Nature Vs. Nurture

Essay by spoonman419College, UndergraduateA+, May 2004

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        The argument over the relative importance of nature (genetics) and nurture (environment) in determining human traits has long and fruitless. Many scholars have participated in it over centuries, including such unprecedented philosophers as John Locke and Thomas Hobbes. The problem is that most of the debate has continued either with a simply divisive view of the question, or with a lack of related empirical evidence. The controversy has in fact largely been solved when it comes to plants and non-human animals. Unfortunately, most philosophers are not aware of such progress, which has taken place within the mysterious discipline of evolutionary ecology (Hellman, 1998). On the other hand, most scientists keep focusing on the special case of humans, which, while obviously the most interesting, has demonstrated to be the most defiant to empirical analysis and the most open to examination that is more philosophical.

While humans have always explored their own nature and have certainly done much since the onset of Greek philosophy, modern positions on the issue of nature and nurture can be traced to the works of two English philosophers, John Locke and Thomas Hobbes.

Locke was the founder of the school known as empiricism, holding that knowledge can be gained only through the use of the senses, as opposed to rationalism, according to which the mind can derive knowledge solely on logical grounds (Lewontin, 1984). On the question of human nature, Locke thought of the human mind as a tabula rasa, meaning a blank slate. On this slate, experience writes and influences the individual throughout one's life. According to Locke's view, innate thoughts do not enter the picture.

On the other hand, Thomas Hobbes adopted a different notion. In his books, and particularly in the famous Leviathan, he proposed that mechanical processes control human actions, which are inherently...