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The conception of human nature in modern political thought : with special reference to the work of Charles Taylor

Hounslow, Adam Philip


Adam Philip Hounslow


Noël O'Sullivan

Andrew, 1959 Mason


[From the introduction:]
This thesis will analyse and advocate a 'contextualist' reading of human nature. By reference to the work of Charles Taylor it will be argued that Modern conceptions of human nature are (to echo Nietzsche) 'dead'. This is to attack the suggestion that a conception of human nature may be understood in an ahistorical, universalist, abstract or 'unencumbered' sense. A conception of human nature must, of necessity, it will be argued, be understood in a more dynamic and 'local' sense. It is the suggestion of this thesis that human nature must be understood in a sense akin to the existential notion of 'facticity', or as possessing a degree of 'determinacy'. While human nature is 'encumbered' by its 'situation' in time and geographical location it is not however wholly determined. An individual's existence is co-determined by individual choice, the individual's history, and by Nature. Human nature must be recognised to have a facticity, to exist at a certain point in history, in a certain country, to be encumbered by countless other emotional ties, friendships, and loyalties. This 'embedded' conception of human nature is delineated and explored through Taylor's conception of human nature as an 'interspatial epiphany', and is to be preferred to the unencumbered sense of interspatial epiphany that might be seen to be offered by some forms of existentialism. Such existentialist thought is not as astutely located or embedded as Taylor's thought, and suffers from what Taylor terms 'existential heroism', a focus on choice making rather than on the background of encumberment.

While the notion of a universal conception of human nature must be abandoned, as the individual is now seen as 'located' temporally, and spatially, it is still possible to draw some (very) modest generalisations about the nature of individuals. This exploration proceeds by generating a 'thick description' of the selfs particular, but ultimately contingent, connections and affiliations. (Such a located description is seen as superior by Taylor, to thin, mechanistic, scientific and neurological descriptions of human agency.)


Hounslow, A. P. (2000). The conception of human nature in modern political thought : with special reference to the work of Charles Taylor. (Thesis). University of Hull. Retrieved from

Thesis Type Thesis
Deposit Date Aug 19, 2013
Publicly Available Date Feb 23, 2023
Keywords Politics; Philosophy; Religion; Political science; Public administration
Public URL
Additional Information Department of Politics, The University of Hull
Award Date Jul 1, 2000


Thesis (11.2 Mb)

Copyright Statement
© 2000 Hounslow, Adam Philip. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the copyright holder.

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