David Brooks on human nature

David Brooks asks:

Has there ever been a time when there were so many different views of human nature floating around all at once?

Answer: Yes.  But he proceeds:

The economists have their view, in which rational people coolly chase incentives. Traditional Christians have their view, emphasizing original sin, grace and the pilgrim’s progress in a fallen world. And then there are the evolutionary psychologists, who get the most media attention.

Only three?  Anyway, in addition to that colossal dumbness, he really wants to argue that evolutionary psychology, as emboddied in the work of one popular author's narrow view of evolution, is wrong, because, err, evolutionary psychology has gotten evolution wrong:

The first problem is that far from being preprogrammed with a series of hardwired mental modules, as the E.P. types assert, our brains are fluid and plastic. We’re learning that evolution can be a more rapid process than we thought. It doesn’t take hundreds of thousands of years to produce genetic alterations.

And so on.  So the problem isn't evolutionary psychology–since evolution as a theory seems clearly right to Brooks, it's wrong versions of evolutionary psychology.  And who can't get behind that?


One thought on “David Brooks on human nature”

  1. This didn’t seem such a bad piece by Brooks’ standards. His critique of certain forms of e.p. speculation is a bit rough, but not horrible. The problems seems to be that e.p. offers argument to the best explanation that are dramatically underdetermined by the evidence–at most they assert an eikos muthos. The idea that we are hard-wired to certain forms of behavior–sexual or economic–is probably a straw man, I take it that most e.p. argues that certain “modules” or “dynamei” evolve and they dispose us towards certain sort actions/reactions. The latter is far less obviously objectionable, and Brooks doesn’t really engage these more interesting views (does Spent really argue the simple version?), and thus he misses the really philosophically interesting stuff here.

    David† Buller’s book is a great read on this:


    and this was just published over at NDPR


Comments are closed.