The Mirage of a Space between Nature and Nurture

The Mirage of a Space between Nature and Nurture

3.48 (63 ratings by Goodreads)
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In this powerful critique, the esteemed historian and philosopher of science Evelyn Fox Keller addresses the nature-nurture debates, including the persistent disputes regarding the roles played by genes and the environment in determining individual traits and behavior. Keller is interested in both how an oppositional "versus" came to be inserted between nature and nurture, and how the distinction on which that opposition depends, the idea that nature and nurture are separable, came to be taken for granted. How, she asks, did the illusion of a space between nature and nurture become entrenched in our thinking, and why is it so tenacious? Keller reveals that the assumption that the influences of nature and nurture can be separated is neither timeless nor universal, but rather a notion that emerged in Anglo-American culture in the late nineteenth century. She shows that the seemingly clear-cut nature-nurture debate is riddled with incoherence. It encompasses many disparate questions knitted together into an indissoluble tangle, and it is marked by a chronic ambiguity in language. There is little consensus about the meanings of terms such as nature, nurture, gene, and environment. Keller suggests that contemporary genetics can provide a more appropriate, precise, and useful vocabulary, one that might help put an end to the confusion surrounding the nature-nurture controversy.
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Product details

  • Paperback | 120 pages
  • 156 x 216 x 7.62mm | 163.29g
  • North Carolina, United States
  • English
  • 3 illustrations, 1 table
  • 0822347318
  • 9780822347316
  • 407,475

Back cover copy

"I know of no other publication that offers so concise and cogent an account of what 'nature versus nurture' refers to. Evelyn Fox Keller is at her best dissecting the assumptions and histories that have come to shape a particular version of biology, genes, and life."--Sarah Franklin, author of "Dolly Mixtures: The Remaking of Genealogy"
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Table of contents



1. Nature and Nurture as Alternatives

2. Changing the Question to One that Does Make Sense-From Trait to Trait Difference

3. From Individuals to Populations

4. What's to Be Done?



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Review quote

"Evelyn Fox Keller's diagnosis of prevalent confusions in our thinking about nature and nurture is so lucid, informed, and sensitive that it is tempting to insist that scientists, journalists, philosophers, and policy-makers who intend to talk about 'nature and nurture' should be required to demonstrate their mastery of her arguments before their thoughts are let loose on society."-Philip Kitcher, author of Living with Darwin "I know of no other publication that offers so concise and cogent an account of what 'nature versus nurture' refers to. Evelyn Fox Keller is at her best dissecting the assumptions and histories that have come to shape a particular version of biology, genes, and life."-Sarah Franklin, author of Dolly Mixtures: The Remaking of Genealogy "[Keller] isn't out to mine history; she wants to examine how and why the simple act of placing the word 'versus' between concepts of nature and nurture perpetuates the debate about the science of what shapes us. . . . [H]er arguments, as academic as they are, relate to us all, and get at the essence of our differences. In the end, Keller is hopeful that 'the new science of genetics' will offer a way out of the debate, and possibly eliminate the debate altogether. " * Publishers Weekly * "In the finest fashion of philosophical essays, this deeply thought, passionate, generous, and transdisciplinary monograph offers a clear-headed and constructive guide to the nature-nurture wars." -- Sarah S. Richardson * Signs * "Keller's book is valuable because it provides a crisp and articulate statement of the many confusions that pervade our talk of genetics,
particularly human genetics. It could be used in both undergraduate and graduate classes that touch on these issues. Moreover, because Keller's focus is on the problems of the language of genetics itself rather than on their instantiation in a particular controversy it brings clearly into focus the underlying problem that cuts across a number of controversies. The book should be taken as a summary of the issues and an agenda for how we proceed from here." -- John P. Jackson Jr. * Journal of the History of Biology * "Perhaps a hundred years from now people will look back on the debate as being as distant and unimportant as we today consider debates about the importance of empire or the plausibility of spiritualism. If so, Evelyn Fox Keller's excellent little book will deserve credit for its role in making this mind-change." -- Michael Ruse * British Journal for the History of Science * "For its careful analysis of the causes of the confusion that continues to keep the nature/nurture debate alive long after it has become clear that the questions motivating the debate have been ill-formed, Fox Keller's book can be highly recommended for classroom teachers or teacher educators. Although the book itself would be difficult for many students, Fox Keller's message is an extremely important one, one that educators really should understand before discussing the nature/nurture debate with their classes." -- David S. Moore * Science and Education * "Keller is one of the most sophisticated and intelligent analysts of the social and psychological forces that operate in intellectual life and, in particular, of the relation of gender in our society both to the creation and acceptance of scientific ideas." -- Richard C. Lewontin * New York Review of Books * "Keller's little essay is an excellent teaching resource-and an excellent resource for reminding ourselves about the pitfalls of the current way of thinking. Anyone with an interest in the nature-nurture problem-which is to say, almost everyone-should read this book." -- Daniel W. McShea * American Scientist * "Not long ago, I read a beautiful book by Evelyn Fox Keller called The Mirage of a Space Between Nature and Nurture. She's a philosopher of science at MIT. She's one of the most brilliant philosophers of science there is. She writes short but brilliant books, and she's great."

-- Siri Hustvedt, novelist * Miami Herald * "The ideas developed in this book will lead us to see the universality in humanity, a shift from the individual to the collective, a dissolution of artificial boundaries, and hope for the future of science and humanity." -- Bindu Anubha Bambah * Resonance *
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About Evelyn Fox Keller

Evelyn Fox Keller is Emerita Professor of History and Philosophy of Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She is the author of numerous books, including Making Sense of Life: Explaining Biological Development with Models, Metaphors, and Machines; The Century of the Gene; Reflections on Gender and Science; and A Feeling for the Organism: The Life and Work of Barbara McClintock. She has been awarded many academic and professional honors, including a Blaise Pascal Research Chair by the Prefecture de la Region D'Ile-de-France for 2005-07, membership in the American Philosophical Society and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a MacArthur Fellowship.
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Rating details

63 ratings
3.48 out of 5 stars
5 16% (10)
4 37% (23)
3 33% (21)
2 8% (5)
1 6% (4)
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