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What is "natural" human behaviour?
20-11-2004, 09:16 AM
Post: #1
What is "natural" human behaviour?

This is one of my favourite topics for a philosophical pondering. No point to it really, other than a mental workout, but here goes.

If you removed all current religious, moral and social teachings, what behaviour would be "natural" to a human being? Let us look to our closest relatives, the chimpanzee, for clues as well.

Food - What do you think we would eat? We have adapted to consume all sorts of things, but what would our "natural" diet consist of?
Mating - Is monogamy a natural state? Would we mate for life?
Murder - It is hardly unusual in the animal kingdom. Creatures frequently kill each other in squabbles over territory and mating rights. Is it in fact natural for humans to kill each other?
Sex with children - we have a legal "age of consent" of sixteen. But in the animal kingdom, a female will mate as soon as she is able to reproduce. I started my periods when I was 11 and I know a lot of other girls are well below 16 when this happens. So it is natural to wait to mate??
Pecking orders - most animal societies have a strict pecking order. Lower members of the group are beaten and abused if they don't follow the rules and show subservience to the higher echelons. So are we fighting nature in trying to create a society of equals?
The weak and sick - not many animal societies support the weak and sick, and certainly not if it is to the detriment of the group. Generally these animals would simply be left to die. Is our society, where our weak and sick are cared for and nurtured, an unnatural state?

Please remember I am not asking what is "right" and "wrong" or what is better or worse. This is merely a thread about what is natural. I realise people may have all sorts of moral objections to these issues, but what I want to know is, would an uneducated human make these choices?

Or do you feel that ALL human behaviour must be natural anyway as it is born out of a natural state of being? That wars, weapons of mass destruction, chemicals, pollutants, rape, overcrowding, superbugs etc are all "natural" as they result from the natural, unhindered evolution of the human race?
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20-11-2004, 09:46 AM (This post was last modified: 20-11-2004 09:50 AM by karenh.)
Post: #2
What is "natural" human behaviour?
I haven't had time to ponder this question in any real detail - I will do that later - but a couple of things sprang to mind immediately.

My first thought was that it is natural to be selfish. I don't think Man's natural state inclines towards sacrifice for the good of others - his first instinct would be to look after himself and his offspring and sod everyone else.

I also don't think it is natural for mankind to have a healthy regard for the life of other people, unless they are genetically linked to that person. E.g. man will fight to death for his family, but does not care inherently for people outisde of that genetic link.

Finally, I also think that it is man instinct to be tribal and territorial, and to an extent, mankind hasn't really overcome this particular state of naturalness, which is why we still have "turf wars" - countries fighting to snatch land from other coutries and why ownership is stil so important to man.

The thing that I think first altered many these natural instincts is a belief in a higher being (God or whatever), an afterlife etc. The idea that you will be punished after death for the bad things that you do in life and likewise rewarded for the good things. One of the tenements of nearly all religions (including pagan ones) is that the life of man is sacrosact. Even pagan religions, who may not believe in an afterlife as such, will often have superstitions which state that the things you do wrong in life will result in somekind of retribution. Most of these faiths will also preach some sort of "Good Samaritan" lesson which encourages people to look out for their neighbours.

These ideas of God, retributions, sanctity of life etc. go back thousands and thousands of years, and have ingrained themselves into all societies and become "legal", so that even people who do not adhere to any religious faith are forced or inclined to adhere to the tenements of the society they live in.

Probably a load of rubbish, but that was my firt thought. (See, I even think in a long winded way) :laugh:

If at first you don't succeed, failure may be your style.
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20-11-2004, 10:27 AM
Post: #3
What is "natural" human behaviour?
karenh Wrote:My first thought was that it is natural to be selfish. I don't think Man's natural state inclines towards sacrifice for the good of others - his first instinct would be to look after himself and his offspring and sod everyone else. I also don't think it is natural for mankind to have a healthy regard for the life of other people, unless they are genetically linked to that person. E.g. man will fight to death for his family, but does not care inherently for people outisde of that genetic link.

I tend to agree with this. I can't think of an example in the animal kingdom where one tribe looks out for another, although as you rightly say they will protect their own.

karenh Wrote:Finally, I also think that it is man's instinct to be territorial.

I think so too. Again, I am not aware of any animal society that functions without territories. But what would you define as a "territory"? Our house? Our local area? Our country? Are wars between countries merely a result of the scientific improvements that enable man to cover greater distances than he ever could on foot?

Is the need to support a "team" of some sort, or be a member of some organisation merely harking back to our natural roots, whether it be a football team, a religious affiliation, or this MB?
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20-11-2004, 11:47 AM
Post: #4
What is "natural" human behaviour?
It's a tricky one because what do you mean by natural state. If it's a question of how would we behave if we didn't live in our society, I don't think we can ever know although I suppose an anthropologist would have some ideas. There is a suggestion in your question that our society makes us live in an unnatural state. I suppose that is true to an extent, particularly as I think we have a primitive side to our natures that society forces us to suppress. But I also think that the rules and laws that we have to abide by, coming as they do from man, are in themselves an expression of our natures and so could be thought of as 'natural' laws.

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20-11-2004, 11:59 AM
Post: #5
What is "natural" human behaviour?
survivorfan Wrote:what do you mean by natural state.

Essentially I mean devoid of moral or religious beliefs.

Of course some may deem these beliefs "natural" in that human society demands that you do not kill, you do nurture the sick, and so on, and that for a society to have rules is in itself "natural".

The question of what the "natural" state is, is really the point of the thread!

I suppose one of my motivations is concern as to how many of the rules in human society are borne out of concern for protecting that society as a whole, and how many were borne out of certain individuals banding together and deciding that using their influence in this way would be of pecuniary benefit to them.
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20-11-2004, 03:24 PM
Post: #6
What is "natural" human behaviour?
Ceridwen Wrote:Essentially I mean devoid of moral or religious beliefs.

From what I have read I have come to believe that there is a natural side to us (more primitive, instinctive, closer to nature) which we are generally not aware of because it is suppressed by our conscious, more rational, side. It's the aboriginal side of us, that has its roots way back in man's past. I also believe that there is a religious element to that natural side, and that it's more pagan in its nature than our established religions.

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20-11-2004, 03:31 PM
Post: #7
What is "natural" human behaviour?
It is an interesting question Ceri and I have found myself wondering the same thing.

I think one of the things that made us civilized is the development of language. Before we had language it must have hard to empathize with another being. Another person couldn't explain what it was like to be in his or her shoes without some form of descriptive communication.

Chimps and the great apes have a more structured society than most other animal groups, and it's also been proved that they have a wide range of communication skills. They also are very protective of their group and their family members. Whether this is an instinctive way of protecting their own interests and the interests of their genes, or whether they do feel a certain amount of empathy I'm not sure. I think language, intelligence and empathy made what we could call a civlized society. What came first, I don't know but I think you'd have to take away one of those three things to get back to a 'natural' state.
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20-11-2004, 04:27 PM
Post: #8
What is "natural" human behaviour?
The first thing that came to mind believe it or not was the film Mad Max lol.
In a post-apocalyptic society rules and order would go out of the window.
It would be kill or be killed, grab what you can or starve, and sexual morals would disappear.
With the breakdown of law and order, and those who minister it, anything would be permissible.
Even those of us with high moral values would soon find themselves adapting through necessity.
Tell me in that situation that you would not change?
Ancient Eygptians saw nothing wrong with necrophilia, it was perfectly acceptable to 'use' a recently deceased young woman for gratification.
There are many more examples i could use.
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20-11-2004, 05:16 PM
Post: #9
What is "natural" human behaviour?
Nox Wrote:Before we had language it must have hard to empathize with another being.

But was it? Some believe that early humans communicated through other mediums. Indeed, studies show that over 85% of what we convey to others is through our body language, not the words we use. People who are good at spotting liars do so in the main by studying their subject's body position, micro gestures and so on. It's almost as though language itself was invented as a way of trying to CONCEAL what we were really thinking, rather than enhance it...
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20-11-2004, 05:57 PM
Post: #10
What is "natural" human behaviour?
I snatch time on SO so this lot will be printed off to read and comprehend and maybe add too. Great thread Ceridwen
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