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Beyond Human Nature: How Culture and Experience Shape Our Lives Hardcover – 26 Jan 2012

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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 3.7 x 24 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 445,388 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


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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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By markr TOP 500 REVIEWER on 26 Feb 2012
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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By MK on 8 May 2014
Format: Hardcover
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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5 of 28 people found the following review helpful By F. Collier on 11 Aug 2012
Format: Hardcover
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 Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 1 review
6 of 14 people found the following review helpful
Excellent in parts. Overcommits to nurture 5 Jun 2012
By Dr Rob Brooks - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
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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