how can we tell someone “be natural”?

As my daughter started a philosophy course this school year (just like every other kid in the final year of French high school), we simultaneously started discussing at home some of the topics broached in class—with an unfortunate choice of Sartre as the first book to read….—. The first dissertation she had to write was about the above question, which I found both challenging and deep… While I let her go her own way, which was to conclude on possible autonomy of thought and action within the existing society, my inclination was to steer toward the absurdity of the statement, absurdity of both Rousseau’s belief in “le bon sauvage” and of the “Nature versus nurture” debate. (And then I learned that this term was coined by our own Francis Galton!). Indeed, if “be natural” means “revert to the state of nature [by removing all of the layers superimposed by society, culture, and education]”, this goal sounds absurd as dis-learning is impossible at that level. It can also be argued that the continuous exposure to society, education, and fellow humans has a deep impact on the physiological development of the brain and of the neurons to make the immersion of individuals much more “natural” than if they were left to return to an unachievable primitive state whose “humanity” could be questioned. Even animals have societies and imposed structures (from ants and bees to monkeys and ravens), without which they would not survive: despite the constraints and inequalities involved, it is difficult to argue against the “natural” aspect of such societies… Conversely, very young children left by themselves in the wild do not end up Romus or Mowglis, but turn so feral and are so separated from other humans that it is sometimes almost impossible to teach them a language (as in Truffaut’s L’Enfant Sauvage). [This is of course assuming real cases ever existed!] The whole quote from Aristotle,

“Man is by nature a social animal; an individual who is unsocial naturally and not accidentally is either beneath our notice or more than human. Society is something that precedes the individual. Anyone who either cannot lead the common life or is so self-sufficient as not to need to, and therefore does not partake of society, is either a beast or a god. ”

supports this perspective that Man is no longer Man without the society that made him what he is… (Sorry for the cheap phil’Og’sophy, this is bound to happen again…!)

5 Responses to “how can we tell someone “be natural”?”

  1. I think you do know that Rouseau didn’t believe in any “lbon sauvage”, right? He thought that in natural state there was no such a thing as good or bad.

  2. Christian Hennig Says:

    What does this tell us about the use of the word “natural” as an argument in statistics/science? (“The natural way of modelling this is so-and-so.”)
    Probably not much, but still…

  3. Real cases of profoundly socially isolated children unfortunately do exist. One recent case, Genie, from Los Angelas in 1970 was particularly poignant. See for a PBS NOVA documentary on the case. Coincidentally, she was discovered just as Truffaut’s film came out.

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