The Human Question - audio and readings

CSSR unit heads Profs Nicoli Nattrass and Jeremy Seekings lectured in a UCT Summer School course on "The Human Question". Podcasts of three of the lectures and the final panel discussion in the series are available for download. In addition, suggested readings are listed below.

The lectures

  1. The Animal Within Us (Mark Solms, Dept of Psychology) - Download MP3
  2. Homo-Economicus? (Nicoli Nattrass, School of Economics) - Download MP3
  3. Humans, Hierarchy and the Study of Political Power (Jeremy Seekings, Depts of Political Studies and Sociology) - Lecture text to be made available
  4. Who is the Criminal? (Clifford Shearing, Centre of Criminology) - Download MP3
  5. Panel discussion: Economics, politics, criminology and the brain - Download MP3

About the course

The question of what it means to be human is an old one, and of central importance to the social sciences. Our powerful brains and complex cultural and economic lives distinguish us from other animals, yet recent developments in neuroscience are placing new emphasis on the mammalian nature of human brains. This poses challenges for how the social sciences view the question of being human.

The first lecture of this course focuses on the implications of recent neuroscience for psychology and for how we understand human behaviour. The remaining lectures explore how the social sciences have engaged with the issue of what it means to be human, covering classical understandings as well as recent evidence from the biological and behavioural sciences. The second lecture discusses the way in which the human has been conceptualised by neoclassical economics as ‘homo-economicus’ and how recent developments in behavioural economics are shifting our understanding. The third lecture discusses classical political thinking (primarily Locke and Rousseau) and then turns to empirical research on power, authority, hierarchy and obedience among humans and other primates. The fourth lecture looks at the issue of sociality and antisociality by posing the question of how we understand the criminal. The course concludes with a panel discussion reflecting on the key challenges that neuroscience poses for social science and vice-versa.

Suggested readings

Readings for Mark Solms’s lecture: The Animal Within Us

  • Diamond, J. (1993) The Third Chimpanzee: The Evolution and Future of the Human Animal. Harper.
  • Panksepp, J. (1998) Affective Neuroscience: The Foundations of Animal and Human Emotions. Oxford University Press.
  • Panksepp, J. & Biven, L. (2012) The Archaeology of Mind: Neuroevolutionary Origins of Human Emotions. WW Norton.
  • Ramachandran, V.S. (2011) The Tell-Tale Brain: A Neuroscientist's Quest for What Makes Us Human. WW Norton.
  • Solms, M & Turnbull, O. (2002) The Brain and the Inner World. Karnac.

Readings for Nicoli Nattrass’s lecture: Homo-Economicus?

  • Bowles, S. 2008. Policies designed for self-interested citizens may undermine the ‘moral sentiments’: Evidence from Economic Experiments, in Science, vol.320, no.5883: 1605-1609.
  • Heilbronner, Robert (any edition) The Worldly Philosophers Penguin
  • Heilbronner, Robert (ed) Teachings from the Worldly Philosophers, Norton. 1997.
  • Henrich, J. et al, 2006. Costly punishment across human societies, in Science vol.312, 23 June:1767-1770.
  • Henrich, et al.2005 ‘Economic man’ in cross-cultural perspective: behavioural experiments in 15 small scale societies, Behavioural and Brain Sciences, 28: 6: 795-815
  • Smith, A. 1776. The Wealth of Nations (vol.1), Everyman’s Library, London.

Readings for Jeremy Seekings’ lecture: Humans, Hierarchy and the Study of Political Power

Classical political theory:*

  • Hobbes, Thomas, Leviathan (1651)
  • Locke, John, Two Treatises of Government (1689)
  • -----, Essay concerning Human Understanding (1690)
  • Rousseau, Jean-Jacques, On the Social Contract (1762)
  • -----, Discourse on the Origin of Inequality among Men (1755)

Studies of idology, hierarchy and the limits of moral behaviour in humans:

  • Browning, Christopher, Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland (1992)
  • Goldhagen, Daniel, Hitler’s Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust (1996)
  • Lunt, Peter, Stanley Milgram: Understanding obedience and its implications (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009).

Chimpanzee cultures and politics:

  • Cohen, Jon, Almost Chimpanzee: Searching For What Makes Us Human, in Rainforests, Labs, Sanctuaries and Zoos (New York: Times Books, 2010)
  • De Waal, Frans, Chimpanzee Politics: Power and Sex Among Apes (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1982)
  • Laland, Kevin N., and Bennett G. Galeff (eds), The Question of Animal Culture (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2009)
  • Peterson, Dale, and Jane Goodall, Visions of Caliban: On Chimpanzees and People (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1993)

Collective organisation and action among humans:

  • Pinker, Steven, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined (New York: Viking, 2011)

Websites and videos on chimpanzees:

Readings for Clifford Shearing’s Lecture: Who is the Criminal?

  • John Gray. 2002. Straw Dogs: Thoughts on Humans and Other Animals. Granta Books.
  • Durkheim, Emile. 1895. The Rules of Sociological Method.``