Theories of human nature are much more in vogue today than they were only a few decades ago, but there is still some resistance to them. Some critics claim that there is little to be gained from such theories--that they cannot serve, for example, as foundations for moral or social or legal or political arguments. Many philosophers still say, to use an old phrase, that you can't get an 'ought' from an 'is.' Other critics worry that such theories presuppose there is something called ‘human nature’ and that, if it is taken to be anything more than a descriptive statement of human biology, it will lead to an obscure, speculative metaphysics.

I do not, however, wish to discuss these views nor, directly, challenge them here. I want simply to outline an account of what it is to be a human person. The account I provide is based on one that was elaborated over a century ago, in response to various empiricist and materialist analyses of the person, but it is an account that provides some useful insights today. It reflects the views of the 'absolute idealists' of the English speaking world, such as F. H. Bradley and Bernard Bosanquet, but also ‘idealists’ in Asia, such as Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan.

In the first part of this paper, I sketch out what it is to be an individual human person. In the second part, I outline the claim that a satisfactory account of the individual leads to a broader, more comprehensive, view of human nature. In the third section, I say something about how our concern for the individual and this more comprehensive theory of human nature are compatible. Finally, I state briefly what I take to be some of the advantages of such an account.