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La Educación
Número: (115) II
Año: 1993


Like the members of other species, through our awareness, we encounter the material world in our surroundings—we encounter nature. But unlike the members of most other species, we also encounter the enduring material things that have been made by us and by our kind—nature as it has been transformed by human beings at different stages of their social and cultural development. In this sense, human development and natural evolution are inextricably linked, and the historical development of human society can be seen as a specific and unique component of natural history.

As a species, we emerged from the natural world with certain physical capabilities. These physical features distinguished us by enabling us to transform nature itself. Because of our capability for complex reasoning, for example, we can envision things that have never existed before, and because of our manual dexterity and ability to communicate, we can fashion objects we have only imagined out of already existing materials. Thus, it is our ability to work cooperatively, to develop increasingly complex technology and put it at the service of our needs that sets us apart from other creatures and defines us as uniquely human.

As others have pointed out, however, the ability to transform the natural world is not solely a consequence of physical capability; this is the necessary but not the sufficient cause. The technology we develop and the tasks to which we apply it are more properly determined by our forms of social organization. What we produce, how we produce it, and how we relate to each other in the process of producing our subsistence defines, both directly and indirectly, the limits of our existence. The particular way in which we transform nature into goods for our own consumption forms the basis of our social and political institutions, as well as of our ideas about ourselves and the world around us. In a complex and differentiated society, these ideas, as well as the specific knowledge required to implement and sustain them, are transmitted from generation to generation through educational institutions, as the social formation in which we find ourselves seeks to reproduce its structures over time.