Core Seminar 2
Psychological Perspectives on Human Nature
Instructor: Miriam Shelton
Human nature and how it is expressed in the activity of life is the substance of psychology. However, within the field of psychology, there are many different approaches to studying and conceptualizing human nature. Since psychology is a social science, its statements are rooted in research, which limits what it can say about human nature.
In this course we will explore several basic approaches to the study of what is particularly “human,” and what we mean by “nature” in the expression “human nature.” Some of the dominant approaches we will follow include psychoanalytic, developmental, social and cultural. Though these sub-disciplines are often at odds with each other, we will not attempt to oppose or reconcile them. Instead, our aim is to understand what dimensions of human nature each of these perspectives reveals. Since my own background is in developmental psychology, I will organize the class in a developmental sequence.
Questions we will be addressing include, Where does human nature come from? What is universal and what is particular about our nature? What forces shape, and what events and processes allow change in nature, and which do not?
More narrow questions will include, What gives flexibility (or freedom) to a life? Where do responsibilities arise and how are they taken up? Related to these is the question of evil, or stated another way, Which is more characteristic of human nature--to help or to hurt other people? Given the historical moment in which this class meets, when rumors of terrorism and mass destruction seem to be on the increase, these questions may have practical and political implications, as some of the readings will argue.
In the first class, each student will sign up to present and help discuss 1-2 articles from the readings. These discussions will occupy the first third of each class period, followed by my own integrating remarks on the readings and guidelines for thinking about people, their behavior and assessments of nature. The final portion of each class period will involve a practical application or reflection of the theoretical material.
In addition, each student will turn in a 1-2 page reflection paper on the readings for that day.
October 4. Nature- Nurture
What is the origin of human nature? Does it come with us when we are born, or is it given to us, claimed, or constructed during a lifetime? The readings reflect three perspectives (out of many): human nature evolved and is imprinted genetically; nature is the result of early life experiences; human nature is the product of cultural belonging and social process.
Oct 11. Development
Does human nature change over time? In this unit we discuss human development. What is it that changes? Are the changes within an individual person or collective changes in a cultural group? How does change happen? The readings address development in emotional regulation, psychosocial skills, decision-making and cognitive processes.
Oct 16. Focus on adolescent changes
Oct. 18. Patterns and Repetitions
What do patterns indicate in a human life or in a society? Should we think of these as repetition compulsions as Freud suggested, or as schemas, in Piaget’s language, or as efforts to repair wounds from the past? Are there differences in patterns of evil and patterns of good?
Oct 23. Impact of Loss and mourning
Oct 25. Social Evil
Oct 30. Creativity
Some psychological theories suggest that we create ourselves
in the minutiae of decisions of what to do every minute of the day. Most of us
do not think of these activities as creativity, but many of us do worry about
our creativity at work, relationships and art, because creativity is highly
valued in our society.
Nov. 1. Improvisations
Nov 6. Aging and Wisdom
What is the aim of our human living? Who and what do we hope to be when we age? Where and how does wisdom arise? Is wisdom something to aspire to, or is it as valid to travel, play bridge, and gossip at 88 as it was at 18? The readings today reflect various perspectives on what it means to be human and elderly.