How Nature Works in Psychology and Shakespeare

In the chapter “Nature” the authors Nealon and Giroux use lines from Shakespeare’s King LearĀ to provide an interesting example of how we see this concept of “nature” in play. The example shows how polarizing nature can be; it is at once “an original innocence from which there has been a fall” and a “destructive…force”. Nealon and Giroux link this back to “the ethical and ecological consequences” of how humans have affected nature, but personally I read this example and saw something else: a link to the psychological version of nature.

I find that I often look at things from both an English critic and a Psychology minor viewpoint when reading this book. Imagine how happy I was to start this chapter entitled “Nature” only to feel slightly let down when it didn’t mention anything directly about the psychological viewpoint other than Freud, who did help create some interesting theories and trained later great psychologists, did not truly create a school that is very useful to this debate of nature versus nurture.


As the picture above humorously depicts, psychologists have tried to work out which is more important in human development, nurture (the environment we live in) or nature (biology and genetics). Now most psychologists agree that there is an interaction between the two that helps shape our minds and selves, but I don’t think the fact that they are related downplays the importance of either. In fact, reading Nealon and Giroux’s Lear example reminded me of why so many psychologists for so long believed that it was all “natures” role in our development. In fact, I see that nature in the psychological meaning also works within the example. Psychologists who lean towards natures role being most important believe that we need no prior experience to perform or behave in certain ways as they, for lack of a better word, come “naturally” to us. Another way of putting this is that we have an “original innocence” that once certain factors are acted upon can lead to a “fall”. We don’t need to watch others to model our behavior, we just behave. I also see relations of this type of nature being a “destructive…force” as biologically we can wreak havoc on our own bodies that can literally destroy us through death, or have genetic abnormalities that causes us to be “different”. This may seem like a long-shot from this chapter, but as a psych minor enrolled in a lot of different psychology classes I never look at the word “Nature” without immediately thinking of these concepts.

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2 Responses to How Nature Works in Psychology and Shakespeare

  1. Harrison February 2, 2016 at 10:36 pm #

    This might be completely irrelevant, but I was reminded of an example of this really twisted documentary that seems to relate. Those psychologists you mention who think about the mind as totally “nature” oriented–the ‘innocence’ and ‘fall’ people–“we just behave.”

    How do you reconcile this kind of a thing in extreme cases, where people are left to complete and total isolation in the early stages of their life. There’s the case of Genie, the “feral child” whose dad didn’t want to take care of her and just locked her in a room for a 13 years. Obviously her psyche was severely damaged and she’s like 59 now and living an institution. I wonder how these extreme cases of isolation and all of that pitch in, if any, to that psychological discussion.

  2. Prof VZ February 7, 2016 at 11:41 am #

    Interesting post (and comment) on what “nature” signifies in psychological debates: it seems there are two dualing versions of “nature”: our biological predicament–the genes we are given, for example–and the idea of a natural tendency towards certain ideals, or a “natural innocence” as you put it. I think the innocence-fall narrative is more religious than psychological. The more contemporary concern would relate to genetics, sex, etc.–biological categories in which, and through which, our identities emerge. I think Nealon and Giroux would think of this along the lines of constraining and enabling constraints: nature constrains in certain foundational ways, but culture–and in some ways now even science and technology–can enable one to overcome or think and live beyond those constraints.

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