War, Evolution, and the Nature of Human Nature

David Livingstone Smith

in The Oxford Handbook of Evolutionary Perspectives on Violence, Homicide, and War

Published in print July 2012 | ISBN: 9780199738403
Published online November 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Library of Psychology

War, Evolution, and the Nature of Human Nature


This chapter aims to arrive at a credible account of the relations between evolution, human nature, and the propensity for war. Virtually nothing is known about war during prehistory. The conclusions of anthropologists, archaeologists, and primatologists are underdetermined by evidence; therefore, claims about the antiquity of war cannot be used to support the thesis that war is rooted in human nature. To examine the connection between war and human nature, one needs an explicit theory of human nature. Equating human nature with a human essence is unacceptable. The nomological theory of human nature holds that human nature consists of evolved psychological traits that are widespread and not dimorphic. The nomological theory is used to distinguish components of human nature from expressions of human nature. The disposition to war is an expression of human nature rather than a component of it.

Keywords: war; human nature; essentialism; nomological theory; ethnocentrism

Article.  8831 words. 

Subjects: Psychology ; Social Psychology

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