Evolution of Determinism

It strikes me as really interesting how the idea of determinism has evolved over the centuries. Back in the 18th century during colonial times, people believed in the idea of “climactic determinism.” This theory said that variations and changes in complexion and other characteristics resulted from the variations in weather and temperature. In essence, it was believed that everyone was born white, but living in areas of different climate caused skin color to change. For example, living in the hot weather of Africa caused skin color to darken from white to black. Disregarding the racist concept behind this theory, it’s interesting that people should have come up with this idea. It’s true that being out in the sun can darken your skin – people go tanning all the time – but this theory implies that the climate can somehow inherently change who you are, and that skin color reflects your internal state of mind and body. Hot weather made a person physically strong, but not very advanced mentally, while colder weather made a person extremely intelligent, but not very physically powerful. This idea was definitely construed to make Europeans seem more intelligent than African Americans and justify the use of African Americans as laborers. But all theories of determinism fit with the times and serve a purpose. Then, the main concern was justification of slavery; now, the main concern is justification for the eradication of the genetically weak. And so today the thoughts surrounding determinism involve genetics. It seems like we change our ideas of what determines who we are based on what suits the present situation. Different ideas behind determinism and nature v. nurture are just ways to find a rationalization for the current mindset and needs of society. In this way, deterministic ideas seem to reflect on changing societal values and ideals, altering the understanding of underlying mechanisms that make people who they are.

 

~ B2

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~ by b2majmudar on February 3, 2008.

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