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The Philosophy of Human Nature

Weekend All-Day Lecture/Seminar

Saturday, January 22, 2022 - 9:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. ET
Code: 1K0199
This program is part of our
Smithsonian Associates Streaming series.
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Portrait of René Descartes by Frans Hals

Human beings are rather strange: They’re obviously part of the animal kingdom in many important ways, and yet they exhibit many features and activities that set them apart from other species. (For example, they organize seminars on human nature.) Philosophy professor Michael Gorman leads a fascinating exploration into the nature of what makes us uniquely human.

9:3010:45 a.m.   A First Look at Human Nature: Humans and (Other) Animals

The day begins with a look at some of the main elements of human nature, including thought, feeling, consciousness, and free will. Which are shared with animals and which, if any, are ours alone?

11 a.m.12:15 p.m.  Consciousness and Thought: Humans, Zombies, and Computers

One important human characteristic is consciousness, that elusive quality of experience that communicates what it “feels like” to be us.  Another is our ability to think. But can computers really think, too?

12:151:15 p.m.  Break

1:152:30 p.m.  Free Will and Moral Responsibility

Most people assume they have free will, but many philosophers have argued that this is inconsistent with modern science. Different theories of free will are considered, as well as how free will is related to praise, blame, and the meaning of life. If we do not have free will, can our actions be praised and blamed? Can our lives still have meaning?

2:454 p.m.  Body and Soul: Dualism, Materialism, and Hylomorphism

Do we have both souls and bodies, or only our physical selves? If both, do the differences between them mean that human nature is essentially fragmented, or are soul and body actually complementary? Three competing theories propose differing answers.

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