The nature of science is a concept that typically possesses a fixed idea or notion. It is often thought of as something that is concrete or absolute with specific laws that it abides by which we use in order to predict or manipulate the behaviors of whatever science is at hand. However, if this was the definition of science, then science itself would not be able to fall under this definition. All fields of science, at one time or another, were not understood at all and so were not considered exact sciences until enough data or understanding of them made it possible so that not only the general notions of the topics were understood, but also the perturbations that affected these general notions were grasped competently as well. One example of a field of science that is used by John Stuart Mill in his book The Logic of the Moral Sciences is one that is considered very well understood today but comes from obscure beginnings is. When astronomy was first beginning to become studied as a science, very little was understood about it. There were general motions of cosmic forces that could be understood but not the perturbations that made them so (John Stuart Mill, 1965, p. 32). At this point, astronomy was not a very exact science, but it was science nonetheless. Although astronomy– being well understood and much more exact today– is considered a prime example of science, it was not so exact in its beginnings. This is where human nature reserves itself within the realm of science. Like astronomy in its early days, human nature is understood almost exclusively in general terms. Where the general motions of the planets were understood in astronomy, the thoughts and feelings of human beings are understood, but the perturbations that would make them predictable are not so well comprehended. Therefore, human nature is an inexact science that cannot be fully comprehended without the understanding of its perturbations. Once this is understood, then there is no reason why human nature could not be considered science.
Now, before the discussion that human nature can be considered a science can begin, we must elaborate on what the definition of human nature really is. There are propositions that human nature is complex and more intricate than physical terms and therefore cannot be discussed within the limits of strictly physical terms. Human nature can be seen as spiritual, perhaps, and belongs to a metaphysical definition that transcends all scientific understanding. Accordingly, the human being is a human being not because they are consciously thinking with their brains, but because they are consciously aware of a soul. While this definition is not very concrete, there is no denying that it is an argument nonetheless. The argument that human nature is dependent on the soul is a stance that cannot be proven nor disproven, and so there will be no attempt to refute this stance. However, it cannot be denied– no matter how you define a human being– that all human beings talk, think, or move. Therefore, we will define human behavior as talking, thinking, and moving. When talking about the nature of humans, there are many preconceived notions as to what that means intuitively, spiritually, ethically, and morally. As such, we will define human nature in the most basic of terms in order to be as objective as possible. When discussing human nature, we will think of human nature as the capacity to feel emotions, be influenced, and make decisions based on these emotions and influences.
Because human nature can be defined in the same scientific terms that astronomy once was defined in does not necessarily mean that it is science beyond anything but conceptualization. What matters in understanding human nature as a science is what lies beyond perceiving human behavior in the general terms of talking, thinking, and moving. These occurrences that are generally understood in relation to human nature each have perturbations, or miscellaneous variations, that make it impossible to predict the outcome of human behavior exactly. This is where human nature becomes science. If the general terms of human behavior were understood in addition to the comprehension of these specific variations and how they relate back and affect these general terms, then the predictability of human nature would be possible. Here it could be said that this relates to astronomy because what makes astronomy an exact science is the dual comprehension of its general rules and the disruptions or perturbations within its cosmic laws that make it predictable. You could say that astronomy is science because it is an objective force that abides by laws of nature and that the only reason it is considered science is because of those laws that humans don’t possess. If this were so, then human beings would be able to defy the laws of nature. Seeing as this is impossible physically, let us analyze how different the nature of human beings are from astronomy. No, the cosmos do not experience feelings or loss, but these are only subjective perturbations relating to human nature; astronomy has perturbations of its own. Planets can be influenced by one another’s gravitational pulls, disrupting their usual course of motion. Just because they were influenced or disrupted from the usual course does not mean it is unnatural, in the same way that the subjective behavior of human beings being influenced by external forces does not make the nature of human beings unnatural. Albeit humans are the only ones in this example who experience emotion and act upon that chemical reaction, there are plenty of other examples of beings in nature who do the same thing. Apes, for instance, can be influenced by anger or jealousy and act out in the same way human beings do. None of these notions successfully out human nature from abiding by nature and its objective laws. However, the astronomy comparison is only one example and if human nature is to be considered a science, it is only fair that it is compared to other fields of science as well.
Another scientific example that John Stuart Mill relates human nature to is Tidology, the study of tides. Oceanography is the proper term for this topic, but tidology will be used in its place so as to follow the descriptions used by John Stuart Mill and also to emphasize the study of tides used in this analogy. Tides are an example of a natural phenomenon that can easily be perceived to be something– in very general and plain terms– as water being drawn to the moon’s gravity, lapsing each turn on a consistent basis. However, the reason that there is an entire study dedicated to this concept is because each tide has its own idiosyncrasies. These variances depend on underlying currents, wind, weather, external forces of waves, animals, etc. This makes it very difficult to predict the exact behavior of a tide or wave because there is so much brewing beneath the surface. This means that tidology is not an exact science. Mill (1965) points out that this is not because it does not have the capacity of being an exact science, but because of “… the difficulty of ascertaining with complete precision the real derivative uniformities” (p. 32). In the same way that the concept of the tides can be understood generally, so too can the general concept of human nature be understood. Furthermore, in the same way that the prediction of tides cannot be exact due to certain idiosyncrasies that manage its behavior, so too does human nature possess countless variables that manage and determine its behavior. Although there are underlying idiosyncrasies that make each human experience different, this is no reason why the study of human behavior should be disqualified as being a science. It could be mentioned, however, that although tides are slightly different, there is still the general notion that they will not sway dramatically from their due course. A wave will not leave the entire ocean to find solitude the same way a human being could. While this argument could hold some ground when speaking objectively about tides in relation to the ocean they are operating in, there is no place for the notion in subjective terms because human beings operate subjectively within the ocean that is human nature. There are behavioral patterns inherent to humans that are comparable to the patterns that can be seen with the tides. Just because one pattern or phenomena is not exactly like another does not mean that there is no pattern. Science, too, is subjective and so not all things that are scientific can be spoken in an absolute manner. Although not exact, tidology is another scientific field of study, like astronomy, that is still considered to be science. One concern that remains in question is if the study of human nature is even possible, or rather, is the exact understanding, variations included, attainable? And if it isn’t, is it still considered a science?
As was mentioned previously, there are many idiosyncrasies that are involved with human nature. The underlying variations that affect tides were used as an example, but it does not take much to see that the number of underlying variances that affect human nature is infinite compared to the behavior of tides. The variations concerned with human nature are admittedly unique to human behavior. Variations that restrict predictability– like morals or ethics– are things that are seemingly only found in human nature. Therefore, an explanation as to how this relates to science cannot be manufactured because there is not a place in science that we know of that possesses these qualities. It could be argued that the kinds of variations and not the variations themselves are what separates human nature from science. This notion does seem very plausible, but when thinking in terms of science, there are all kinds of anomalies and mysteries that can be found in the natural world of science. This accusation against human nature not being a science is founded on the premise that we do not understand it and so it cannot have a place here. In science that seems ironic. Just because the origins of logic or reason do not make sense to us today does not mean that it is not scientific. On the contrary, it makes it even more scientific in terms of seeking to fulfill that understanding. Years ago we thought emotions were simply intrinsic to our souls and made us special from all other living things. Today we know that emotions are the results of chemical reactions within the brain, giving notions as complex as love a scientific reason. Not only this, but we also know that emotions occur in animals as well, debunking the notion that they were unique to us only. So, while they do certainly make us special, emotions do not essentially make us that different from other living things. Variations like this are what cloud the line linking human nature and science and because there are so many of these variations, the proposition of understanding all of them and using them to predict behavior as you would a storm cloud seems inconceivable.
It is sufficed to say, therefore, that it is not possible to accurately collect the data from each person’s variations (i.e. childhoods, emotions, traumas, experiences, influences, upbringing, goals, etc.) let alone gather that information and utilize it in order to predict their behavior. The thing that makes human nature so difficult to predict is the individuality of each person. However, this is not a breaking point in the scientific world. Science is not dependent on the relative sizes of variations that result in one outcome or another. Just because there cannot be an exact determination within a field of science does not mean that the pursuit or progress of the study within that field is not scientific or does not contribute to science as a whole. But if the understanding of human nature seems to be impossible according to the definition mentioned before, what would be the solution? According to John Stuart Mill (1965), “Inasmuch – as many of those effects which it is of most importance to render amenable to human foresight and control are determined – in an incomparably greater degree by general causes, than by all partial causes taken together; depending in the main on those circumstances and qualities which are common to all mankind, or at least to large bodies of them, and only to a small degree on the idiosyncrasies of organization [sic] or the peculiar history of the individuals; it is evidently possible, with regard to all such effects, to make predictions which will almost always be verified, and general propositions which are almost always true.”(p. 34) In compliance with this statement, the solution would be that where we are capable to predict how the majority of the human race, or a country, or a small class of people, will act, think, or speak, then it is the same as a universal proposition. Because the task of predicting how each person will behave is impossible, it is just as good to be able to predict how a large group of people will behave as a whole. While this does seem off-putting because science is not typically thought of in terms of being almost always true, this is not an argument that could break down the notion that human nature is a kind of science. This manner of predictability is how social sciences and political sciences behave as well. Because science is built on the basis of almost getting something right and working to improve that notion (hence why there is a difference between laws and notions) then it is correct to assume that this solution is compliant enough to be a scientific stance. Just because something is not perfected does not mean that the pursuit of that perfection is futile or otherwise unacceptable.
This notion does not take away the credibility of human nature as a science because it is behaving as a science within scientific terms. Human nature, while it does have its multitude of perturbations that are oftentimes unforeseen or even never before seen, still belongs to nature. The very fact that the biology of humans is irrefutably scientific can only lead us to believe that whatever humans do or create likewise belongs to science. Just because human being have created societies and cultures where other biological beings have not does not mean that the nature that lead to this course of action is not scientific. In fact, it is almost narcissistic to believe otherwise. To treat human nature from the respect level of phenomenology all the way up to the same respect as astronomy is one thing, but to not say it is a science at all is just illogical. Not only this, but the realization that the understanding of human nature is born from the same curiosity as astronomy was in its incomplete beginnings as well as the predictability of humans is credible by analyzing the underlying currents and variances in the same way that tidology analyzes tides further strengthens the notion that human nature is, indeed, scientific.
Mill, J. S. (1965). On the logic of the moral sciences: a system of logic, Book Vi. Place of publication not identified: publisher not identified.