"Nature? Or nurture?"

The Institute for the Humanities hosts an interdisciplinary conversation.

The Infant Jupiter Nurtured by the Goat Amalthea, Nicolas Poussin, 1638

The two words "nature" and "nurture" look and sound almost the same, yet they imply a world of difference. 

Shakespeare first juxtaposed the two terms in his play The Tempest, where Prospero, the rightful Duke of Milan, describes Caliban, the native and monstrously-deformed inhabitant of the remote island on which Prospero finds himself castaway, as a  "devil, a born devil, on whose nature / Nurture can never stick" (IV.i.188–189).  Prospero contrasts the civilizing influence, the "nurture" that he believes he himself represents, with the savagery, the "nature," that he sees incarnated in Caliban.  Yet from a modern postcolonial perspective, at least, the play ironically calls into question Prospero's unquestioned assumption of the pre-eminence of the "civilization" that he believes he represents vis a vis Caliban's primitivism -- has it really made Prospero the better man? 

Prospero's Renaissance world-view assumes the improving influence of the sophisticated urbanized western world from which he comes, yet a century and a half later this assumption would be called into question by the philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, a philosopher who would have much influence on modern versions of the whole nature versus nurture debate.

The debate may sound like pure theory, but its practical ramifications are far reaching.  The modern science of genetics has fueled mass genocides, and less violently, but equally consequentially for their impact on society, systems of education that privilege the supposedly more gifted and intelligent.  Our health, our environment, our government, our creativity, and more are all impacted by our decisions about whether to privilege nature or nurture. 

And the jury is still out.  This fascinating debate will be taken up as an interdisciplinary conversation on Wednesday, April 9, 4-5 p.m. at Montclair State University by a group of panelists representing each of Montclair State's five colleges on campus.  Beth McPherson (CART), Zoe Burckholder (CEHS), Kirk McDermid (CHSS), Scott Kight (CSAM), and Phillip LeBel (SBUS), will each present their take on the question from the perspective of his or her own discipline, before entertaining questions and comment from the floor.  

The event is free and open to all.  Light refreshments.

RSVP: Update 4/7/14: Please note the event is now at full capacity and the rsvp link is now closed.