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Human nature, science of, in the 18th century

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-DB039-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved March 17, 2018, from

Article Summary

Eighteenth-century speculation on human nature is distinguishable by its approach and underlying assumptions. Taking their cue from Francis Bacon and Isaac Newton, many philosophers of the Enlightenment endeavoured to extend the methods of natural science to the moral sciences. Perhaps the most explicit of such endeavours was David Hume’s ambition for a ‘science of man’, but he was not alone. There was a general convergence on the idea that human nature is constant and uniform in its operating principles – that is, its determining motives (passions), its source of knowledge (sense experience) and its mode of operation (association of ideas). By virtue of this constancy human nature was predictable, so that once it was scientifically understood, then social institutions could be designed to effect desired outcomes.

Citing this article:
Berry, Christopher J.. Human nature, science of, in the 18th century, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-DB039-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2018 Routledge.

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