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Nature/Nurture – A Philosophical Analysis

  1. André Ariew

Published Online: 15 DEC 2009

DOI: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0003458



How to Cite

Ariew, A. 2009. Nature/Nurture – A Philosophical Analysis. eLS. .

Author Information

  1. University of Missouri, Columbia, Missouri, USA

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 15 DEC 2009

This is not the most recent version of the article. View current version (15 JUL 2016)


The debate about whether some attribute is ‘by nature’ or ‘by nurture’ has a long history and it covers numerous topics. For instance, Socrates proposed that our ideas of complex concepts come from memories that are innate within us. Even today thinkers believe that some of our ideas are part of our nature rather than our nurture. This theory has social and policy implications. If intellectual quotient (IQ) is a fixed part of nature, is it worthwhile to contribute tax dollars to improve one's nurturing environment? Or, more generally, some think that understanding human nature might affect how we ought to live. Influenced by Darwin and developments in genetics, the nature/nurture debate has reduced to a debate about whether our attributes are ‘genetic’ or ‘environmental’. Yet, the implications of the genetic theories of human nature are not obvious since genes alone do not produce any attributes.

Key concepts:

  • ‘Nativists’ employ ‘poverty of stimulus’ arguments to demonstrate that an idea or cognitive ability could not have been learned.

  • ‘Empiricists’ believe that our beliefs about the world come from our perceptual connection to the world and not from our natures.

  • IQ is likely to be influenced by nurturing environments.

  • Likely, there is no such thing as the singular good life; rather there are numerous valid conceptions of the good life.

  • The gene/environment dichotomy is false but that does not mean we cannot distinguish between robust and plastic developmental events.


  • nature;
  • nurture;
  • genetics;
  • language;
  • knowledge