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New Books in Philosophy interviews Prof. Helen Longino for her new book

May 20 2013

What explains human behavior? It is standard to consider answers from the perspective of a dichotomy between nature and nurture, with most researchers today in agreement that it is both.

For Helen Longino, Clarence Irving Lewis Professor of Philosophy at Stanford University, the “both” answer misses the fact that the nature/nurture divide is itself problematic. In her groundbreaking book, Studying Human Behavior: How Scientists Investigate Aggression & Sexuality (University of Chicago Press) Longino looks closely at a variety of scientific approaches to the study of human aggression and sexuality to argue that there is no one right way to divide nature from nurture within the scientific approaches to the study of behavior, and that the nature/nurture dichotomy reinforces and reflects an undue emphasis on explanations that focus on the dispositions of individuals rather than those that look at patterns of frequency and distribution of behavior within populations. She reveals the distinct and incompatible ways these different approaches define the factors that explain behavior, how these different explanatory approaches are related, and how the bias towards particular types of explanation is reflected in the way the scientific findings are publicly disseminated.