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Book Chapter

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The Oxford Handbook Of The Human Essence


This chapter opens with a social constructionist perspective on human essences. As proposed, essences are not given in nature, but constructed within cultural traditions. Thus, the major challenge is not that of “getting it right” about the essence, but generating accounts that may contribute to society. A criterion of reflective pragmatism is proposed in which questions of contribution and critique prevail. In this light the chapter places in critical light the bio-cognitive and neurological explanations of human nature, especially focusing on the ideological and political implications of these orientations. In contrast, discussion opens on relational conceptions of human essence. Several approaches are considered, including symbolic interactionism and object relations theory in psychoanalysis. However, a fully relational account abandons the individual as the fundamental unit of analysis in favor of relational process out of which the very conception of the individual is formed (or not). Several practical implications are treated including the potentials of relational responsibility


bio-cognitive explanation, culture, reflective pragmatism, discourse analysis, essentialism, human nature, social construction, evolution, neurological explanation, relational responsibility

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Oxford University Press


M. Van Zomeren and J. F. Dovidio


This material was originally published in The Oxford Handbook Of The Human Essence edited by Martijn van Zomeren and John F. Dovidio, and has been reproduced by permission of Oxford University Press. For permission to reuse this material, please visit

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