Saturday, 3 May 2014

Are we really individuals? How come we explain behaviour by (only) heredity and environment?

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It is interesting, and probably significant, that as a society we have a prominent rhetoric of the importance of the individual - and an ethic of personal growth and self-expression; yet individuality is regarded as being wholly-explicable by some combination of heredity and environment.

(And chance - such as disease or misfortune - although I have found, in practice, many people resistant to allowing for chance; crazy but true.)

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So, differences between people are wholly explained on the basis of 1. some more-or-less unique combination of genes and other hereditary material, derived from their parents; and 2. some unique accumulation of environmental experiences from the womb, gestation and through development and maturity.

This explanatory model means that although we may, in practice, be unique and unprecedented; this individuality is wholly passive: our individuality is merely a mixture of pre-existing materials.

This explanation goes along with a sense of existential non-responsibility -  we have been made from stuff that happened to be lying-around, as mixtures of heredity and environment - we are planted here (n the world) to make of it what we will - if, indeed, we can be bothered to make anything of it.

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There is no space in this explanatory model for purpose, destiny or significance. There is nothing whatsoever to explain why individuality is valuable when it is simply a mixture.

Our much-vaunted individuality turns out to be just a bit of this and a bit of that.

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So, it is hardly surprising that, when push comes to shove, individuality actually counts for nothing, because it has been explained-away as a contingent combination of already existing stuff - and our society does not in actuality value individual people at all: not in theory, and certainly not in practice.

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For individuality to really mean something, our model of a person must contain some spark or flame or seed which is unique to them - some distinctive essence which lies behind and beyond and above all the many influences of heredity, environment and chance.

Only then can we think realistically and clearly and strongly about each individual's purpose, destiny and significance.

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