Nature v nurture? Please don’t ask

From The Times:

Nature_nurture The monster Caliban, according to his master, Prospero, was “a devil, a pure devil, on whose nature nurture can never stick”. Yet only a few decades before Shakespeare wrote The Tempest, St Ignatius Loyola had founded the Jesuit order, with its famous maxim: “Give me the child until he is 7, and I will show you the man.” This ancient debate over the relative contributions of inheritance and experience to the human condition has never been more charged than in the genetic age. On one side stood those who sought and saw genetic explanations for human psychology; on the other, those who believed it to be moulded by culture. There was little common ground. Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, an evolutionary psychologist, has even joked that perhaps we are genetically programmed to set nature against nurture.

Since the middle of the last century the nurture camp has been dominant. Just as molecular biology began to unravel the secrets of DNA, genetics and evolution were relegated to psychological bit-players by a new orthodoxy, which held that biology has forged a human mind of almost limitless malleability. It was the doctrine of the blank slate.

The idea, usually traced to the 17th-century philosopher John Locke, grew popular in the Enlightenment, fitting the mood of challenge to the supposedly innate authority of monarchy and aristocracy. It was a statement of individual freedom, which became strongly associated with the political Left. Though many early socialists were enthusiasts for eugenics, later generations grew suspicious of genetics, particularly after it was abused to justify oppression of disadvantaged racial and social groups, most brutally in Nazi Germany. Liberal opinion turned against the concept of a biological human nature, which was increasingly seen as a tool with which male and bourgeois elites could rationalise hegemony.

More here.