In his book “Emotional Amoral Egoism: A Neurophilosophical Theory of Human Nature and its Universal Security Implications” the author Nayef R. E. Al-Rodhan eloquently lays out his new philosophical approach on how human nature works. The center of his approach sees the human nature as a predisposed tabula rasa, a clear difference to prior approaches, such as Rousseau, who envisioned human beings to be good by nature, or Hobbes, who saw human actions driven by instinct alone.
In contrast to these earlier philosophies, Al-Rodhan presents a more differentiated view on human nature. His view is a mix between human instinct and environmental factors that make up how we decide on what actions to take. Because of this mixed view, the background section that explores and exposes the foundations of his philosophy is more challenging, combining traditional philosophical statements with basic scientific discourse.
So what is the predisposed tabula rasa that Al-Rodhan speaks of? Using this term, it is quite simple to explain his view of how genetic predisposition and environment will interact to form our nature and guide our actions. Tabula rasa used to mean a clean slate, a mind or being open to outside influences as guidance. Al-Rodhan rejects this view of human nature, arguing that environment, while still having a place in our decision tree, has its influence limited by genetics. We are born with a genetic makeup that we can not alter, only modify. Genetic factors will influence to some degree how we act, will form our instincts and limit the influences of the environment.
To explain his philosophy, Al-Rodhan therefore explores in some depth both the traditional philosophical history, nicely presented in a background chapter to bring the reader up to speed, but also basic genetics. The reader will be given all the information needed to grasp the philosophy, but the book will challenge the reader to understand the philosophy, but also the science. As such it is a departure from traditional philosophy books.
To address the question whether we are good by nature or learn to be good through analysis, the author argues that humans can be either depending on the situation. He argues that we are driven by self-interest, limited by the genetic makeup, and that decisions tend to be primarily based on emotions rather than rational thinking.
If this is how the individual acts and makes decisions, what are the implications for our co-existence and can lessons for avoiding international conflict be derived from this analysis? The author dedicates the final part of his book to this question and presents a theory that stresses the importance of guaranteing basic human rights to everyone as a means of limiting the traditional causes for conflict. In his theory, basic human rights would include access to food and shelter for everyone, certainly a challenge in some regions of the world. I find that this part of the book may represent the most innovative part of the book. The theory that a better understanding of human nature may lead to a decrease in conflict implies that traditional means to seek peace and coexistence are bound to fail since they do not address the root-causes of conflicts. Certainly this book will yield enough room for discussion. In order to fully appreciate this book, especially the author’s view on conflict and how to achieve peaceful co-existence, the reader must carefully read the initial chapters of the book to fully grasp the theory on human nature that the author proposes.