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human naturethe characteristics pertaining to human beings as a natural kind or species. Sociologists are generally agreed that, compared with other animals, the distinctive quality of human nature is its PLASTICITY. Rather than being born with specific INSTINCTS or predispositions, to be developed by maturation or automatically triggered by the environment, the BEHAVIOUR of human beings is influenced by CULTURE and SOCIALIZATION. Thus, suggestions that human beings are naturally acquisitive or aggressive can be countered by examples of societies in which acquisition or warfare are absent. Above all, human beings have developed the capacity for REFLEXIVITY, thus introducing the possibility of RATIONAL ACTION and rational social development. Against this, however, CIVILIZATION is sometimes seen as a veneer (e.g. Freud, Civilization and its Discontents), in which the instinctive aspect of human nature keeps breaking through, tending always to limit PROGRESS or rational development.
Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000