Agora Speaker Series 2023 - Prof Joseph Rouse

Sociocultural Animals
Joseph Rouse, Wesleyan University (USA)

We humans are animals. Biologists analyze our bodily anatomy, physiology, neural architecture, and ecology, and track our evolution from a common primate ancestor. We are also persons. Our lives are shaped by linguistic and cultural traditions, interpersonal relations, and political institutions. We deliberate thoughtfully, are swayed by powerful emotions, and answer to diverse social, moral, epistemic, and aesthetic norms. No one seriously denies either our animal embodiment or our personal and social complexity, but our intellectual traditions mostly keep these aspects of our lives carefully segregated into natural and cultural components. My talk begins by considering how contemporary challenges make it imperative to overcome this conceptual divide between our natural bodies and our social and cultural ways of life. Pandemics, climate change, resource limitations, and our interdependence with many other organisms do not parse into natural and sociocultural components. I then show how recent developments in evolutionary biology and social theory enable a more integrated “naturecultural” self-understanding that helps us think differently about our practices, languages, vulnerability, and critical capacities.