Genetics and Human Agency

Genetics and Human Agency

Obviously, one of the main activities of our lab is managing the Genetics and Human Agency project.  This initiative, funded by the John Templeton Foundation, is providing support to 17 teams of scientists and philosophers seeking to understand the complex relationship between genetic variation and complex human behavior.  You will see details of those projects elsewhere on this site.

Much of our own work on this topic involves understanding the implications of the heritability of behavior for human self-understanding and social scientific methodology, and particularly the limitations of those implications.  All behavior is heritable to some degree, so it is incorrect to think that, for example, the heritability of human intelligence is an extraordinary outlier that demands a more genetic view of human abilities.

Much of our current work, in fact, involves human intelligence.  We have recently completed a review of James Flynn’s new book, “Does Your Family Make You Smarter?”  Longer term, we are working on the conception of intelligence as “cognitive capacity.”  If you say that Person A is more intelligent that Person B, do you mean that Person A just happens to be functioning at a higher level right now, or that Person A has more capacity for complex cognition?  The difference between these two conceptions has wide-ranging implications for how we think about intelligence.

We are also working on a consideration of how the progressive scientist might react to genetically-based race research claiming to show that some groups of people are inherently less intelligent or more prone to anti-social behavior.  Is it just science, entitled to the same objective respect as any other scientific hypothesis?  How can a progressive scientist have a negative attitude toward this kind of work without endorsing censorship or ideological bias?

Eric Turkheimer
ent3c@virginia.edu

Eric Turkheimer is the Project Leader for the Genetics and Human Agency Project. Eric is a clinical psychologist and behavioral geneticist. For thirty years he has been involved in empirical and theoretical investigations of the implications of genetics for the genesis of complex human behavior. Current projects include understanding the interaction between socioeconomic status and the heritability of intelligence, and philosophical analysis of the ethical status of work that purports to demonstrate biologically based differences in behavior among racial groups.

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