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Arts & Books
Nature, nurture and liberal values
by Roger Scruton / JANUARY 25, 2012 / 25 COMMENTS Biology determines our behaviour more than it suits many to acknowledge. But people—and politics and morality—cannot be described just by neural impulses
The window to the soul or just a collection of cells? Transition 5 (detail) by Susan Aldworth
Beyond Human Nature by Jesse Prinz (Allen Lane, £22) Incognito by David Eagleman (Canongate, £20) You and Me: the Neuroscience of Identity by Susan Greenfield (Notting Hill Editions, £10) Human beings are diverse and live in diverse ways. Should we accept that we are diverse by nature, having followed separate evolutionary paths? Or should we suppose that we share our biological inheritance, but develop differently according to environment and culture? Over recent years scientific research has reshaped this familiar “nature-nurture” debate, which remains central to our understanding of human nature and morality. For much of the 20th century social scientists held that human life is a single biological phenomenon, which flows through the channels made by culture, so as to acquire separate and often mutually inaccessible forms. Each society passes on the culture that defines it, much as it passes on its language. And the most important aspects of culture—religion, rites of passage and law—both unify the people who adhere to them and divide those people from everyone else. Such was implied by what John Tooby and Leda Cosmides called the “standard social science model,” made fundamental to anthropology by Franz Boas and to sociology by Émile Durkheim. More recently evolutionary psychologists have begun to question that approach. Although you can explain the culture of a tribe as an inherited possession, they suggested, this does not explain how culture came to be in the first place. What is it that endows culture with its stability and function? In response to that question the opinion began to grow that culture does not provide the ultimate explanation of any significant human trait, not even the trait of cultural diversity. It is not simply that there are extraordinary constants among cultures: gender roles, incest taboos, festivals, warfare, religious beliefs, moral scruples, aesthetic interests. Culture is also a part of human nature: it is our way of being. We do not live in herds or packs; our hierarchies are not based merely on strength or sexual dominance. We relate to one another through language, morality and law; we sing, dance and worship together, and spend as much time in festivals and storytelling as in seeking our food. Our hierarchies involve offices, responsibilities, gift-giving and ceremonial recognition. Our meals are shared, and food for us is not merely nourishment but an occasion for hospitality, affection and dressing up. All these things are comprehended in the idea of culture—and culture, so understood, is observed in all and only human communities. Why is this? The answer given by evolutionary psychologists is that culture is an adaptation, which exists because it conferred a reproductive advantage on our hunter-gatherer ancestors. According to this view many of the diverse customs that the standard social science model attributes to nurture are local variations of attributes acquired 70 or more millennia ago, during the Pleistocene age, and now (like other evolutionary adaptations) “hard-wired in the brain.” But if this is so, cultural characteristics may not be as plastic as the social scientists suggest. There are features of the human condition, such as gender roles, that people have believed to be cultural and therefore changeable. But if culture is an aspect of nature, “cultural” does not mean “changeable.” Maybe these controversial features of human culture are part of the genetic endowment of human kind. This new way of thinking gained support from the evolutionary theory of morality. Defenders of nurture suppose
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selected in the harsh conditions that threatened our ancestors with extinction. and the weight of scientific evidence impossible to deny. When the idea of cultural diversity first took root in the German Enlightenment it was associated with the study of the myths. like a great ocean liner on the deck of which we walk up and down.Nature. and that emotions are socially constructed from raw material that is innate only because it belongs to basic bodily processes and gut reactions. Offering his own version of the Freudian story. in the eyes of its proponents. Prinz belongs to another mindset—one that can be observed in some of the disciples of Boas. The real question is how far does this kind of genetic influence extend? Susan Greenfield refers to recent brain-imaging research by Ryota Kanai and others at UCL which purportedly suggests that students with conservative political attitudes tend to have larger than normal amygdalae. the division of roles everywhere to be observed between men and women. customs and artworks of antiquity. a man of previously good character. that “Every child who is born alive / Is either a little liberal / Or a little conservative”? Those speculations bring us to another and far more serious obstacle to the humane understanding of our condition than the one that troubles Prinz. stereotyping and other factors that allegedly sap their confidence—an argument that. In this or that particular the science might be faulted or revised. rather than a set of rationally held beliefs. We recognise that men are by nature more aggressive and more inclined to settle disputes by violence. with the “amygdala excuse. And no educated person is likely to dispute the fact that this difference between men and women is genetic. Whether it is nature or nurture that wired up the brain. But for all he says to the contrary it could be that there are obstacles to progress that are fixed in our nature and not to be changed by social adjustment.” just like Whitman? Taking off from the Whitman case David Eagleman argues that we should revise our sense of legal and moral responsibility. All that is argued boldly and with much support from the literature of experimental psychology. He does not have much sympathy for any culture other than the one in which he is immersed —the liberal egalitarian culture of the American academy. Consider. does this provide me. His argument was meticulous and serious. A kind of imperial reverence for those things animated the minds of those who studied them. Advances in neuroscience are beginning to suggest that. A species whose young are as vulnerable as human children needs both organised defence and serious home building if it is to reproduce itself. Hence processes in the brain can affect our decision-making without our being able to counter them. And on those granite foundations has been built the romantic castle of sexual difference. So was Whitman to blame for what he did? And if not. The Telegraph reports on Nigel Farage's article on Lords reform Prospect writer Mark Kitto is profiled in the New York Times Prospect Reads Do China’s youth care about politics? asks Alec Ash Joanna Biggs on Facebook and feminism Boris Berezosky was a brilliant man. shooting from the top of the University Tower in Austin Texas. and that concepts like responsibility and freedom cannot survive intact from the advances of neuroscience. Eagleman argues that most of what we do is more influenced by unconscious than by conscious processes. which holds that sexual roles are socially constructed. imagining that we move it with our feet. was further proved by Larry Summers’s foolhardy attempt to question it. and with connections that have been wired without our knowledge and definitely without our consent. who can look after themselves only after ten years of nurture and nowadays not even then. but the broad case is surely compelling. after decades of reproach for my conservative opinions. that sexual morality is exhausted by the requirement of consent. When in 1966 Charles Whitman. with the exploration of the religions of the east and with visits to the tribal cultures of Africa and America. In The Blank Slate (2002) Steven Pinker assembled the evidence for the conclusion that our fundamental capacities are implanted by evolution and malleable only in those matters in which malleability would confer a reproductive advantage. which neuroscience regards as the seat of the gut reactions through which we protect our space. and it was with a hint of regret that the early anthropologists recorded the rapid collapse of local cultures under the withering eye of their researches. an autopsy revealed a small tumour pressing on the amygdala. For human beings manifest neoteny. so as to recognise that most of what we do and feel arises from processes over which we have no control. But does anyone believe that men are ten times as likely to end up in prison as women because of unconscious discrimination or stereotyping? Of course not. not endowing our differences with the status of natural barriers or God-given paths. After he was shot by a police marksman. the trait of giving birth to helpless large-brained offspring. He would perhaps deny that this is a culture. Neoteny is a huge evolutionary advantage.Uo5zSZEQWCs Page 3 of 13 . killed 13 people and wounded 32 more.uk/magazine/nature-nurture-and-liber…oger-scruton-jesse-prinz-david-eagleman-neuroscience/#. while the brain is malleable and adaptable. and that all “disadvantage” is down to environmental factors which we can collaborate to overcome. But I could not help feeling that it falls short of its target. but opening ourselves to a kind of “soft diversity. We are familiar with the feminist charge that women come out worse in maths tests because of unconscious discrimination. for example.co. The brain moves incognito beneath our conscious deliberations. But the whole tendency of his argument is to suggest that we can and should live in the way that he lives.” in which human possibilities flourish in a condition of mutual acceptance. But there is another reason for being dissatisfied with Prinz’s approach. nurture and liberal values 11/21/13. It may be that this is the direction in which we are moving. 6:56 PM collectivists is cultural rather than biological.prospectmagazine. while among those of liberal persuasion it is the anterior cingulate cortex that stands out. he had already indicated that he felt something was not quite right in his head. Could this be the proof of WS Gilbert’s proposition. and nothing for which we can be praised or blamed. in the luminous prose for which he is rightly esteemed. says Keith Gessen—but he nearly destroyed Russia http://www. the wiring is for the most part none of our doing. it comes with its own inherent restraints. but it is purchased at an equally huge biological cost. There is a powerful reason to think that this is rooted in a deeper division of biological labour.
and the grammar of first-person accountability will emerge of its own accord. the sense of responsibility will emerge. Greenfield’s argument suggests that there is a kind of human development that prepares us. to linger on only as futile ghosts haunting the digital archives. Moreover.prospectmagazine. to draw quite that conclusion. If we bring up our children correctly. knowing what they are doing. and too responsible a person. It is to take responsibility for a host of changes in the world. The picture that he gives. nurture and liberal values 11/21/13. But it does not change the position that a philosopher should adopt. in which we elicit from each other the reasons. My brief response. People do what they do because of events in their brains. if children learn to store their memory in computers and their social life in portable gadgets. not spoiling them or rewiring their brains through roomfuls of digital gadgetry. Find your nearest retailer here IF YOU LIKED THIS ARTICLE. and making themselves answerable for it. But we are also persons. and it is for science to describe that kind. and learn to live as they should. The “why?” of personal understanding is not the “why?” of scientific inference. They will enter fully into the world of I and You. The real question raised by evolutionary biology and neuroscience is not whether those sciences can be refuted. And philosophers have done much to show that the dialogue through which we establish and broker our responsibilities is well founded and not necessarily vulnerable to disruption by our newfound knowledge of the brain. Sebastian Rödl and others.Nature. of the fragile “I” riding the elephant of grey matter while pretending to be in charge of it. And it is answered by conceptualising the world under the aspect of freedom and choice. to interact. Probably it will do so in the way that the evolutionary psychologists propose. Allow children to interact with real people. But those attempts are either not noticed or given short shrift in Prinz’s argument which. 6:56 PM Eagleman is too subtle a thinker. is to suggest that he has misdescribed the problem.uk/magazine/nature-nurture-and-liber…oger-scruton-jesse-prinz-david-eagleman-neuroscience/#. therefore. WHY NOT TRY THE FOLLOWING: Freud: the last great Enlightenment thinker Sigmund Freud is out of fashion. Human beings form a biological kind. But when the brain is normal they also act for reasons. In her lively monograph Susan Greenfield emphasises that our brains are plastic and can be influenced in ways that pose a risk to our moral development.Uo5zSZEQWCs Page 4 of 13 . This mystery is captured in a single question: how can one and the same thing be explained as an animal. by attempting to fight the biological sciences on their own ground. certainly. become free agents and moral beings. Understanding the logic of the question “why?” is a task that has been addressed by several recent philosophers—Elizabeth Anscombe. Why? http://www. Not so western philosophy. This does not mean that we should ignore what goes on in the brain. literature and other aspects of western culture are increasingly open to Asian influence. meanings and choices that make us intelligible. Even if we accept the claims of evolutionary psychology. says John Gray The great divide: Cinema. the I-to-you relation adds a reproductive advantage. not by our attempt to explain things but by our attempt to understand. misrepresents the nature of self-reference. at the neurological level. which is a relation of accountability in which the whole person is involved. I sympathise with those worries. Prinz’s defence of nurture against nature may look like a defence of human freedom. for the exercise of responsible choice. just as do mathematical competence. to hold to account. which remains almost entirely sealed off from eastern traditions.co. scientific knowledge and (perhaps) musical talent. The concept of the person is shaped in another way. is condemned to a losing wicket. once it is there. This point suggests how Prinz might have put philosophy to work on behalf of his conclusions. Stephen Darwall. We can bring up children on passive and addictive entertainments that stultify their engagement with the real world and rewire the neural networks on which their moral development depends. however. the mystery of the human condition remains. But nurture can as easily destroy freedom as enhance it. It is the question that underlies the concept of responsibility in the common law. We are human beings.” The “I” is one term of the I-You relation. the rest of which is a passive and hidden “it. Undeniably. and understood as a person? The February issue of Prospect is now on newsstands. while still holding on to the beliefs that morality demands of us. then gradually both memory and friendship will wither. From Kant and Hegel to Wittgenstein and Husserl there have been attempts to give a philosophy of the human condition that stands apart from biological science without opposing it. or any other sort of natural kind. not as animals. The reason? His heroic refusal to flatter humankind. but as persons. the nature of scientific method or the value of music. To use the first-person pronoun is to present myself for judgement. To describe human traits as adaptations is not to say how we understand them. He wants to revise our concept of responsibility so that his kind of responsibility is still contained in it. but whether we can accept what they have to say. The word “I” does not refer to some conscious “part” of the person. therefore. But persons do not form a biological kind. to relate. and in particular for those for which you can reasonably call me to account by asking “why?” This question is the foundation of a co-operative enterprise. The short-term pursuit of gratification can drive out the long-term sense of responsible agency. But the theory of adaptation tells us as little about the meaning of “I” as it tells us about the validity of mathematics.
2012 I fear that Roger Scruton has misunderstood the term neoteny. knowable ontic relations exist as infinite possibilities. We recognise that men are by nature more aggressive and more inclined to settle disputes by violence. whether these things are voluntarily accepted or involuntarily imposed upon us–like sneezing or the need to breath to live.Nature. which we are ignorant of. REPLY January 30. REPLY C.co. encounters those realities in ways specific to their nature. it is not “the trait of giving birth to helpless large-brained offspring. 2012 “But does anyone believe that men are ten times as likely to end up in prison as women because of unconscious discrimination or stereotyping? Of course not. Indeed. Humans have been described as neotenous apes in that adult humans share features with juvenile apes.this means each human being’s interaction with reality is unique.that is revealed to human consideration when forms of being emerge and are noticed by beings in the ways beings know.prospectmagazine. 6:56 PM Richard Rorty – He was arguably the most influential philosopher of his time: an American who argued against truth. a question for all time. it is a great–the greatest–of mysteries. There are things we cannot know about the ontological nature of all being. 2012 Being is real. 2012 Bored January 30. writes Simon Blackburn 9 Ganderdonk January 27. all being. although there may be great similarities and sharing in the ontic dimension. Why is a poor man more inclined to rob a bank using a firearm than a wall street trader? Because he has more aggressive genes? http://www. Yet his radicalism turns out to be oddly disarming. The ontological nature of our being. REPLY RN Delusions Of Gender. which can only make propositions or hypotheses about these ontic relations. including human beings. being has an ontological/transcendent existence. Among other things. The textbook example is the axolotl. likely. may only be approached speculatively via various forms of thought (because we do not know and cannot know what being is going to produce next). and each human being or any being.” Women are less aggressive? Have you met a woman? Women are less likely to brawl on the streets for the same reason women are less likely to throw a ball properly: because of acquired cultural behaviours. Dukes January 30. and there are everyday things we experience and deal with every day. These observable. who can look after themselves only after ten years” but the attainment of sexual maturity in an immature or larval animal.uk/magazine/nature-nurture-and-liber…oger-scruton-jesse-prinz-david-eagleman-neuroscience/#.Uo5zSZEQWCs Page 5 of 13 . reason and science. nurture and liberal values 11/21/13. while the ontic relations can be studied relying on scientific methods. a breeding but immature salamander. but as Heidegger asserted. there are things available for knowing.
We don’t want to be free. at best. This has been sensed for thousands of years by the human species. scientific examination of the material presence of a piece of classical music may reveal it’s constituents and it’s ‘working’ on a material level: the notes and the way they are produced. Many dogs. conscious beings. Witness the carefully CHOSEN words to make the argument. it’s a common sense. including a close sociological and anthropological examination of the cultural context in which the piece was written and since has been performed. seagulls.Nature. 2012 A HELPFUL METAPHOR An exact. the illusion is real to me.” REPLY Sand January 30. in the Scottish Englightenment construction.co. he put some very pithy words into Conan’s mouth on occasion: “Let teachers and philosophers brood over questions of reality and illusion. I know this: if life is illusion. to buy and sell things that have no utility whatsoever and communicate things that have no existence in the physical world. because that makes us responsible for our actions. 2012 This displayed outright contempt for all other species is the standard display of hubris by humans unfamiliar with animals. because that is not of a material nature. and am content. and being thus. I burn with life. 2012 Grundermonk January 30.Uo5zSZEQWCs Page 6 of 13 . It might be anything from ‘it’s society’s fault’ to ‘the fates have decreed’ to ‘rape is instinctive. what Scruton means in this article. We choose our words. what it’s meaning is as experienced by the listener. I love. 2012 We all know we have free will. And yet. REPLY January 30. REPLY pkbrando Word salad. nurture and liberal values REPLY 11/21/13. The idea that the person can be reduced to a set of biological imperatives that make free will just an illusion is a new and creative way of arguing the same tird point. nothing will have been said about the nature of the piece itself.prospectmagazine. Same goes for Chomsky’s magic grammar. I think this is. then I am no less an illusion. persuasively. and most human being use their belief systems and worldviews to figure out some way to blame somebody else.uk/magazine/nature-nurture-and-liber…oger-scruton-jesse-prinz-david-eagleman-neuroscience/#. cats. In general even the briefest glance at current and historical humans gives them little basic justification for deciding to secede from animal life. and at heart we all know ‘instinctively’ that it’s false. is not material and thus not biological.’ but they’re all the same thing at root. The decisive factor that makes us human. hardwired or not. I slay. It’s completely obvious. REPLY Renaissance Nerd January 30. metaphorically. I live. and been given the names of ‘soul’ and ‘spirit’. While I have little patience with most of Robert Howard’s philosophical penchants. philosophies and lines of scientific enquiry. including many present day religions. because most of human history is made up of endless attempts to deny its existence. They may not be linguistically as articulate but the difference beyond that is. learn to use them expressively. rats and other creatures that I have encountered and known well have complex personalities very little basically different from many of the humans I have come in contact with. 2012 http://www. 6:56 PM John Borstlap January 30. marginal.
Believe today in Christ Jesus and you shall be saved. REPLY Chengora January 31. and pool resources amongst themselves survived. though not all animals are people. Satan is coming down the tier. All people are animals.Uo5zSZEQWCs Page 7 of 13 . All have gone astray. As to whether morality or ethics can or cannot be explained wholly by biology. Do we believe “that men are ten times as likely to end up in prison as women because of unconscious discrimination or stereotyping?” No. or social factors which are more plausible than either culture or genetics? Yes. 2012 People cannot be defined at all just by neural impulses because our souls are so much more. People are endowed with culture and people give culture meaning. there can be no morality. differentiate their kin (ie painted faces. 6:56 PM Roger Scruton asks: “What is it that endows culture with its stability and function?” Culture is not endowed with anything. and understood as a person?” is to divide definitions unnecessarily.co. religious memes). That of course is far from the case. “how can one and the same thing be explained as an animal. This is the point of evolutionary psychology. by the way. for whatever reason. there are two major issues with this debate. Mr. There are none that understand. and we have no reason to privilege http://www. no. Scruton is still left holding the empty bag of his thesis because he cannot (or will not?) accept that humans are animals. REPLY drew January 30. Across generations. genotypes and phenotypes change. political. 2012 Why is it that the nature versus nurture debate is fought between purely cultural proponents and purely biological proponents? There is an incredible range of social scientific work that points to factors other than these two which nevertheless affect human behavior in deep and empirically verified ways. The problem with mankind is not that we are all different because we are all alike. First. Beyond that. Mankind has become altogether unprofitable. If you have stumbled across this comment and you still reject Jesus Christ you have read fatal information. Your future is an eternal black hole. There are none that are righteous. I read a lot of socio-psycho babble in this paper. Who we really are comes from the heart – not the mind. not one. Humans evolved culture over millions of years in pace with our neuro physiology. Rocks have no morality. We will never see a machine that evaluates the soul in our age. culturally defeciant groups lost. To even talk about morality is to accept that the person talking is concerned with the well-being of life. although the life dependent on the sun does. Swirling nebulae have no morality. dress codes. Congrats on passing syllogisms 101. biology is equated with “immutability”. consider this: Without biology. economic.Nature. You will go to (and if you are honest with yourself you will admit you are already in) a spiritual prison – on death row in 24/7 lockdown. You can never stand in the presence of God and say you did not know that you had to be saved. Biology is a precondition to have morality. Isolated. Today the Lord is calling you. taking you out one by one and killing you. None seek after God. But might there be institutional. To ask. and that all biology on earth follows evolutionary adaptation. The sun has no morality.prospectmagazine. Satan desires our souls.uk/magazine/nature-nurture-and-liber…oger-scruton-jesse-prinz-david-eagleman-neuroscience/#. that animals are biological. Maybe you don’t like that but if you also don’t believe it you haven’t read today’s newspapers. nurture and liberal values 11/21/13. Satan hates you and he wants you to hate me and if that happens his mission is accomplished. tribal songs. either. That is the cause (and the effect) of the myriad of cultures humankind has produced over millenia. Those humans who could bond together tighter.
REPLY jay February 1. But ideology (as mentioned in my previous comment) resists that conclusion.prospectmagazine. it should have been non controversial. People have painted themselves into ideological corners. And it allows people to wall themselves off psychologically. If an explanatory factor displays no variation. then it must be http://www. this tension would not exist as it does. How then can we explain the presence of matriarchal societies like the Khasis. behaviors could potentially change (according to evolutionary principles) just as much as physical attributes. and then use this language as the rule against which we judge everything around us. If people had just stayed with ‘equality under the law’ instead of expecting equal outcomes all through society. What he observed was that given the well established fact that the male IQ bell curve is a bit wider than the female one. where an inconvenient fact could cause the whole stack of beliefs and rules to collapse.Uo5zSZEQWCs Page 8 of 13 . or Tibetans who show stronger signs of polyandry (having multiple husbands) rather than polygyny (having multiple wives – which contradicts many arguments in sociobiology)? One-to-one correlations between a purported cause and effect don’t lead to causal explanations. Hence the resistance to the obvious (to most everyone) that humans are not all identical. It is merely difficult to assemble a control group of men who have been subjected to no masculinist conditioning whatsoever. and philosophy. a founding concern in social (and other) science is that there is no causation without variation. But this fact doesn’t change at all. it would be perfectly normal to expect the extreme high edge (as well as the extreme low edge) to have a disproportionate number of males. based on observation and perhaps inner feelings. we finally come up with something gone wildly out of shape. For the present context. Second. men and women have different sized gametes. distill it into language. and some are a lot cleverer than others. then it cannot explain why something does change. nurture and liberal values 11/21/13. and this is often considered to be the basis of different gender roles.Nature. in law. 2012 We recognise that men are by nature more aggressive and more inclined to settle disputes by violence.co. REPLY jay We have become somewhat trapped by ideology. This ritualization of rule occurs in law. 2012 We start with a concept. But concepts don’t distill well into language.\n I am educated and I dispute the fact that this difference between men and women is genetic. (hence the bizarre term ‘legal theory’ which often means stretching a rule by trick of language to apply to a situation with very little similarity to it’s origins. Since ideology declares it wrong.uk/magazine/nature-nurture-and-liber…oger-scruton-jesse-prinz-david-eagleman-neuroscience/#. instead of looking outside their safe little world. REPLY Apothegms January 31. February 1. That is. And no educated person is likely to dispute the fact that this difference between men and women is genetic. 2012 I might also comment that Larry Summer’s comment was even more sensible that described here. And whatever does not match that rule is judged as deficient. then using that distilled rule to judge other widely varied circumstances which roughly match the rule. Based on that fact alone. in politics. 6:56 PM behavioral continuity any more than physical continuity. We simply don’t have enough variation to make any kind of judgment.
Men are far more likely to not only be drug users but. Another common cause of imprisonment is drinking and driving.” Her statement that it’s impossible to assemble a control group of men who have had no “masculinist” conditioning is a an empty tautology. the females not. The vast majority of crimes which people are imprisoned for are non violent drug offenses. but she should not consider herself fully educated on this subject until she reads the books of Frans de Waal.” The reality is far more unclear than the misleading argument given above. It’s impossible after all to conceive of any human being existing who has had no human (masculinist. again. it’s a fact) and yet men are FAR more likely to go to prison for domestic battery than women. I am rather agnostic about the claims of innate gender differences in violence as I am http://www. Franz De Wall is a top primatologist. Additionally.Nature. If Apothegm really wants evidence on the issue of the genetic components of the violent settling of differnences–wants it without any tainting from human culture–then she needs to go look at our nearest genetic relatives who are outside human culture. REPLY melektaus Scruton makes a rather large reasoning blunder: February 9. REPLY John Maguire February 9. more likely than women to commit violent crimes such as murder.uk/magazine/nature-nurture-and-liber…oger-scruton-jesse-prinz-david-eagleman-neuroscience/#. Some may even be due to the “justice” system’s harsher treatment of males. in various places in his book (which you can find in the index–I just now looked at it) that males and females in the ape and chimp world settle differences very differently.prospectmagazine. The males are violent. feminist or whatever) conditioning.” Apothegm may have some education. domestic violence is also a major cause of imprisonment but women are slightly more likely to be domestic physical batterers than men (as hard as that is at first to accept. since these close relatives are not humans. It does not follow from the fact that men are ten times more likely than women to go to prison that men are more violent. 2012 “But does anyone believe that men are ten times as likely to end up in prison as women because of unconscious discrimination or stereotyping? Of course not. drug dealers. including “Our Inner Ape. It is merely difficult to assemble a control group of men who have been subjected to no masculinist conditioning whatsoever.Uo5zSZEQWCs Page 9 of 13 .co. more relevantly. It is not clear at all why this is. This cannot be a side effect of human culture and conditioning. Men. are far more likely to drink and drive than women. Men are indeed. and he says. There she will find evidence in apes and chimps. Women are often just as likely as men to support aggressive military action by their government or by their religion as men are. Some of it may be due to physical strength (assaults by men are more serious) and some may be due to culture (men are expected and pressured by society to resolve conflicts through violence and use more violent means such as weapons). nurture and liberal values 11/21/13. rape and assaults on strangers but the picture is not as black and white as Scruton suggests with his prison example. 2012 Apothegm says: “I am educated and I dispute the fact that this difference between men and women is genetic. 6:56 PM wrong regardless of the facts. We recognise that men are by nature more aggressive and more inclined to settle disputes by violence.
Men have been the winners in the UK since the Romans stripped the natives of arms after Boudicca nearly wiped them out. But nothing about the shrapnel is “inherent” in any way (except maybe the changes it triggers off in the brain). REPLY mike February 12. but a Japanese housewife brainwashed by a charismatic http://www. Its products. The testosterone-aggression relationship is present in other species too. nurture and liberal values 11/21/13. On the other hand. which are in turn determined by our evolutionary history. Evolution can’t and doesn’t anticipate every single contingency that can ever happen. REPLY Alyson February 12. Sure. When we become aware then the question of asking for revelation does not arise. cancerous growths are biological phenomena and therefore a part of our evolutionary heritage.e. but I think the tumor is an example of ‘nurture’ rather than ‘nature’. if they are going to be arrested for it. 2012 Men are 10 times as likely to end up in prison as women because men have 10 times the testosterone level of women. 6:56 PM about the differences in innate ability between men and women in “hard sciences” but when you look at the overall picture it is not as obvious as Scruton makes it out to be. It would be an outside environmental force interacting with “inherent” human nature. If people are encouraged to view others as lesser for reasons of wealth or occupation then morality is limited in its application. What if it were not shrapnel. REPLY ash July 2. Every culture has its morality defined to ensure the balance of power remains with the status quo. and people will stop. obviously – which is why a steer is far less dangerous than a bull. the poor guy had no control over it. What if it was a Gulf War veteran serial killer with shrapnel lodged in his amygdale instead? The shrapnel would essentially play the same role as Whitman’s tumor. Yet it is really an illustration of the fragility of evolution’s best laid “plans” or “designs”. aggression is a potential rather than a trait. Our minds may be beholden to biological events that happen deep inside our heads. Morality is best when it is underpinned by empathy. Stop allowing derogatory stereotyping of women the way it has been banned for racial and disability stereotyping.prospectmagazine. in whatever. REPLY Edrick March 7.Nature. 2012 I think the melodramatic example of Charles Whitman’s tumor-induced murderous rampage actually works against Scruton’s thesis. The highest rates of violent crime are for men aged 15 to 25 when their testosterone levels peak. is there such a thing as life purpose and soul development. and requires circumstances to set it off. i. give us direction. 2012 perhaps our journey is all about increasing our consciousness.Uo5zSZEQWCs Page 10 of 13 . when the bulk of the Roman army were off failing to defeat the egalitarian Welsh. but that doesn’t mean how they play out is etched in stone. 2012 History is written by the winners.uk/magazine/nature-nurture-and-libe…ger-scruton-jesse-prinz-david-eagleman-neuroscience/#. react and adapt rather than strictly follow an exhaustive script of instructions or programming. Our faith.co. The tumor only seems like ‘nature’ because on the face of it. We chose the faith which suits us. Language reinforces status issues which are defined in laws. our bodies and minds. How do we decide? .
like two-headed lambs. who acquire their bragging rights from claiming to be able to explain how “human nature” came to be. Geneticists are also expressing doubt that our genes can encoded such an enormous. Chomsky based his claims on a very narrow selection of languages from the Western world.g. would count as ‘nurture’. Benjamin Lee Whorf and Franz Boaz were the (alas now out of fashion. but what can we do about it. rather uncrazy idea that “the distinction between individualists and collectivists is cultural rather than biological”. do we just sit on my asses and lament our evolutionary inheritance. REPLY Edrick March 9. and all there is to know can be found in that one language. or should we do something about it as a society? Scruton faults Prinz for saying that we should. Chomsky on the other hand wasn’t. i. so much so that linguists like Levinson call it “the myth of language universals”. Yet linguists today realize there is much more diversity in languages than Chomsky ever suspected. Chomsky’s hardwired ‘Universal Grammar’ is basically unfalsifiable. a cultural force or ‘outside’ environmental intervention. nurture and liberal values 11/21/13. what is? So we know men are more genetically disposed to end up in prison (big surprise there). it feels too elaborate and http://www. And thanks to the work of evo-psychs. I doubt they are saying that there is NO underlying wiring scheme AT ALL. because any unforeseen features observed in newly discovered languages are simply added to the ever bloated list of so-called ‘language universals’.e.Uo5zSZEQWCs Page 11 of 13 .e. Out of the 6.prospectmagazine. which in this case were the ones he was most familiar with: like English. if we can at all?” Scruton is saying. that Chinese non-comformists like Ai Weiwei are freaks of nature. don’t even try.co. or a regime of mood-altering drugs. An operation to remove the tumor. but the question is. A more interesting question than untestable origin stories that inflate the self-esteem of theorists would be. the connections are all acid-etched into the motherboard and our choices in maybe building a Unix machine instead of an Apple II is hopelessly restricted. and we are free to connect the parts in any willy nilly way we want like lego bricks. linguists have trouble finding ANY features that are universal to all of them. I’m a Chinese Singaporean. He saw no problems with this because his assumption was that language is universal. What if Whitman’s home doctor found out about his diseased amygdale? That knowledge alone would open up the possibility that steps be taken to avoid the inevitable. In fact. And I’m amused by Scruton’s objection to the common sense. through culture. Edward Sapir. If that’s not ‘nurture’. i. subvert and rein them in. detailed list of fleeting linguistic innovations. That’s to say. “so that’s the way things are. Prinz’s problem is with the argument that the kit is “hard-wired”. German or Spanish (what some linguists today derisively call “WEIRD” languages: “Western Educated Industrialized Rich & Democratic”). because precisely the same can be said of his ‘paradigm case’ of Chomsky and Pinker’s ‘speculative linguistics’. the mere fact that we are aware of these genetic dispositions means we can come up with ways to counteract. Are you saying that I’m biologically predisposed to be collectivist? The authoritarian Chinese Communist Party of China would love to hear that line of reasoning. all the ‘nurture’ side is saying is that there is more than one possible way of assembling the computer. he preferred to sit behind his tenured desk and construct elaborate mathematical models to ‘prove’ his pet theory. Or even to outright denounce Chomsky’s approach as a form of pseudoscience. Chomsky thinks there’s a ‘language module’ in everyone’s brain.000 or so languages extant today. That’s the more radical and suspicious claim about ‘human nature’ the evo-psychs seem to be making. To use the analogy of a DIY computer kit. hard-wired into our genes. and claims there are features that are universal to ALL languages.Nature. in opposition to what is “inherent” and already there in Whitman’s human biology or “design”. so all you need to do is to pick and deeply examine just one. stressing how we should choose not to bring up our kids by immersing them in digital gadgetry. 2012 And it’s funny how Scruton accuses Prinz of not having “much sympathy for any culture other than the one in which he is immersed—the liberal egalitarian culture of the American academy”. largely thanks to Chomsky) handson kind of linguists who actually ventured into the field to observe the incredible diversity of languages out there. e. Scruton concedes as much in his final paragraph. 6:56 PM cult leader to kill people (getting closer to culture)? What’s more. any one.uk/magazine/nature-nurture-and-libe…ger-scruton-jesse-prinz-david-eagleman-neuroscience/#. we do have that self-awareness today.
Scruton makes it seem like the science is settled (and on his side). i. it seems Scruton is determined to stick to his pre-conceived conclusions. Yet in his seemingly fool-proof.prospectmagazine. pointing out that Whorf used to be an insurance salesman. and Franz Boas was an activist scientist who spoke out against racial inequality toward African Americans).e. derisively comparing Prinz to certain allegedly imperialistic “disciples of Boas”. He doesn’t offer any concrete. nurture and liberal values 11/21/13.g. and brushes aside the fact that Prinz has uncovered “much support from the literature of experimental psychology”. which in the first place became “notorious” mostly thanks to the commercial success of Pinker’s misleading pop-psychology bestseller). Rather. e.g. 2012 Two thoughts: One is that nature tends toward entropy and variation while our culture and laws push for homogeneity and order. Whorf. In that book Pinker uses similar beside-the-point diversionary tactics. “by attempting to fight the biological sciences on their own ground”. however much the science may flux. Also useful to keep in mind that even modern human tendencies were evolved in adaptation to a Paleolithic environment existing millions of years ago which has recently changed without our having time to catch up – therefore we may be both physically and behaviorally maladapted to our habitat in many ways (eg. therefore we shouldn’t take his ideas seriously ( e. Then he backpedals and says that it doesn’t really matter “whether those sciences can be refuted” or if “in this or that particular the science might be faulted or revised”.). That is.Uo5zSZEQWCs Page 12 of 13 . rigged strategy of pitting of liberal values against the unassailable rationality of science.g. e. conveniently ignoring the controversy surrounding Chomsky. or that the conclusion is not supported by it”. He also makes light of Prinz’s concern that “the research is methodologically flawed. REPLY http://www. REPLY Angela Chen March 25. We’ve seen the first arguments from a nueuro-science perspective that free-will is an illusion and that people are not actually responsible for their actions. or in his own words. when it is in fact far from settled. The second is that evolutionary biology can explain the origins of our behavioral adaptations but does not justify or condone them. linguists. and understood as a person?” Increasingly the neuroscientists are pushing for it to be understood as an animal. to “put philosophy to work on behalf of his conclusions”. 2012 “This mystery is captured in a single question: how can one and the same thing be explained as an animal. causing things like obesity.Nature. clear line of reasoning. and is seeing something of a comeback amongst anthropologists. Which is strange since Whorf was known as a champion of the minority cultures he was studying. etc.uk/magazine/nature-nurture-and-libe…ger-scruton-jesse-prinz-david-eagleman-neuroscience/#. was widely accepted by the academic community of his day. But that isn’t surprising given how he sees Steven Pinker’s “The Language Instinct” as the last word in linguistics. Scruton also has an irritating habit of resorting to ad hominem attacks rather than solid reason (e. only to mumble that “the broad case is surely compelling”.co. the “notorious” Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis which is very much alive today in spite of Pinker’s hatchet job. it’s up to our own agency to decide whether to channel our energies toward enhancing or changing our propensities.g. when he says that Prinz is “condemned to a losing wicket”. 6:56 PM redundant for the unforgiving logic of slow evolution. cultural neuroscientists and cognitive scientists recently. never went to university full-time and lacks the proper credentials. REPLY MNP March 26.
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