What Do We Need to Know About Human Nature?

Lecture Annual David Hume Lecture on Human Nature

Louise Antony, Ph.D.

It's commonly assumed, by theorists across the political spectrum, that in order to think sensibly about ethical and political issues, we need to know something about "human nature."  Some thinkers believe that human nature places limits on the social arrangements we can form, or the kinds of moral demands we can make on each other.  

Other thinkers believe that human nature grounds ethical value, and determines how we ought to live and how we ought to treat each other.  Still others deny that there is any such thing as "human nature," and insist that it is ethically and politically important to recognize this. I will argue that all of these thinkers are wrong.  There is such a thing as human nature, but knowing what it is will not tell us anything about ethics or politics.

Louise Antony is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She  earned a BA (Honors, summa cum laude) in Philosophy from Syracuse University in 1975, and a Ph.D. in Philosophy from Harvard University in 1982.  Prof. Antony has research and teaching interests in several areas of philosophy: philosophy of mind, philosophy of cognitive science, feminist theory, epistemology, and the philosophy of religion.  

She is the author of dozens of articles, co-editor of two volumes, A Mind of One's Own: Feminist Essays on Reason and Responsibility (with Charlotte Witt) and Chomsky and His Critics (with Norbert Hornstein).  Her most recent book is a collection of personal essays by atheist philosophers, Philosophers Without Gods: Meditations on Atheism and the Secular Life.  Prof. Antony is committed to making philosophical discussion accessible to audiences beyond academia.  She has been a regular contributor to the website AskPhilosophers.org, she has "appeared" on the radio program Philosophy Talk, and has contributed to the New York Times philosophy blog, The Stone. 

She has participated in public debates with theist philosophers William Lane Craig and Douglas Geivett, and has lectured on topics of general interest to audiences in North and South America, Europe, Asia, Australia and New Zealand.  

Prof. Antony lives in Leverett, Mass.., with her husband, the philosopher Joseph Levine.   She is a longtime activist on behalf of social justice and international peace, and is currently working with the Public Higher Education Network of Massachusetts to make quality higher education accessible and affordable for all. She is an avid knitter, and plays the piccolo and flute in the Holyoke Civic Symphony.   


The Human Nature Project

5:30 PM
Alfond 205

Biddeford Campus

Free and open to the public