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The Mirage of a Space Between Nature and Nurtureby Evelyn Fox Keller
"Is there anything new to say about how we should understand the nature-nurture problem? The answer is yes, and it is not because there are conceptual matters still unresolved. It is because no one has offered a way to think about the problem that is simple and grabs the imagination. Absent a clarifying story, teachers continue to struggle to explain it to students. And some of us continue to write books and papers in which we say or imply things we do not literally mean about nature and nurture, genes and environment, heritability and plasticity — things we later regret having phrased the way we did. So wouldn't it be nice if there were a small book that explained, clearly and simply, how to understand the problem, pitfalls and all; if there were a concise manual — something like Strunk and White's famous style guide — that we could just hand to our students; if there were a little manifesto that we could curl up with and reread every couple of years to restore to our thinking the clarity we know this difficult subject deserves? The Mirage of a Space Between Nature and Nurture, by Evelyn Fox Keller, may be just the book we've been waiting for." Daniel W. McShea, American Scientist (Read the entire American Scientist review)
Synopses & Reviews
In this powerful critique, the esteemed historian and philosopher of science Evelyn Fox Keller addresses the nature-nurture debates, including the persistent disputes regarding the roles played by genes and the environment in determining individual traits and behavior. Keller is interested in both how an oppositional “versus” came to be inserted between nature and nurture, and how the distinction on which that opposition depends, the idea that nature and nurture are separable, came to be taken for granted. How, she asks, did the illusion of a space between nature and nurture become entrenched in our thinking, and why is it so tenacious? Keller reveals that the assumption that the influences of nature and nurture can be separated is neither timeless nor universal, but rather a notion that emerged in Anglo-American culture in the late nineteenth century. She shows that the seemingly clear-cut nature-nurture debate is riddled with incoherence. It encompasses many disparate questions knitted together into an indissoluble tangle, and it is marked by a chronic ambiguity in language. There is little consensus about the meanings of terms such as nature, nurture, gene, and environment. Keller suggests that contemporary genetics can provide a more appropriate, precise, and useful vocabulary, one that might help put an end to the confusion surrounding the nature-nurture controversy.
Prominent historian of science considers how the opposition between nature (understood to be genetic or innate) and nurture (understood as acquired or environmental) came to be such an entrenched part of scientific and social ways of thinking.
The esteemed historian and philosopher of science Evelyn Fox Keller addresses the nature-nurture debate, arguing that it is riddled by conceptual incoherence.
About the Author
Evelyn Fox Keller is Emerita Professor of History and Philosophy of Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She is the author of numerous books, including Making Sense of Life: Explaining Biological Development with Models, Metaphors, and Machines; The Century of the Gene; Reflections on Gender and Science; and A Feeling for the Organism: The Life and Work of Barbara McClintock. She has been awarded many academic and professional honors, including a Blaise Pascal Research Chair by the Préfecture de la Région D'Ile-de-France for 2005–07, membership in the American Philosophical Society and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a MacArthur Fellowship.
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