Human-ities · Special · Theory

Nature v nurture? Please don’t ask

The question has fuelled some of history’s fiercest scientific and political feuds. Now we have an answer.

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.


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