33 pages 1 hour read

Edward O. Wilson

On Human Nature

Nonfiction | Book | Adult | Published in 1978

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The Synthesis of “Hard” and “Soft” Sciences

Edward O. Wilson prefaces On Human Nature with a lengthy quote from Enlightenment philosopher David Hume’s work An Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding: “whatever pains these researches may cost us, we may think ourselves sufficiently rewarded, not only in point of profit but of pleasure, if, by that means, we can make any addition to our stock of knowledge in subjects of such unspeakable importance.” Wilson sees his work as a synthesis of previously unrelated, unmixed fields of scientific inquiry that are now, in his hands, expertly joined and expounded.

Wilson’s training and research focused on the study of insect biology and behavior, specifically the study of ants. What he proceeds to do in his text is take his scientific research and apply it to the study of the most advanced vertebrate animal on the planet: the human. On one hand, “Human nature can thus be ultimately understood only with the aid of the scientific method” (Preface, 2004). On the other hand, “the conundrum of human nature, as I and a few others saw it in this early period, can be solved only if scientific explanations embrace both the how (neurosciences) and why (evolutionary biology) of brain action” (Preface, 2004).