Intuition 2011 Vol 7, 34-38



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34
Intuition Vol 7, Breaking away from past paradigms, anew movement in the nature–nurture debate seeks to more fully explain who or what is ultimately responsible for personal identity. For centuries, nature, or genetic influence, and nurture, or social-environmental influences such as parents and schools, were the only two viable positions in the debate. It has remained under continuous intellectual scrutiny because at the heart of the issue lies a problem of existential relevance namely, what is ultimately responsible for one’s behavior, personality, and successor lack thereof) in life?
One problem in answering that question is that it is extremely difficult to determine how much influence a person’s genetic material has on a person’s behavior, intelligence, and success in life, and how much influence social influences, such as wealth and education, contribute to them. With the modern age, anew dimension of human development has emerged, specifically, the noetic. The term comes from the Greek word for mind, and refers to a person’s individual agency and freedom, but more specifically the ability to think. In this essay, agency refers to the capacity of an individual to choose and carryout any course in the presence of several options. Each of the traditional perspectives (nature and nurture) offers a unique view on the factors that shape the development of personality. However, these perspectives, taken individually, do not adequately explain how or why people develop differences in behavior and personality. At best, when these two perspectives are combined, they provide a better but still incomplete and inaccurate depiction of human behavior. Furthermore, nature, nurture, and the noetic not only represent a scientific schism but also reveal underlying disparities in lifestyles and philosophies people typically support theories that reflect their cosmological perspectives of life. Nature and nurture imply moral hedonism (i.e., anything that is pleasing is morally right and anything that is displeasing is morally wrong) by asserting that we cannot control what our genes/society dictate us to do, whereas the noetic preserves moral responsibility by declaring that despite the influences in our lives, we ultimately have the ability to choose. To better understand some of the important implications of the centuries-old debate and the relevance of the noetic for the debate, it is important to understand its origins and how the debate has evolved subsequently. Officially, the nature–nurture debate can trace its origin to 1874 even though it has been discussed or at least hinted at by philosophers in all ages. In 1874, however, the intellectual world had been recently rattled by the renowned Charles Darwin, who had published
On The Origin of Species in 1859. His cousin, Sir Francis
Galton, was deeply impacted by the theory of evolution that Darwin had laid out, namely, the theory of natural
ABSTRACT The roots of the nature-nurture debate within
psychology are briefly reviewed. Nature (that is, genetic
influence) and nurture (social-environmental influence)
offer two distinct perspectives on human personality and
behavior. However, despite their differences, the two
perspectives are philosophically identical in that both, when
carried to the extreme, result in the disintegration of personal
accountability and agency. The arguments for nature and
for nurture imply an outward locus of control either one’s
genes or one’s history of social influences maybe considered
to adequately account for how a person behaves. Neither of
these arguments gives an individual control over one’s course
of action and behavior. The ramifications of this view are
analyzed. I argue that the lack of moral agency and personal
accountability implied by this view renders the United States
legal system meaningless as far as it assumes that people can
control their behavior. An alternative philosophical view is
then recommended. Specifically, I propose that nature and
nurture should be considered conjunctly with the noetic, the
“spirit.” This proposed view provides a more comprehensive
explanation of individual differences in personality and
behavior.
Austin D. Miller



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