The nature-nurture debate

The nature-nurture debate is about what determines human behaviour, if our nature or nurture. Nature is related with the aspects of our behaviour that is inherited and determined by our genes, while nurture is related with the aspects of our behaviour shaped by the things we learn in life. Although there is still little agreement on what aspect is the dominant one, currently, it is widely accepted that human behaviour comes from the combination of both nature and nurture. It is also understood that they are not mutually exclusive, but genes affects behaviour by interacting with the environment.

There is a misleading element about the nature-nurture debate, in that there is no real duality in human nature. Nurture is the result of our learning capacity. And our learning capacity is something that we are born with, so it is part of our nature. Furthermore, learning is a process that is genetically controlled. We learn because genes carries the genetic instructions that regulates the process. The contrast between nature and nurture comes form the fact that we learn from an environment that is independent from our genes. But nurture cannot be isolated from nature.

We also sustain the nurture is subordinated to nature. Development is not an arbitrary  process. We don’t learn from the environment in a neutral or arbitrary way. Learning is purposeful process. And the purpose of learning is subordinated to a nature of self-preservation. From the environment we learn how to respond effectively and efficiently to our natural needs. So nurture is shaped by nature.

Another misleading element is that nurture is usually associated to development in childhood. Childhood is an important stage of development, but not the only one. Development is a life long process. Indeed, some of the most interesting forms of development, like the development of theories or new forms of thought, only matures in adulthood.

To the question of what dominates human behaviour, if nature or nurture? The answer is that it depends. The dominance of one over the other is relative and not fixed. Sometimes one can dominate, while others the other.
First of all, it depends on the time of response. Quick responses are dominated by instinctive reactions (nature), since there is no time to process information. Planed actions on the other hand, are dominated by nurture, since there is time to process information and think on the possible responses.
It also depends on the degree of development. The lower the development, the more nature dominates over nurture with less flexible and adaptable responses. The higher the development on the other hand, the more sophisticated becomes our responses to our natural needs.
In any case, nurture is always subordinated to nature. So behaviour shaped by the influence of the environment is not isolated, but it adjust to our natural and inherited needs.

The nature-nurture problem, as we are presenting it, raises a philosophical dilemma about human freedom. There is a common belief that man is a rational being capable of free and autonomous choices, unbound by the natural order of the rest of the world. But if human nature is a combination of nature and nurture, and if nurture is subordinated to nature, then our rational choices are not free and autonomous but subordinated to our nature too. At the same time, human choices, although subordinated to our nature, they do show a degree of autonomy. We sustain that human freedom, although not absolute, exist in a relative form that depends on the degree of development: the higher the development, the higher the autonomy of our choices (for further development on human freedom see Free-will).

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