Tabery, James. beyond Versus: The Struggle to Understand the Interaction of Nature and Nurture

By Safranek, John | The Review of Metaphysics, March 2015 | Go to article overview

Tabery, James. beyond Versus: The Struggle to Understand the Interaction of Nature and Nurture


Safranek, John, The Review of Metaphysics


TABERY, James. Beyond Versus: The Struggle to Understand the Interaction of Nature and Nurture. Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press, 2014. 293 pp. Cloth, $40.00--James Tabery offers a novel approach to the nature/nurture debate by arguing that complex traits of most living organisms cannot be explained wholly in terms of either nature or nurture. Instead, the interdependence of several factors produce the various traits observed in certain human behaviors. Although most scholars acknowledge at least some interaction between genetic and environmental causes, they approach this phenomenon from two very distinct positions. Beyond Versus is Tabery's attempt to bridge the gap between these two predominant forms of thinking about the nature/nurture, or genetic/environmental, relationship.

The first of the three sections of the book is devoted to reviewing the debate about the nature of the interaction between nurture and nature through the lens of three separate historical episodes: the eugenics controversy of the 1930s, the IQ-race debate of the 1970s, and recent disputes on the causes of depression. Tabery uses these issues to expose the dueling methodologies that theorists employ to argue for distinct understandings of interaction as a basis for variation in populations. The two distinct methodologies are termed "variation-partitioning" and "mechanism-elucidation. "

The variation-partition proponents view the interaction of nature and nurture as a purely statistical phenomenon that occurs rarely and interferes with measuring the relative contributions of nature and nurture. They try to determine how much variation in depression, for example, is due to each factor by employing statistics to identify the causes of this mental disorder. For a given population, they partition up the variation in depression to determine how much is attributable to genetic and environmental causes. They invoke interaction only if they cannot account for the extant variation by reference to genetic and environmental causes.

The mechanism-elucidation theorists understand the interaction of nature and nurture as a developmental phenomenon that occurs commonly and which sheds lights on the causal mechanisms of the developmental process. They are less concerned with determining how much variation is due to the different causes. Instead, they are concerned with how particular genes and particular developmental environments interact to produce particular outcomes, such as depression. They attribute variation to the differences in the various developmental combinations of nature and nurture. Instead of relying on statistical methodology, these theorists prefer an interventionist approach where they alter relevant features either genetically or environmentally to study the resultant changes in variation.

These rival theorists conceptualize interaction differently, employ different methodologies when studying it, and offer divergent views of its prevalence in nature. …

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