Nature Wrecked

In the previous post we discussed George Will’s violent reaction to the violent reaction to Larry Summers’–President of Harvard University–foray into *a priori* genetics. On the basis of all of the scientific auctoritas as his armchair will provide, Will continues here and in the following op-ed piece (which we will discuss some time in the near future) to pontificate about the philosophical realities of human nature. Not only did it gall him that academic liberals would dare question the unjustified assertions of the president of Harvard University, but some in the left-wing political media had the temerity to challenge similar claims in the inaugural address of the President of the United States:

>This criticism went beyond doubts about his grandiose aspirations, to rejection of the philosophy that he might think entails such aspirations but actually does not. The philosophy of natural right — the Founders’ philosophy — rests on a single proposition: There is a universal human nature.

In case you were wondering whether this universal human nature of which the President speaks entails claims about innate capacities to score highly on the Scholastic Aptitude Test, you’d be wrong. Or perhaps even worse, you would have yourself scored low on the analytical section of the same test, or you would have incorrectly but charitably supposed that George Will finds himself in the high percentile. For the claim that there is a “universal human nature” has nothing whatsoever to do with the claim that some types of humans are better at arithmetic than others. But perhaps you’d also have to wonder about the author’s score on the quantitative section too, for the universal human nature of which he speaks can be reduced to one simple quantitative relational statement:

>all men are created equal.

No he doesn’t mean “males”. He means “persons or humans or human persons.” You might have noticed, however, that he had just spent the first part of his op-ed arguing that all men are *not* created equal. Some men are *by nature* better at adding and subtracting than other men (i.e., women). So, the armchair geneticist should feel rather that the claims of the President of the United States and the Founders are “counterintuitive” or perhaps “unthinkable.” We are not created equal. Some are more equal than others.

But of course Will is aware of this rather obvious objection. Or at least he seems to be. The problem is that he thinks it applies to the critics of Summers and (by extension–Will’s extension–Bush):

>The vehemence of Hopkins’s recoil from the idea that there could be gender differences pertinent to some cognition might seem merely to reflect a crude understanding of civic equality as grounded shakily on a certain identical physicality. But her hysteria actually expresses the left’s ultimate horror: the thought that nature sets limits to the malleability of human material. Summers should explain this to her, over lunch, when he returns from camp.

According to Will, “the left” has held “for centuries” that “human beings are essentially blank slates” and “nature is negligible, nurturing is sovereign.” This is just plain false. (And if Will thinks we’re wrong, he should go read Plato and Marx. For Plato, in the *Republic*, argued that men and women should be treated equally in cognitive matters, while Marx based his critique of capitalism on claims about universal human nature.) Moreover, it doesn’t rescue Will’s woefully contradictory claims. If the President’s claim that “there is a universal human nature” does not include the realities of differences in human “physicality,” then it’s either a claim about some other sense of “nature”or simply wrong. For if, as is Will’s view, all humans are created equal, and “nature sets limits to the malleability of human material,” then all humans are not *created* equal.

But that’s not what the President probably means by *natural* right. It’s obvious that in falsely accusing “the left” of ignoring the obvious–even intuitive–facts of natural sexual dimorphism, Will is the one who has conflated two substantially different senses of “nature.” The philosophy of natural right claims that “by nature” humans have inalienable rights, and whatever nature means for this philosophical position, it has got nothing to do with DNA or the SAT.