2012
Professor Prinz is a moral philosopher who asks whether "the idea of human nature has any place in the human sciences."

His answer is, more or less, that it does not, or should not, or should have only a minor role.

He is tireless in erecting straw men to demolish, and this form of argumentation becomes very wearisome after a couple of hundred pages.

If you want science, read E. O. Wilson and Steven Pinker. If you want philosophy, read John Rawls and Robert Nozick.

If you want to spend a long time with a man grinding an axe, read this book.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 2.0 out of 5 stars  1 review
6 of 14 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Excellent in parts. Overcommits to nurture 5 Jun 2012
By Dr Rob Brooks - Published on
In an era when the scientific evidence shows all traits arise as a combination of nature and nurture, Jesse Prinz sees a need for a thorough and rather one-eyed defence of nurture's primacy over nature. He introduces ideas well and discusses a heap of fascinating studies, but this book is a missed opportunity to take us beyond hoary old dichotomies.
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