Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Griffiths, Paul. "The Distinction between Innate and Acquired Characteristics." STANFORD ENCYCLOPEDIA OF PHILOSOPHY August 4, 2009.

The idea that some characteristics of an organism are explained by the organism's intrinsic nature, whilst others reflect the influence of the environment is an ancient one. It has even been argued that this distinction is itself part of the evolved psychology of the human species. The distinction played an important role in the history of philosophy as the locus of the dispute between Rationalism and Empiricism discussed in another entry in this encyclopedia. This entry, however, focuses on twentieth-century accounts of the innate/acquired distinction. These accounts have for the most part been inspired by the sciences of mind and behaviour. Innateness must be clearly distinguished from heritability, at least in the scientific sense of that term. The idea that heritability scores measure the degree to which a characteristic is innate is a vulgar fallacy. Heritability is a statistical measure of the sources of individual differences in a population. While heritability itself is well understood, its relationship to the innate/acquired distinction remains highly controversial. The belief that a trait is innate is today commonly expressed by saying it is ‘in the genes’. But genes play an essential role in the production of every trait. Consequently, it will not do to say simply that innate traits are ‘caused by genes’ whilst acquired traits are ‘caused by the environment’. Any relationship between genetic causation and the innate/acquired distinction will be far more complex than this. Recent philosophical analyses of the innate/acquired distinction can be classified into four types. The first identifies innate traits with those characteristic of an entire species and identifies acquired traits with those that vary between populations and individuals. A second type of analysis identifies innate traits with those that can be explained by natural selection. The third, and currently the most influential, identifies innate traits with those produced by a particular patterns of interaction between genes and environment. A fourth, quite different, type of analysis suggests that labelling a trait ‘innate’ is a way to indicate that it lies outside the domain of psychology. Finally, there is a tradition of scepticism about the innate/acquired distinction. Sceptics argue that it confounds a number of distinctions that are better kept separate, or, perhaps equivalently, that there is no one property of a trait that corresponds to its being innate. . . . Read the rest here: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/innate-acquired/.

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