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Hereditarianism is the doctrine or school of thought that heredity plays a significant role in determining human nature and character traits, such as intelligence and personality. Hereditarians believe in the power of genetics to explain human character traits and solve human social and political problems. Hereditarians adopt the view that a Darwinian understanding of human origins can extend the understanding of human nature as it is now. They have explicitly abandoned the standard social science model.
Hereditarianism is sometimes used as a synonym for biological or genetic determinism, though some scholars distinguish the two terms. When distinguished, biological determinism is used to mean that heredity is the only factor. Supporters of hereditarianism reject this sense of biological determinism for most cases. However, in some cases genetic determinism is true; for example, Matt Ridley (1999) describes Hunntington's diesease as "pure fatalism, undiluted by environmental variability." In other cases, hereditarians would see no role for genes; for example, the condition of "not knowing a word of Chinese" has nothing to do (directly) with genes (Dennett, 2003). In most cases, hereditarians believe that genes play an intermediate role. In all cases, they believe this is an empirical and not a philosophical question.
Some scholars argue that an organism inherits only alleles, and that only the interaction of alleles with environment creates phenotypes. Put another way, in this view there are no additive genetic or environmental effects, only interactions. Steven Pinker has criticized this view, which he terms "holistic interactionism". Philosopher Daniel Dennett satirized this view: "Surely 'everyone knows' that the nature-nurture debate was resolved long ago, and neither side wins since everything-is-a-mixture-of-both-and-it's-all-very-complicated, so let's think of something else, right?" The hereditarian view is that for a set of acutal people (i.e., a given set of genes and environments) it is possible to partition the causal influences between genetic and environmental variation.
Herediatrianism has seen a resurgence since the mid-1970's, as sociobiology, behavioral genetics and the gene-centric view of Neo-Darwinism began to influence scholarly and political discourse. The concept came to the attention of the public following the 1994 publication of The Bell Curve, which ignited intense debate about possible correlations between race and intelligence.
Contemporary hereditarianism encompasses a number of interrelated fields and points of view:
- gene-centric view of evolution
- Cognitive science
- Evolutionary psychology
- Human behavioral ecology
- Dual inheritance theory
- Behavioral genetics
- Human variability, including sex and race differences
Historically, hereditarians were more likely to be conservative (Pastore, 1949). They view social and economic inequality as a natural result of variation in talent and character. Thus, likewise they explain class and race differences as the result of partly-genetic group differences. Behaviorists were more likely to be liberals or leftists. They believe economic disadvantage and structural problems in the social order were to blame for group differences. Conservative economist Thomas Sowell has noted the converse relationship in his book A Conflict of Visions: noting that conservatives tend to have a hereditarian view of human nature (Sowell calls this the "constrained" view) and liberals tend to have a behaviorist ("unconstrained") view.
However, the historical correspondence between hereditarianism and conservatism has broken down at least among proponents of hereditarianism. Many notable hereditarians are avowedly liberal. A notable example was Noam Chomsky's defense of sociobiology. Philosopher Peter Singer describes his vision of a new liberal political view that embraces hereditarianism in his 1999 book A Darwinian Left. Similarly, in his 2002 book The Blank Slate, psychologist Steven Pinker endorses the view that hereditarianism is the empirically correct view of human nature, that this does have political implications which would constrain the goals of some liberal philosophies, but that embracing rather than rejecting the hereditarian view of human nature is the best way to achieve liberal goals.
- Noam Chomsky (against behaviorism, but disagreeing with the hereditarian explanation in race and intelligence --though defending the scientific legitimacy of the question)(Chomsky, 2003)
- Richard Dawkins
- Daniel Dennett
- Richard Herrnstein
- Lloyd Humphreys
- Arthur Jensen
- Richard Lynn
- Steven Pinker
- J. Philippe Rushton
- William Shockley
- E. O. Wilson
- Mehler B. Heredity and Hereditarianism. in Chambliss JJ, (ed.) Philosophy of Education: An Encyclopedia. New York: Garland 1996.
- Nicolas Pastore, The Nature-Nurture Controversy. New York: King's Crown Press, 1949.
- Steven Pinker, (2002) The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature, Penguin Putnam, ISBN 0670031518
- Peter Singer (1999) A Darwinian Left, New Haven and London: Yale University Press, ISBN 0300083238
- Thomas Sowell (2002). A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles, Basic Books, ISBN 0465081428
- Noam Chomsky (2003) "Psychology and Ideology," For Reasons of State, New Press, ISBN 1565847946
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