Here’s a little food for thought about gender – a quote from a long article in Prospect magazine in which philosopher Roger Scruton reviews three books contributing to the nature-nurture debate.

This quote is from a section in which he argues, against the view of the philosopher Jesse Prinz, that biology does have a major impact on human behaviour.

In The Blank Slate (2002) Steven Pinker assembled the evidence for the conclusion that our fundamental capacities are implanted by evolution and malleable only in those matters in which malleability would confer a reproductive advantage. His argument was meticulous and serious, and the weight of scientific evidence impossible to deny. In this or that particular the science might be faulted or revised, but the broad case is surely compelling. Consider, for example, the division of roles everywhere to be observed between men and women. There is a powerful reason to think that this is rooted in a deeper division of biological labour, selected in the harsh conditions that threatened our ancestors with extinction. For human beings manifest neoteny, the trait of giving birth to helpless large-brained offspring, who can look after themselves only after ten years of nurture and nowadays not even then. Neoteny is a huge evolutionary advantage; but it is purchased at an equally huge biological cost. A species whose young are as vulnerable as human children needs both organised defence and serious home building if it is to reproduce itself. And on those granite foundations has been built the romantic castle of sexual difference.

He puts this down to Prinz’s immersion in a certain influential academic culture (which we keep running into):

He does not have much sympathy for any culture other than the one in which he is immersed—the liberal egalitarian culture of the American academy, which holds that sexual roles are socially constructed, that sexual morality is exhausted by the requirement of consent, and that all “disadvantage” is down to environmental factors which we can collaborate to overcome. He would perhaps deny that this is a culture, rather than a set of rationally held beliefs. But the whole tendency of his argument is to suggest that we can and should live in the way that he lives, not endowing our differences with the status of natural barriers or God-given paths, but opening ourselves to a kind of “soft diversity,” in which human possibilities flourish in a condition of mutual acceptance.

There’s a lot more good stuff in his article – Michael Kirke has highlighted another section on his blog — if you have the time and inclination for the intellectual effort involved. (And it is quite an effort.)

Carolyn Moynihan

Carolyn Moynihan is the former deputy editor of MercatorNet