|THE LAWS OF ENVIRONMENTAL INFLUENCE|
UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA
THE relation of environment to heredity presents an issue that is becoming increasingly clear. I will state it in the words of Dr. F. A. Woods. "Experimentally and statistically, there is not a grain of proof that ordinarily environment can alter the salient mental and moral traits in any measurable degree from what they were predetermined to be through innate influences." The premises of this statement lie in biology, while the conclusions must be verified by facts in social science. Dr. Woods implies that, for each virtue society holds dear and for each vice it condemns, there is a biologic character without the presence of which the virtue or the vice could not appear. This position controverts the evidence of social science as to the basis on which virtues and vices rest.
To discuss this problem, I must begin with the difference between the data of social and biologic sciences. Biology uses experiment and hence begins with germ cells: social science is based on observation and hence its data are the visible differences which the study of men affords. Both call their data characters, but as a loose terminology creates confusion, I shall call the germinal variations the biologist finds through experiment characters, while the visible differences in men open to observation I shall call traits. The problem then is what is the relation of biologic characters to visible traits? Is there a character for each trait, or do independent laws govern traits? To answer these questions, traits must be divided into two classes; mental traits are measured by differences in thought and expression while bodily traits denote external differences. Mental traits are again divided into social traits, which are impressed on individuals by society and physical traits which reflect brain activity.
Physical traits do not correspond to the virtues and vices emphasized by society. There are only five that have social significance—imitation, suggestion, sympathy, self-interest and will power. These have biologic antecedents. Social traits, however, change from environment to environment, from group to group and even from family to family. They are readily adopted, easily lost and have the marks of acquired characters. The motives for adopting a virtue come to the individual through social influences. The power in him leading to its acceptance is not due to some unit-character corresponding to the virtue in question,
- The Popular Science Monthly, April, 1910.