Nature or Nurture

The Nativists argue that nature (the genetic coding) is responsible for a persons behaviour and overall performance in life. The Empiricists (not to be confused with the scientific methodologists) argue that the external environment is responsible for the individuals personality or behaviour through a process called conditioning. A third cohort also proposes that it is a combination of both forces but the precise degree of interaction on each side is still in dispute.

I have a case against each proponent. Concerning the Nativists: If nature is responsible for human behaviour then it implies that there is no freewill since a thief is genetically designed to be a thief. It also implies that without external stimuli, a child who inherited genes for intelligence should necessarily be successful and happy in life since nature has dictated that. But we all know this to be untrue.

My second case is against the Empiricists: If the external environment is responsible for human behaviour then how come two children from the same family, living under the same physical, economic, social and cultural conditions develop contrasting personalities sometimes to the extremities of good and evil. There are those who even say that humans have no fixed nature.

Concerning the third cohort, I think the degree to which nature and nurture influence the individual is not as important as the specific genetic information and how it is designed to react to various external stimuli – whether analogous or inverse. A typical example is how different people react to criticisms. Some react without processing, others process and then react, still others don’t process and don’t react. For those interested in further reading, there is an interesting article on the subject here. Happy weekend!

Advertisements

The Influence of Power on Moral Truth

According to Nietzsche there is no moral phenomena, only a moral interpretation of phenomena. This means the morality of an action or a deed is in the interpretation of that deed, making morality subjective. All things subjective are of, existing in or related to the mind. There is also the issue of motive which helps us to judge whether an act is moral or not.

For instance, we cannot say something is good or bad until we know the motive with which it’s done. If a politician builds a library or makes a cash donation to his community, we cannot say he is a good man until we know his motive, which is often definitely to seek another term of office, which means plowing his money back from state coffers or from bribes.

Kant, Locke, Hobbes and even Rousseau presented their ideas about morality as if it were a direct product of reason or rationality. They implied that primitive societies which had not ‘mastered’ reasoning had no sense of morality at all but this is erroneous. Kant in particular attributed virtue to individual freewill and autonomy but our modern experience presents a different evidence. It is indeed true that with personal freedom and autonomy comes reasoning but morality does not necessarily follow through. We pride ourselves today for being in the age of reason but our moral curve keeps plunging downwards. My observation is that virtue is an attribute of nothing but the emotions in their proper frameworks and that the source of both virtue and vice is in our primitive days. Reason only comes in after the stage is set.

All good or evil deeds proceed from the heart and reason, though resulting in self awareness and personal security, does not necessarily prevent evil. Most people who commit moral crimes are aware of the evil nature of their deeds but they do it anyway. Reason for the most part is self serving and often fails the motive check which I mentioned earlier. For instance, people who give a part of their salary to the homeless and beggars have no apparent reason or motive at all for doing that. They simply were moved by their emotions.

There is another interesting twist to morality – which makes it somewhat undulating in nature. Consider this: A murderer is an immoral person but one who murders the murderer for the safety of the community is deemed moral. It follows that the murderer’s murderer’s murderer is also deemed immoral and it goes on and on switching back and forth. We can think of it as an equation attempting psychological equilibrium, which is something inbuilt in us.

The biggest problem in morality so far is the influence of power or authority. Nietzsche goes on to say that whatever interpretations exist or persist is a function of authority and not truth. One will notice that Pilate’s question to the Jew: ‘What is truth?’ lends credence to this statement. To Pilate, truth is what the Roman empire says it is, so he wanted to know the deferring truth which the Jew was purported to have taught his disciples. In practical life, one will have noticed that the vast majority of people will readily accept truth only and if only it is backed by authority. Sometimes during a court trial, witnesses freeze or crumple in the witness box or fail to appear altogether because the truth which they witnessed will offend authority.

And now a question: Though they all claim to be doing it for peaceful purposes, do you think there is morality or moral truth or ethical merit in so called nuclear programmes? To what extent should a nation go in protecting itself or its interests?

Possibilities

This concerns possibilities in our personal lives and I intend to make it short. Why are some things thought to be possible and others not possible? And yet the opposite often manifests as true. Many of you will remember the door knob in ‘Alice in Wonderland’ when Alice mistook ‘impassable’ for ‘impossible.’ The knob replied: ‘Nothing is impossible.’ I imagine the fuller meaning will be nothing is impossible if you believe in yourself. For instance, most people don’t see any kind of possibility or opportunity in Africa but many are also making a living there and Europeans arrive and depart everyday. A few even naturalize. Real opportunities exist only where there are real problems.

Of course there are limits imposed by actuality on us individually but there is always a way out of every difficulty – it just might take some time. How futile and deficient one’s efforts will be if one is looking for a job but already believes that jobs don’t exist – looking for lasting happiness but already believes that happiness is an illusion – looking for genuine love but already believes there is no such a thing as genuine love. It will be impossible. One’s belief system is like a magnetic field, it has to exist and be strong enough to detect and attract what it’s designed to attract.

If we look at our personal lives, everything we have ever achieved is as a result of believing first that, the objective set is achievable. Our field of perception seem stronger and sharper if backed by a strong realistic belief. I’m not speaking of religious jingoism or delusions or infatuation for a pop star, in the case of love. With such strong realistic belief you will not be drawn back by the dark voices that constantly remind you of your past mistakes and tragedies. The more fearful you become in any venture the more errors you will likely commit. And even when it comes to love and relationships, fear and doubt creates misunderstanding. Openness and honesty is key to character.

In the mind, thoughts and feelings are not categorized into social, economic, political etc as we have it in the institutionalized world. So one problem in one aspect of our lives can affect all other areas if not solved. If you were hurt by those who were supposed to love and protect you, still believe you are lovable. If you had an unhappy childhood filled with traumatic events, still believe you can experience peace and happiness and lastly, if you were despised and didn’t get much by way of erudition, still you can earn a living. How else will I know if I had not directly and indirectly experienced most of these. Happy Sunday to all of you! Especially you. You know yourself.