The Ascent of Man develops a comprehensive theory of human nature. Harris sees human nature as an emergent property that supervenes upon the causal nexus that is created by the interactions amongst a cluster of properties. While there is significant overlap between individuals that have human nature and those that are biologically human, the concept of human nature developed in this book is different from what it means to be biologically human. Whether biologically human or not, an individual may be said to possess human nature. This theory of human nature is called the "cluster theory."
Harris takes as his point of departure Plato's comment that in learning what a thing is we should look to the ways in which it acts upon or is acted upon by other things. In developing this theory, the book commits to a methodological naturalism and draws upon current views from the social and biological sciences. The cluster theory represents one of the very few completely novel theories of human nature developed in the post-Darwin era, and will prove most useful in dealing with philosophical questions involving such contemporary issues as cloning, cybernetics, and the possibility of extraterrestrial life.
The fundamental conceptual issue is the question of how plastic and elastic is the nature of human nature. Just how different might we imagine human beings to be and still be human in the sense that we still possess whatever it is that accounts for a unique nature? The theory of human nature developed in this book is a descriptive, dynamic, bottom-up, non-essentialist, naturalist theory. The work is well versed in classical philosophy and contemporary behavioral science. It is written in a graceful, open-ended way that both educates and illuminates the renewed interests in being human.
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