Beyond Versus

From Life and Mind: Philosophical Issues in Biology and Psychology

Beyond Versus

The Struggle to Understand the Interaction of Nature and Nurture

By James Tabery

Why the “nature versus nurture” debate persists despite widespread recognition that human traits arise from the interaction of nature and nurture.





Why the “nature versus nurture” debate persists despite widespread recognition that human traits arise from the interaction of nature and nurture.

If everyone now agrees that human traits arise not from nature or nurture but from the interaction of nature and nurture, why does the “nature versus nurture” debate persist? In Beyond Versus, James Tabery argues that the persistence stems from a century-long struggle to understand the interaction of nature and nurture—a struggle to define what the interaction of nature and nurture is, how it should be investigated, and what counts as evidence for it.

Tabery examines past episodes in the nature versus nurture debates, offers a contemporary philosophical perspective on them, and considers the future of research on the interaction of nature and nurture. From the eugenics controversy of the 1930s and the race and IQ controversy of the 1970s to the twenty-first-century debate over the causes of depression, Tabery argues, the polarization in these discussions can be attributed to what he calls an “explanatory divide”—a disagreement over how explanation works in science, which in turn has created two very different concepts of interaction. Drawing on recent developments in the philosophy of science, Tabery offers a way to bridge this explanatory divide and these different concepts integratively. Looking to the future, Tabery evaluates the ethical issues that surround genetic testing for genes implicated in interactions of nature and nurture, pointing to what the future does (and does not) hold for a science that continues to make headlines and raise controversy.


$45.00 X ISBN: 9780262027373 296 pp. | 6 in x 9 in 26 figures


  • This is an engaging new entry in the voluminous literature that attempts to get beyond 'nature-nurture' divides...the book's clear focus on these themes is one of its major strengths....Tabery's careful analysis shows clearly why we need to take these kinds of questions seriously.

    Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews

  • An excellent book by an obviously multi-talented author.

    History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences

  • A novel approach....Beyond Versus offers a thorough review of the contemporary but timeless nature/nurture debate....Tabery's discussion allows the main currents in the debate to surface.

    Review of Metaphysics

  • If, like many people, you think the nature-nurture debate is fascinating and relevant to our time, add James Tabery's book to your shelf. If, like me, you have long wondered why the nature-nurture debate still exists in scientific circles, add this book to your shelf.


  • Tabery's book presents a timely attempt to unify an integrative approach to bioethical reflection on the collection and use of genetic information.

    Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics


  • Well written, well researched, thoughtful, and ambitious. Beyond Versus is perhaps the best effort yet to overcome the explanatory divide separating the contributions of population genetics from those of developmental biology to the science of nature and nurture.

    Evelyn Fox Keller

    Professor Emerita of the History and Philosophy of Science, MIT; author of The Mirage of a Space between Nature and Nurture

  • No scientific field illustrates the illumination philosophy can provide to empirical science as well as the genetics of complex traits in humans, and no work of philosophy has shone as much light on human genetics as Beyond Versus. Tabery's book combines history, philosophical analysis, data, and bioethics; I expect it will transform the long historical discussion of nature and nurture.

    Eric Turkheimer

    Professor of Psychology, University of Virginia

  • Tabery's tracing of the statistical and mechanical concepts of interaction through key debates over the respective roles of 'nature' and 'nurture' casts important light on the assumptions generating those debates. His further effort to show how seemingly incompatible research informed by those concepts could be integrated is a welcome addition to the growing literature on scientific pluralism.

    Helen Longino

    C. I. Lewis Professor in Philosophy, Stanford University; author of Studying Human Behavior

  • Tabery has written an excellent book describing how recent biology shows that the nature-nurture dispute has been misplaced. Rather, the time has come to understand the interdependence of multiple factors in the genesis of traits in all organisms, especially complex behavioral and disease traits in humans. This book will prove to be useful to all those who want to move beyond the futile debates of the last century and to embrace a new understanding of what it means to be human in the postgenomic era.

    Sahotra Sarkar

    Professor of Philosophy and Integrative Biology, University of Texas at Austin; author of Genetics and Reductionism and Molecular Models of Life