Friday, July 24, 2009

Nature vs. Nurture: A False Dichotomy

One often encounters in the study of psychology the claim that human actions are the product of two (and only two) competing forces: nature and nurture. On the one hand, proponents of the nature view suggest that human beings are reacting primarily to the contents of their genetic structure. In this perspective, genes tell you everything you need to know about a person. Conversely, the nurture view suggests that human beings cannot operate beyond their upbringing and environment and that it is, in fact, these external forces that are responsible for our actions.

Both perspectives obfuscate the requirement of individual responsibility by ignoring the fact of volition.

Human decision-making is a fundamentally volitional process. Men cannot act on instinct; every action begins in a man’s mind and is deliberately chosen. The genetic structure of an individual provides certain influences – or factors – that must be taken into account in the ultimate decision to act in a certain way. For example, a strong genetic propensity towards diabetes might lead an individual to treat sugars in a way that one without such a propensity would not. However, a propensity towards diabetes does not produce automatic action; it merely provides the individual with an important factor to consider when reaching a decision to act.

Nurture cannot provide us with automatic action either. External stimuli are facts of reality to be perceived, evaluated, and considered in the process of decision-making. And they certainly do exert themselves upon us. But conceptual organisms cannot respond to these stimuli mechanically. In the same way as with genetic predispositions, humans must integrate these environmental factors into the overall structure of their thought process. Consequently, the fact of volition remains essential.

Those who point to individuals with relatively poor brain functioning as examples of the primacy of nature are missing the point. Differences of intelligence among individuals are differences of degree and not of kind. As such, these individuals are still fundamentally volitional organisms who require a process of thought for all their decisions.

The nurture advocates, in my estimation, are slightly closer to the mark. Education, indoctrination, and conditioning in a child’s formative period can affect his psychology and psycho-epistemology in incredibly profound ways. To a certain extent, genetic forces can direct a person’s growth and cognitive processes as well. However, the fundamental fact of volition remains unaltered. All influences in a person’s life are merely that: influences. The responsibility for weighing those factors against the facts of reality and of choosing one possible course of action among all the available alternatives rests solely – and must rest solely – on the individual.

This is the crucial fact that is ignored in the nature vs. nurture literature and is the source of this false dichotomy.

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On Those "Lefty, Liberal, Multicultural Appeasement Monkeys"

"Apologists For Evil" by Pat Condell

H/t Raph

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Thursday, July 23, 2009

Reason Or Emotionalism: There Is No Middle Ground

A friend recently asked me whether it is possible to be ‘too rational.’ The following is a portion of my response:

Here's my first concern about the question: what could possibly be involved in being too (which I take to mean 'overly') logical? What would that look like? If characteristic 'x' exists in a person to a degree beyond that which is conducive to their happiness, we say that the person is 'too x' (e.g. 'too fat,' 'too aggressive,' or 'too pessimistic'). Happiness is the state of consciousness that arises from the realization of one's values. However, logic is a human being's only means of organizing perceptual data, i.e. our only way of learning about existence. Evidently, then, the pursuit of our own happiness requires learning about all different aspects of the world around us - what are the relevant facts? do these facts tell us anything about how we should act in the future? what does that mean our values should be? how ought we to pursue those values once we've identified them? etc, etc, etc. Consequently, a process of thought (to wit: a chain of reasoning) is a necessary condition for our happiness. And the more efficacious our process of thought, the better able we are to pursue and realize our values!

To put the point differently: the strict application of logic could not possibly endanger our well-being since it exists in a proportional relationship with it. If we think rationally, we can identify the facts of the world, determine our values, pursue those values effectively, and achieve our own good in our own way.

As I suggest above, the question stems from a profound misunderstanding of the role that reason plays in the human cognitive process. It is, indeed, impossible on its face for a human being to be ‘too rational.’

Since I responded to the question nearly a week ago, however, I’ve queried a few acquaintances and have discovered that the mistake is far more common that I had thought. There seems to be a general impression that a bargain can be struck between reason and some other sham faculty of awareness, whether it be intuition, revelation, or a sixth sense.

Dr. Leonard Peikoff formulates the full repercussions of striking such a bargain between reason and emotionalism with characteristic clarity:

If one attempts to combine reason and emotionalism, the principle of reason cannot be his guide, the element that defines the terms of the compromise, because reason does not permit subjective feeling to have any voice in cognitive issues. Subjective feeling, therefore, which permits anyone anything he wants, must set the terms; it must be the element that decides the role and limits of reason. Thus the ruling principle of the epistemological middle-of-the-road’er is: ‘I will consult facts and obey the rules of evidence sometimes – when I feel like it.'

Reason is an absolute. And, when it comes to the pursuit of knowledge, no compromise is possible between rationality and emotionalism.

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The Alleged Gap Between Free Trade & Economic Embargoes

A common libertarian attack on conservative foreign policy in North America consists of opposition to our government’s authority to impose economic sanctions on foreign states. Any restrictions on the potential trade partners of free citizens, advocates of this position contend, contradicts our freedom to trade value for value with other individuals while being guided by our own rational self-interest. Although I find the term to be dangerously imprecise, I will proceed by calling this perspective “libertarian isolationism” in the absence of – or in my ignorance of – a more appropriate label.

The core of libertarian isolationism is the relativistic insistence that countries against which we are not currently fighting a (“legitimate”) war are beyond the scope of our rational judgment or of our government’s mandate to interfere with. Besides implicitly equivocating between moral social structures and tyrannical ones, this perspective is tantamount to denying the existence of threats, and therefore enemies, abroad.

Those international actors whose policies are defined by the use of physical force against individuals – any individuals – of the Canadian state must be considered our enemies. This principle applies equally to threats of physical force (e.g. a state that is allied with an enemy, a state whose policy is war with our ally, or a state whose malevolent intentions regarding our country and its citizens can otherwise be established by valid evidence) as it does to actual instances of the initiation of coercion.

The principal fallacy of the isolationist view is that it drops the context of the purpose of government: the protection of individual rights from criminal infringements thereupon by both internal and external sources. A truly consistent policy of free trade forbids permitting violators or would-be violators of the basic condition required for free trade – individual liberty – to grow stronger and better equipped through trade with domestic entities.

We consider it proper to oppose the establishment of trade relationships between domestic business entities and the mafia. Why ought we to exempt foreign gangs who pose any threat whatsoever to our safety from that same standard?

Trading with enemy states represents a blatant violation of the individual rights of our people. It is of paramount importance that we do not allow isolationists to invoke freedom to criticize embargoes when the protection of liberty is the very reason that economic sanctions are justified.

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