The Evolution of Human Nature

Powerful Essays
Nature vs. Nurture

The human brain is not an empty vessel — right from the start it is packed with knowledge, some of which is built into every structure. A newborn baby just knows, for instance, that crying will bring other members of the species to its aid — it doesn't learn it or work it out.

(Carter, R. Consciousness, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, p. 143)

When Darwin's Theory of Evolution was published (See Darwin, C. (1859) On The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, Murray), proposing that simpler structures evolve into more complex organisms, the old certainties were threatened because the adaptations of creatures to their surroundings no longer needed to be explained in terms of an Almighty. Evolutionary qualities could be explained, at least partly, by genetic influences.

Mary Midgley, referring to the sociobiologist, Edward O. Wilson said,

Wilson's contribution here is concerned with correcting our perspective. He points out how we limit our insight if we do not think about genetic causes, how refusal to consider them commits us to standing far too close to the social pattern, taking as absolute what are really passing features of our own society, and as relative the underlying structures that cannot easily be fitted into them. We cannot know ourselves in this way. And if we insist on making the mistake, evolution will indeed make a monkey of us.

(Midgley, M. (1995) Beast And Man — The Roots of Human Nature, Routledge, p. 97)

However this perspective can be carried too far; from views such as Wilson's has developed the suspicion that human beings are born genetically conditioned, that woman are nurturing, men are rapists, ethics is a useful strategy for the selfish and above all we care ...

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...ns can be (and often are) modified by free will and good old-fashioned reason but it may well be that, all things being equal, the forces of coercion are more compelling than one's own free will. For instance, in the legal world there is the concept of 'extenuating circumstances' which allows for instances when actions are the result of irresistible impulses.


Carter, R. (2002) Consciousness, Weidenfeld & Nicolson

Darwin, C. (1859) On The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, Murray.

Dawkins, R. (1976) The Selfish Gene, Oxford University Press.

Dawkins, R. (1982) The Extended Phenotype, Oxford University Press.

Midgley, M. (1995) Beast And Man — The Roots of Human Nature, Routledge.

Rose, S. (1997) Lifelines: biology beyond determinism, Oxford University Press.

Wright, R. (1994) The Moral Animal, Abacus
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