I have read the endorsements of Wentholt’s book manuscript ‘The Nature of Human Nature’ that you sent me, as also your one-page description of the book’s contents. This looks like a manuscript worth being taken very seriously by any book editor of an important academic publishing house. I therefore authorize you to append this message of mine to your communications with them.
Aafke Komter, Emeritus Professor of Social Science; visiting researcher Department of Sociology, Erasmus University Rotterdam; author of Social Solidarity and the Gift (Cambridge University Press, 2005):
Taking the complexity of human behavior as his point of departure and starting from an evolutionary conception of our mental structure, Wentholt develops an integrated social scientific view of ‘what makes us tick’. In his daring and highly original analysis Wentholt not only pays attention to the ‘adaptive’ aspects of human behavior such as prosocial tendencies, human justice-seeking, or knowledge-hunger, but also investigates forms of human ‘maladaptation’ as expressed, for instance, in inner conflicts, non- rational cognitive tendencies, and the dynamics of evil. This books deserves to become widely known, not only among social scientists, but also among academics from other disciplines such as historians and philosophers.
Abram de Swaan, University Professor, University of Amsterdam; author of Human societies; an Introduction (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2001); The Management of Normality; Critical Essays in Health and Welfare (London/New York: Routledge, 1990), and The world language system; A political sociology and political economy of language (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2002):
This part of W’s manuscript [subsection ‘The Recipe for Guiltless Killing’ in ch. 13] is most worthwhile. It is innovative as an elaboration of his most original general scheme of human nature and in its perceptive comments on the ways in which many or most humans can perpetrate the worst atrocities and yet ‘live with themselves’ after the fact. The work’s full implications will only become visible once other scholars apply Wentholt’s general framework in empirical studies of their own. Therefore it ought to be made widely available.
Roger Smith, Author of The Norton History of the Human Sciences (1997); R eader Emeritus in the History of Science, Lancaster University; associated with the Institute of the History of Science and Technology and the Institute of Psychology of the Russian Academy of Sciences, in Moscow:
Many scientists point to the need for integration and the recognition of complexity. But recognition of these notions tend to remain as an ideal; here, admirably, we see what it means when these notions are taken seriously, across the board, as conditions of good practice. This book puts its pen where its mouth is. This seems to me its strength and what gives it a potentially huge audience. Though it does not cite sources, it is an extended critical commentary on practice across the human sciences, and it is a commentary on what better practice would look like couched continuously in terms of practical, applicable terms, immediately recognizable to scientists. It is accessibly written, mostly easy to read and understand, and I would have thought that reflective scientists — and in my experience there are many in the human sciences discontented with the state of their field but feeling entrapped by the social structure of specialization —would find this a fine text to help that reflection. It is full of wise and thoughtful comments, of the kind busy people do not normally take the time to reflect on. I kept wanting to make ticks — ‘yes, I agree with that’. It can be read as a highly constructive reaction against the social reality of the human sciences — specialization, for career purposes, at the expense of ‘the obvious’ complexities/patterns/interaction of different factors. The book should be judged by the difference it might make to scientific practice, and judged this way it has a lot to offer, both in content and in accessibility.
The text is attractive as an original voice, thinking for itself, and the more I read the more it countered my fears that it would be an idiosyncratic performance alienated from the general run of argument. On the contrary, it patently is systematically thoughtful about a long life of practice in science, and I for one certainly think there is space for a voice of this kind which does not all the time argue via citation. Comments here are refreshingly thoughtful. The problem, then, is to get publisher and audience to listen. The tone is attractively reasonable, not embittered or alienated, as tends to happen with writers who take a lone stance. It is very good at pointing out where scientists do not think through or carry out what they claim to do.
I enjoyed reading these chapters [ch. 1 and 14] and appreciated the patent honesty and thoughtfulness of the voice. I do think it could have an audience among human scientists themselves: it would vastly enrich practice.
Ruut Veenhoven, Emeritus professor of social conditions for human happiness at Erasmus university Rotterdam in the Netherlands and special professor at North-West University in South Africa:
Trained in sociology, I learned about Wentholt’s views when working in his team of social psychology over the years 1971-1988. This gave me a broader view on human nature and helped me to transcend disciplinary boundaries in my study of happiness. Wentholt’s theory of human motivation is still the best there is. His innovative attempt to overcome the crumbling of the social sciences should not get lost, in particular not because the crumbling process proceeds.
Ruud Abma, Cultural psychologist and historian of the human sciences, Utrecht University
In an era in which the human sciences display an ever increasing specialization and disunity, Wentholt’s The Nature of Human Nature offers a fundamental rethinking of the basic questions of human existence and the disciplines that study it. Humans are not things and so it is unwise to study them as if they were inanimate objects (an equally common as regrettable procedure in the human sciences). But what then, is the alternative? Here, Wentholt proposes to take the complexity of the human being and its manifold actions as a starting point, followed by a both innovative and profound theoretical exploration of human motivation, skills and consciousness. The value of this approach is demonstrated throughout the book in a multitude of concrete examples and even more so in the last part of the book, where Wentholt puts the human sciences to the test of social relevance — making human science matter!
Howard Hotson, Professor of Early Modern Intellectual History at St. Anne’s College, Oxford:
I am sympathetic with the agenda spelled out in the introduction. It is of course an audacious undertaking, and it is difficult to form a just appraisal of such a wide-ranging work. Like some important recent contributions to philosophy, economics and higher education policy, it addresses matters of acute contemporary concern, but does so per force by stepping outside the paradigms currently dominant within those disciplines. One can anticipate hostility from the social scientific community, deeply invested as they all will be in their own methods and traditions; but that is of course not reason not to press ahead — quite the contrary.
Rens Bod, Professor of Computational and Digital Humanities, University of Amsterdam; author of A New History of the Humanities: The Search for Principles and Patterns from Antiquity to the Present, Oxford UP, 2013 (first published in Dutch in 2010):
The social sciences are two centuries old, yet they are still lacking a solid conceptual foundation. Rob Wentholt not only questions existing foundations of the social sciences, he reconstitutes them at the same time. He thinks through the whole of the human sciences – from consciousness to wellbeing and from social esteem to evil. As an example of Wentholt’s systematic approach, take his notion of ‘patterned complexity’: it allows him to uncover and next deeply analyze the methodology and styles of reasoning in the human sciences. It is as if for the first time a grasp of coherence can be discerned in the motley whole of thinking about human behaviour. This is the true and major contribution of Wentholt’s work for which human scientists had to wait far too long.