Nature v Nurture is one of the most fundamental long standing debates in developmental psychology and many argue it is impossible to separate the two principles sometimes referred to as free will v determinism. The Nature v Nurture discussion focusses on genetic, innate characteristics and environmental influences causative to human development and this has divided psychology into powerful movements like the Eugenics movement (advocating that the human race can be improved by selective reproduction) as opposed to the Evolutionary principle of natural selection founded by Darwin, Charles (1838). Moreover, gender identity, homosexuality etc. have all been seen as almost exclusively genetically determined or totally “socially constructed”.
Going way back in time to the ancient Greek philosophers (428 BC), the Nature argument can be portrayed subject to the Socratic “Theory of Recollection and Experience”. This was a hypothesis of learning written by the Classical, Greek Philosopher, Plato who was also a Mathematician and a student of another Greek heavyweight Philosopher, Socrates. Socrates was Plato’s mentor. His philosophical dialogues incorporated his deliberations that an innovation concerning our own ignorance should generate an aspiration for the knowledge that evades us. This sophistical argument has come to be known as the “Meno’s Paradox” or the “Paradox of Enquiry”. Plato approved with Socrates, but additionally questioned as to how such knowledge, which had managed to elude even Socrates, could ever be attained. He found his answer in the “Theory of Recollection”, one of the most infamous philosophical literatures. What we currently term as learning, he claimed in the “Meno Paradox” and is in fact the recollection of knowledge in an existence present before our birth, in brief, the immortality of the soul.
However, none of his successors, Aristotle and Epicurus found this a resounding proposition. All went to significant extents to challenge the “Recollection theory” which implies that they were suitably impressed by the prominent question he was attempting to answer. Plato’s “Theory of Recollection” represented the catalyst for what was to be a long-running philosophical debate about foundations of knowledge and the nature symposium.
Then again, recollection can only enter into the equation when we have already acquired a level of conceptual thought and start to become perplexed, frustrated and unhappy with the evaluation we have obtained. Those who do not become perplexed in this way do not even begin to recollect and the exceptional resources dormant within them remain completely idle, as supported by Scott, Dominic (1995). As the famous quote by the English biologist Huxley, T.H. (1873) states “The thief and the murderer follow nature just as much as the philanthropist”.
Nurture could be characterised and summarized in the context of the mind before it receives the impressions gained from experience or the uniformed featureless mind. Aristotle in obvious reaction to Plato placed great emphasis upon perception and experiences both in scientific and ethical learning. Aristotle and Aquinas, St Thomas supported the radical “nurture” or “environmental” theory, as opposed to the “nature” or “hereditarianism“ beliefs.
Tabula Rasa is the Latin for “scraped tablet”. The Tabula Rasa or blank-state hypothesis denotes that people are born with no genetic, innate or evolutionary content that develop or cultivate over time. This postulation (one of the most principal tenets of Marxism and communist doctrines) conveys that we are born as a blank slate, an empty disk, onto which data is stored. Personal experiences determine who we are, what we become and what we believe. The modern notion is mainly derived from the 17th century English empirical philosopher Locke, John (1672) who saw the mind at birth as an empty blank void without any form of intelligence and without any predetermined or innate instincts. In this logic, people are able to establish their own destiny and individuality.
In short, both Plato, and other Philosophers such as Descartes (1631) agree that certain things are inborn or they simply occur naturally regardless of environmental influences and all believe in the idea that the human mind or spirit pre-exists in some developed form in the heavens. The clearest objection to this theory comes from Darwin, Charles (1838) and the evolutionary psychologists as they do not accept this as it is not scientific fact. The evolutionary psychologist’s position is concise in that the human being (body and mind) has been assigned by natural selection to behave in particular way. The brain is the product of evolutionary adaptation. We are hard wired and in this sense predestined to behave in particular ways. We remain the “naked “apes and/or of Tabula rasa tradition.
Genes and environments shape human development and are not confined to questions of IQ scores. They have implications for virtually every aspect of human character and capabilities. Even if the heritability of a trait is extremely high, as it is for height, the environment still can excerpt a very powerful influence (Scott, Dominic 1995). Geneticists present an interesting thesis in that heritability will tend to be higher in a good environment than in a poor one because the former provides the necessary resources for the biological potential to be realized. After all, what good is having a great potential for say, music or art when the schools you attend do not teach them. Likewise, having an excellent potential for intelligence may be of limited use if you are reared in an environment lacking an intellectual wherewithal.
Although, psychology research is verified by scientific evidence, nearly all responsible research psychologists agree that human traits are jointly determined by both nature and nurture. They may disagree about the relative contributions of each. Not all biological influences on development are genetic, some are down to hormones and some are down to viruses and infections. These biological differences can be critical features of the intrauterine environment that can be mistaken for genetic influences. All of these heritability estimates and studies are highly situational of describing relative contributions of genes and environments to the expression of a trait in a specific group. This discloses nothing as this research has to include country, time and group measurements.
Therefore, if you do not have the encouragement, or given the right opportunities for your abilities at the correct time in the early years the enhancement of your abilities from genetic or non-genetic sources cannot be enriched and the individual’s real potential is very seldom achieved. Enhancement only comes through when we are displeased with our assessment of values and able to perceive our own full potential to develop our unique skills but at the same time realising our own personal limitations. In this sense, I do not think people change. They become the essence of who they really are.
Finally, as I am the eldest in my family, I was delighted to read research by Sulloway, (2007) that first-born children tend to be more intelligent than their later-born siblings (something of which I always deduced). Many psychologists believe that the oldest children benefit in the fact that, for a little while at least, they don’t have to share their parents with anyone else. Thus they have an improved knowledgeable environment as opposed to their younger siblings (Hertwig, Davis, & Sulloway, 2002; Zajonc, 1997, 2001). Therefore, in strength of this research Schacter, Gilbert, Wegner. (2009) state that intelligence comes from being raised first and not being born first.
These big questions will continue to be confronted as they have been through the years since even before 428BC. However, extensive scientific, biological and medical progress are significantly assisting us now onto the road of discovery and hopefully, eventually nearer to, at least, some of the answers.
List of References
Benson, Hugh, H. (1992) edn. Essays on the Philosophy of Socriates. London: Oxford ..University Press.
Darwin, Charles (1838) The Origin of Species, ed. by Griffith Tom (1998). Ware: . ..Wordsworth Publishers
Hertwig, Davis, & Sulloway, 2002; Zajonc, (1997, 2001) cited in Schacter, Gilbert, Wegner ..2nd edn (2011). New York: Worth Publishers
Huxley, Thomas, Henry. (1873) Aphorisms & Reflections from the works of T.H. Huxley, .. ed by Huxley, Henrietta, (1907). London: MacMillan & Co. Limited [online]. Available from <http://www.onlinebooks.library.upenn.edu.> [20 Nov 2011]
Locke, John. (1672) An essay concerning human understanding ed by Phemister, Pauline. ..(2008). St Ives: Oxford University Press
Sulloway. (2007) cited in Schacter, Gilbert, Wegner 2nd edn. New York: Worth Pubishers.
Scott, Dominic (1995) Recollection and experience, Plato’s theory of learning and it’s ..successors. Cambridge: University of Cambridge Press.