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.
How Language Deceives Us When Talking Biology and Why It Matters!
By Kevin Currie-Knight "Education Grad Student" - January 14, 2012
Everyone seems to know that the nature/nurture debate is over. But still, we all persist in talking about it still. Why? That is what Evelyn Fox Keller is trying to answer in this very short but insightful book. Why do we persist in speaking as if nature and nurture are separable and distinct variables when we all (seem to) know that they aren't? If we all know that questions about how much (what percentage) height is due to nature and nurture is unanswerable, then why do we keep wanting to ask it? And why do studies that only show how much of a population's variance in a trait can be ascribed to genetics seem always to be interpreted as studies showing how much of that trait is actually genetic? (After all, to know that x population varies in height and that 50% of the variance seems to correlate with genetic inheritance is a FAR different question from how much of Suzy's height is attributable to genetics.)
Keller's broad answer is mistakes like this are based on subtle... read more
What we talk about when we talk about genetics
By Fibonacci - August 11, 2010
In this brief book, Evelyn Fox Keller points out, in convincing detail, the subtle "chronic ambiguity, uncertainty and slippage in the very language we use to talk about" the tangle of questions called the nature/nurture debate, and how our linguistic confusion makes them so hard to untangle. This book is not an easy read -- easy reads are part of the problem -- but I could not put it down. I only wish it were longer and broader in scope: genetics is not the only field needing Keller's sharp logic.
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PART ONE. Wittgenstein and the Concept of Human Knowledge. I. Criteria and Judgment. II. Criteria and Skepticism. III. Austin and Examples. IV. What a Thing Is (Called). V. Natural and Conventional. ...