The Epigenetic Hypothesis and the Social Sciences: Socio-Legal Implications

Monday, 11 July 2016: 16:15
Location: Seminarsaal 20 (Juridicum)
Oral Presentation
Luigi COMINELLI, The University of Milan, Italy
The epigenetic hypothesis is currently the most interesting attempt to overcome the eternal dilemma between biological determinism and sociological idealism in the explanation of social behavior. Based on some empirical studies that have considered the permanent effects of poverty, war or social deprivation, it is hypothesized that environmental factors retroact on the genome and that therefore the environmental influences have an impact on an equal basis with the biological individual factors. The epigenetic hypothesis argues that genes are turned on or off, and exert their influence on social behavior, depending on the surrounding environment. This hypothesis, which began with the experiments on rodents and is still in a rather early stage, argues that human nature is not formed niether by the genes themselves, nor by cultural universals, but by "rules of inherited mental development". Behaviors acquired in response to the environment become hereditary, being transmitted to subsequent generations. This perspective is particularly interesting for the social sciences, and poses serious questions in terms of law-oriented decisions and policies.