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Final Solutions Biology, Prejudice, and Genocide cover
  • ISBN: 9780271007939
  • ISBN10: 0271007931

Final Solutions Biology, Prejudice, and Genocide

by Richard M. Lerner

  • List Price: $61.95
  • Binding: Hardcover
  • Publisher: Pennsylvania State Univ Pr
  • Publish date: 05/01/1992
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Description
The nature-nurture debate continues to stir controversy in the social and behavioral sciences. How much of human behavior and development can be attributed to biology and how much to the environment? Can either be said to "determine" human development? And what are the implications of each view for society? In this important study, a noted developmental psychologist contributes to this debate by confronting the difficult issue of "doctrines" of human development and the consequences for society of deriving political programs and public policy from them. Beginning with the premise that scientific ideas are not neutral but can be used for either good or evil, Richard Lerner considers the recent history of one such idea, biological determinism, which at times has had the backing of respected scientists, intellectuals, and political leaders. During this century, biological determinism has been coupled with political philosophies that hold that some people are inherently better than others. This has meant that certain groups of people--Jews, Blacks, Native Americans, women--have been stigmatized because of supposedly innate, even "biological", differences, with sometimes disastrous consequences. The most notorious instance was Nazi Germany, where "racial science", given legitimacy by the scientific community, became a cornerstone of the Nazi "Final Solution". Meanwhile, theories of biological determinism continue to find adherents within the scientific community. Konrad Lorenz, who was awarded a Nobel Prize in 1973, was a critical figure in the development of the most recent manifestation of biological determinism--sociobiology. Lerner examines the work of Lorenz and current sociobiologistsand the implications of their claims for modern society. He fears that biological determinism may again be co-opted to serve the political agenda of today's reactionary politicians. In fact, Lerner notes, sociobiologists have had to face the fact that organizations such as the fascist National Front party in Britain and its counterparts in France and the United States have selectively seized upon sociobiology to fuel their notions of genetically superior and inferior races. Recognizing the inadequacy of both biological and cultural determinism to explain the complexities of human development, Lerner offers a scientific alternative to biological determinism: "developmental contextualism". This alternative recognizes that biology plays a ubiquitous role in human behavior but denies that either biology or environment alone determines that behavior. Developmental contextualism emphasizes that biology develops in relation to the complex and changing contexts of human life. Furthermore, one's biological heritage provides a "liberator of human potential" rather than an inescapable path. Lerner shows how biology allows human existence to be improved and, in fact, to be "recreated" across the entire span of human life. Finally, he demonstrates the policy implications of developmental contextualism, stressing that humans can be active agents in improving the quality of their lives. Forewords by R. C. Lewontin and Benno Muller-Hill lend further weight to this significant study.
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