Like all other animals, human beings inherit DNA from their parents, and that genetic inheritance influences everything about us, including our behavior, character and values. However, unlike other animals, humans set goals and aspirations, and strive to instill virtuous behavior in their children. Unique among animals, humans are aware of their genetic inheritance and are able to improve upon it through exercise of their free will. The science defined by this paradox is called behavior genetics, and it encompasses some of the most profound Big Questions about human nature. The human genome has been sequenced and knowledge of genetics at a biological level is advancing at breathtaking speed, but genomic technology has outstripped our ability to make sense of it. If differences in cognitive ability are related to genes, is there no point to efforts to improve the human functioning, or to smooth out inequities in opportunity? If differences in flourishing are related to genetics, do people not “have a choice” about their capacity for virtue or personal happiness? Should we be fatalists? We seek answers to the big question: How do genetics, the family environment and human self-determination interact in the genesis of behavior related to flourishing and virtue? A network of research teams including empirical scientists and philosophers will focus on big questions concerning the implications of genomics for self-determination and flourishing. We will facilitate communication of findings in ways that will help lay people understand the implications of behavioral genetics for the most important issues in their lives: self-knowledge, efforts at self-improvement, personal relationships and childrearing.
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