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Nature Vs. Nurture Essay

2511 words - 10 pages

Nature vs. Nurture

The human brain is not an empty vessel — right from the start it is packed with knowledge, some of which is built into every structure. A newborn baby just knows, for instance, that crying will bring other members of the species to its aid — it doesn't learn it or work it out.

(Carter, R. Consciousness, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, p. 143)

When Darwin's Theory of Evolution was published (See Darwin, C. (1859) On The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, Murray), proposing that simpler structures evolve into more complex organisms, the old certainties were threatened because the adaptations of creatures to their surroundings no longer needed to be explained in terms of an Almighty. Evolutionary qualities could be explained, at least partly, by genetic influences.

Mary Midgley, referring to the sociobiologist, Edward O. Wilson said,

Wilson's contribution here is concerned with correcting our perspective. He points out how we limit our insight if we do not think about genetic causes, how refusal to consider them commits us to standing far too close to the social pattern, taking as absolute what are really passing features of our own society, and as relative the underlying structures that cannot easily be fitted into them. We cannot know ourselves in this way. And if we insist on making the mistake, evolution will indeed make a monkey of us.

(Midgley, M. (1995) Beast And Man — The Roots of Human Nature, Routledge, p. 97)

However this perspective can be carried too far; from views such as Wilson's has developed the suspicion that human beings are born genetically conditioned, that woman are nurturing, men are rapists, ethics is a useful strategy for the selfish and above all we care for our genes. It is this view of determined materialism which is often assumed, at times unthinkingly, to be the de facto truth. The idea has therefore developed that if an aspect of human behaviour is genetically predisposed, it cannot be helped and, so the thinking goes; if it cannot be helped then blame cannot be apportioned. That view is tantamount to a 'council of doom' which, if accepted, allows us to believe that the selfish, the self-centred and egoists are most likely to succeed. It may be that in our darkest moments we subscribe to this view but by simply looking about us, we see that human nature is generally caring with each of us being concerned (albeit to a greater or lesser degree) for their neighbour.

The Gene Machine view is a term coined by Richard Dawkins, according to whom our character is mainly determined by those characteristics, which have led to evolutionary success. In a determined world certain aspects of animal behaviour can be attributed solely to genetics, yet human beings at least have free will, enabling them to choose outcomes and overrule 'basic' genetic tendencies. For example we can ensure that our fingernails do not grow overlong (by keeping them trimmed) but we can never prevent...

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