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Nature vs Nurture


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#1 Role Model Wannabe

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Posted 18 March 2012 - 11:01 PM

Hi Mod., I constantly think about "Nature/ Nurture" contradicting the whole idea of Bechira. Because if we are all nature and nurture, how then can we choose? It's not like we have no "pre-conceived notions" about anything, there's always a reason for our decision. And if there's a reason for our choice, how is it "free will?"

A response would be much appreciated, since I have asked many people and haven't received a satisfying reply.

Thank You.

#2 Rabbi Shapiro

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Posted 19 March 2012 - 07:30 PM

The issue is discussed extensively in our Seforim (and on this site!). See here (my post of Nov. 26th), here, and the post below (which comes from here starting with Admonit's post of 11/13/03).


Admonit Posted - 13 November 2003 21:29 hi
someone asked me this and i know the answer, but i could not give the person an answer that i felt was satisfactory one hundred percent to that person.
A person is formed by various nature/nurture things that are not in his hands, he doesnt decide his chinuch or personality etc.
so when he makes a choice wether or not to murder someone , all the things that let up to that choice were not in his hands. so what makes one person choose yes to kill and another choose not to kill? obviously his whole life experiences and divinely given brain/personality etc . otherwise why does one person choose yes and one no? why does one have the stregnth and one doesnt feel like it?
obviously i am giving an extreme example , put there davening in the morning or speaking lashon hara. whatever. so one person chooses yes and one no. why do they have choice? it seems like they r choosing based on WHO TEHY ARE. not becuase of bechira. how can i prove that its bechira that ppl can choose???
if you are going to answer because then they make the choice at that point , its not the answer. bec what makes them make the choice at that point,
is this somethign that can be proven to someone who is not interested in recognizing anything else in Torah?
please answer even for myself to have it clear. thank u

MODERATOR Posted - 13 November 2003 22:10

Your question actually serves to illustrate what Bechirah is rather than question it.

You are correct from a physical, scientific point of view - Bechirah is not possible. This is because effect has a cause. Aid identical causes invariably lead to identical effects. In other words, if two people throw the dice in the exact same way under the exact same circumstances, with no difference at all in the throwing conditions, both sets of dice will have to land on the same numbers.

And since every effect has a cause, that is, everything has to have a reason why it happened, if you choose to get out of bed in the morning, your choice, too, had to have a cause. There had to be a reason you made choice A over choice B. And the reason for your choice also had to have a reason, on and on into infinity.

According to physics, and intuition, and logic, you cannot have a "first cause" (that is, something that happened without any cause). Everything had to have a cause.

This is one of the classic proofs to Hashem's existence: Since every effect had to have a cause, and the cause had to have its own cause, there had to have been an infinite number of causes stretching back into the past. However, since infinity can never be reached, the amount of causes that already happened in the past,cannot be infinity. Therefore the amount of causes has to be finite. But if so, then there had to be a first cause that existed for no cause or no reason. (This is explained at length in several other places on the site - do a search on frumteens for "Zeno" and you'll find the long version of it).

Only Hashem can be a First Cause. Because anything in the physical world has to have a reason.

And so, Bechirah cannot exist according to nature. Because there had to be a REASON why you chose one way over the other.
If you were to have two people, with the exact same set of causes - two identical clones with the same upbringing, circumstances, everything - can one of them wake up in the morning and choose to get out of bed while the other one will stay under the covers?
No, you cant. Since there has to be something that CAUSED the different choices, but if the circumstances are identical, the results have to be, too.

So how can we indeed have Bechirah?

The answer is, this is why the Meforshim say that "Tzelem Elokim" means Bechirah. In order to facilitate free will, Hashem had to instill within us a "piece" of Himself kivyachol, such that we humans now also have the ability to be a First Cause, just like Hashem!
ONLY Hashem can be a First Cause, but now, humans were given that ability as well! That is the simple pshat in Tzelem Elokim.

We were miraculously given the abilty to choose for no other reason than we decided to choose. Thats where the chain of causes ends - with our decision.

Circumstance, nature, nurture et all can only cause nisyonois - temptations. But they do not effect our Bechirah. Our Bechirah is causeless, like Hashem is. What we decide to do, we do. And why did we decide? Because we have the ability to decide, not because some cause determined our decision.

What you should do is ask this Q to an atheist. They have this problem - no way to explain free will. This is why society, as it becomes more and more science-oriented, is also becoming more and more entrenched in the belief that criminal behavior is excusable on the grounds that it was caused by the criminal's nature and nurture. They really dont want to come out and admit it, but they have no choice but to live with the inescapable fact that without Hashem's giving us the ability to be a First Cause, we are nothing but robots, resigned to nature's whims. Our choices were CAUSED by something.

But we who know the truth understand that we were granted the greatest power and priviledge possible - even greater than what is possible according to nature - the power to choose.

Only we and Hashem can do that. Everything else has to have reasons.

#3 Role Model Wannabe

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Posted 19 March 2012 - 09:04 PM

Thank You so much for answering my question, yet there are still a few things left unclear to me!

Why then is there a whole world of psychiatry? Why is there a need for medical intervention?
Everybody in this world has their own disorder (if you will!) and everyone acts upon it! That is their drive!! How can one person just randomly decide to act someway without any "cause"
What's the whole point of psycho-analysis? If people don't act based on their predispositions?
And "We were miraculously given the ability to choose for no other reason than we decided to choose. Thats where the chain of causes ends - with our decision." Yet I know of so many people who only act/choose based on something. How do regular people, leading regular lives make use of this privilege?

Thank you again for answering.

#4 Role Model Wannabe

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Posted 19 March 2012 - 09:14 PM

Also, Hashem had(s) reason(s) for actions. To punish, heal.... Hashem has Cheshbonos! We just can't understand them.
I'm so confused. All this time I was taught that Hashem has REASON for everything, and now I am told the complete opposite!

Sorry for keeping on questioning, but his question is always bothering me, so I'd like to receive a very firm response that sits well with me. Thanks Again.

#5 taon

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Posted 20 March 2012 - 03:03 PM

Hashem does have reason for everything. He is not caused to do anything, only what He wills. It doesn't mean Hashem does something randomly, just that nothing made Him do that.

#6 Role Model Wannabe

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Posted 20 March 2012 - 06:08 PM

But there's a reason why he wills it!

#7 taon

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Posted 21 March 2012 - 04:50 PM

There doesn't have to be. Hashem can choose something for no reason other than He chose it. Not because X led to Y led to Hashem's choosing this.

#8 Rabbi Shapiro

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Posted 22 March 2012 - 07:45 PM

Thank You so much for answering my question, yet there are still a few things left unclear to me!

Why then is there a whole world of psychiatry? Why is there a need for medical intervention?
Everybody in this world has their own disorder (if you will!) and everyone acts upon it! That is their drive!! How can one person just randomly decide to act someway without any "cause"
What's the whole point of psycho-analysis? If people don't act based on their predispositions?
And "We were miraculously given the ability to choose for no other reason than we decided to choose. Thats where the chain of causes ends - with our decision." Yet I know of so many people who only act/choose based on something. How do regular people, leading regular lives make use of this privilege?

Thank you again for answering.

Predispositions push a person a certain way, but a person can choose to resist the push. Predispositions are to be looked at the same way as temptations. You can say yes or no. As the Yismach Moshe said: ומותר האדם מן הבהמה אין - the difference between man and animal is that man can say אין - "No!"

Free will only exists where it comes to Torah and Mitzvos. הכל בידי שמים חוץ מיראת שמים, meaning that if you decide to paint your living room green as opposed to blue, that decision was not a Free Will choice. The preponderance of causes caused you to choose green.

But where religion is concerned, Hashem allows you to choose. You of course will not consciously feel any difference. In fact, you always feel as if you freely make your choices, predispositions and prior causes notwithstanding. But when it comes to Mitzvos and Aveiros, or anything that entails our religious values, our choices are our own. They are not random. Random would mean that they are accidental. They aren't. You decide to do right or wrong, on purpose. Without anything making you do so. That's the ability of a Neshama, which is above the rule of causation.

It is also true that predispositions, or outside force or even difficult temptation can theoretically be so intense that a person cannot resist. אונס רחמנא פטרי. An example of this is the Gemora in Kesuvos (51b) יצר אלבשה. A woman is forced in to a sinful act and in the midst of it she loses her resistance. She is considered unaccountable for that because she was forcibly subjected to overpowering temptation.

And of course medicine can affect a person's mind and mood, just like alcohol can. And so can beating someone with a stick. The physical and the mental and the spiritual are all connected. And it is also possible that just as a thoroughly drunk person no longer makes willful choices, that medicine can do the same thing.

Or, medicine can help to increase, not reduce, free will by removing a temptation or predisposition. That would be comparable to stopping someone from beating you with a stick. Circumstances can make it easier or harder for a person to choose what he really wants. Medicine just helps to create favorable circumstances.

So it is possible for circumstances to reach a point where someone no longer has a choice. But absent any such exceptional circumstances, where a person's religious decisions are concerned - Mitzvos, Aveiros, and the like - a person can choose freely to do right or wrong, or better or worse, or better or even better than that.

#9 Rabbi Shapiro

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Posted 22 March 2012 - 07:47 PM

But there's a reason why he wills it!

Taon was correct. Hashem is not subject to causes. In fact, it is not merely that Hashem does not have to be subject to causes, but rather, He cannot be subject to causes. Nothing impacts on Hashem. Nothing makes Him, or forces Him or tempts Him or pushes Him, even partly. Hashem is the First Cause and is not subject to any causes whatsoever.

#10 Role Model Wannabe

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Posted 27 March 2012 - 07:00 PM

But how can Hashem do what's "best for us" when there is no force/ reason to that "decision."

Machshivos Hashem Umkoo, Mi Yuchal La'amod Bi'sodav, v'Lo livado Niskanoo Allilos." Doesn't that pasuk state that Hashem does everything for a reason, a reason that we can not comprehend, yet it is still a reason! It's for our good!!

#11 Rabbi Shapiro

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Posted 27 March 2012 - 09:27 PM

But how can Hashem do what's "best for us" when there is no force/ reason to that "decision."

Machshivos Hashem Umkoo, Mi Yuchal La'amod Bi'sodav, v'Lo livado Niskanoo Allilos." Doesn't that pasuk state that Hashem does everything for a reason, a reason that we can not comprehend, yet it is still a reason! It's for our good!!

Everything Hashem does is for our good, but nothing makes Hashem do what is for our good. He chooses to, out of His own free will, not because He has to or because anything even encourages Him to. Nor does He gain anything by doing so.

You're confusing doing something for a reason (as opposed to doing something randomly) versus having a reason that causes you to do something (as opposed to doing it by your own free choice). Nothing causes Hashem to do anything. He decides what He does, and nothing influences His decision.

By the way, the Posuk you quoted is not a Posuk (though part of it is from Shmuel 1 2:3). I don't know where that quote is from. Where did you see it?

#12 Benjamin

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Posted 29 March 2012 - 12:56 PM

Some people do good for others because they want to 'feel' good about themselves. They need that feeling so much that they'll put meaningless ribbons to 'show' how much they care.
Some people do good because they want the kavod. They want to have their name on the wall.
Some people do good with the hidden premise that since I did good to you, maybe you'll hint, hint, return the favor down the road.

Hashem doesn't have any of those extra external needs or feelings.

#13 Role Model Wannabe

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Posted 03 April 2012 - 11:10 PM

Preface: I'm not trying to nit-pick, I'm really searching for an answer!

If it's like Rabbi Shapiro stated, there's reason behind everything but we don't necessarily know them until we decide, or ever, thereby giving a sense of "Bechira" (I read that in another one of your posts) -- there are people in this world who before they act, know the reasons for either of the options, the one they choose, and the other, and why they chose that one over the other. How do they have free will? They can choose even the option that doesn't sound as great, but there's a reason for that.

Also, about people being "distorted" and thereby not having "freedom of will," most people had an event that "distorted" them. Maybe not by means of a stick or medicine, but with every second of living in this human earth, our mind and everything else changes too, thereby impacting our "decision maker." For example, if someone was called a name when they were very young, that little detail of their life, impacts everything. Maybe a teacher liked that name over the other, so she helped her out... Maybe she was always seated next to a certain girl, who later became her best friend. So doesn't it make sense that our "free will was taken away the second that we were introduced to this world?

And the answer of Bechira being "un-natural" and it's a miracle, a trait given because we're B'tzelem Elokim, doesn't either make sense to me. Hashem does good for us because "we're His children!" And even if that is not the reason, there definitely is a reason why Hashem wills good, it's just beyond our realm of understanding (or so says my teacher ;))

This whole question is really irritating me! Thank You for helping me solve it.

p.s. The "chazal" was cited on Moshe living in Batya's house. Why Moshe, had to live in the house of Pharoh. Vayihi La Li'ben- Shmos, Bet, Yud. That particular Chazal was Even Ezra's, and there are many more that are similar;

Chovos Ha'levavos: Ha'toeles vihanizikin eino b'rishus shel af adam, ela biyad HaBorei, vi'im biyad Ha'Borei, betach Yesh Cheshbon.

Which just further fuels my question!

I'm sorry if this post sounds any bit dis-respectful or doesn't make sense, it is definitely not my intention, just lack of stating my question in a more eloquent manner. This question is one that I've had for a very long time and I really appreciate your trying to help me. I'm probably just misunderstanding something, yet I don't know what, so I can't try to "understand" it. Again, thank you so much for dealing with it.

#14 Rabbi Shapiro

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Posted 04 April 2012 - 11:01 PM

Please read my above post and tell me what it is that you dont understand, because youre just asking your question again, after it was answered. In short:

1) Causes may put pressure on us to act a certain way but we still have free will to choose to resist that pressure.

2) Free will comes from Tzelem Elokim. It is miraculous because nothing in nature is uncaused.

3) When we say Hashem has Cheshbonos it means that Hashem has a purpose in what He does. Not that anything caused Him to do it. It means that Hashem always has a plan for what He does. But it does not mean that anything forced Him or caused Him to want that plan. Hashem does good because He wants to. Us being His children does not force Hashem to do good for us. In fact, it is the opposite: He didnt have to create us in the first place. He only did so because He wanted to do good for us and therefore He created us in order to fulfill His will to do good. But there is nothing that caused Hashem to choose to do good. He wants it. Period. It is not correct to say that there are reasons that caused Hashem to do something but we cannot understand them - that is not so. NOTHING impacts on Hashem (please see this and this). When you say Hashem does good fr us because we are His children that does not mean us being His children creates the emotional desire to be good to them like it does in physical parents. Hashem has no emotions. See here. Hashem is good to His children because He chooses to. He gains nothing by doing so - only the children gain. It is not the fulfillment of some fatherly instinct like it is with human parents. Hashem's goodness is totally altruistic - totally Chesed. he gains nothing. He chooses to do it.

PS - What you quoted from the ibn Ezra is not a Chazal. it is the ibn Ezra himself. And it only means that Hashem has "Cheshbonos" as in #3 above. it does not mean c"v that Hashem is impacted by causes.

#15 Role Model Wannabe

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Posted 09 April 2012 - 07:18 PM

1) But doesn't the strength needed to resist that pressure also come from nature/ nurture? Most humans aren't born with the strength to naturally conquer their "predisposition." Don't we ask Hashem everyday to give us strength to beat the Yetzer Harah, meaning that by nature, we can't just wake up one day stronger than the previous, we had to earn that, and isn't that process called "nurture."

2) I understand why it is miraculous, but I don't understand how human beings can make use of that privilege. If there is someone who is so alert, and is able to comprehend the reason for either of the options, how can his will be "uncaused?"

3) Got it. Thank You.

#16 Rabbi Shapiro

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Posted 09 April 2012 - 07:41 PM

1) No. It comes from choice. Nature and nurture may make it easier or harder, but ultimately the decision to do it comes from your choice. On what basis do you say most human beings are not born with the ability to overcome their predispositions? That is not correct. As I mentioned in my first post to you above - ומותר האדם מן הבהמה אין - a human was given the ability to say no, meaning to his predispositions. A human being was given free will. Free will means the ability to choose despite predispositions.

2) A person can only comprehend the causes that make his choice harder or easier. He can choose - with no cause except his choice - to follow or to oppose those causes. I can, for example, feel my desire to stay in bed in the morning is because I am tired; as well as my desire to get out of bed is because I have things I need to do. The choice as to which of those causes to oppose and which to follow, is my own.

#17 Role Model Wannabe

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Posted 17 April 2012 - 07:06 PM

1) I understand that, I'm questioning the actual details of that idea, in theory I understand, I just have a question with the practicality. For example; If I know that my action is coming from an unhealthy spot, I'll change it. Yes I chose to change, but my "personality" made me listen to that thought, a thought that would only occur if I was a certain person..... So yes, I can literally choose, but there's basis!


On what basis do you say most human beings are not born with the ability to overcome their predispositions?

If a person has a certain Yetzer Hara towards something, he can't just "overcome" it. He needs to strengthen himself, an act that may be considered "nurture." I can't wake up one morning and be a different person just like that, there's a reason why I choose to be a different person, and my "personality" helps make that decision. Isn't that whole point of "Yetzer Hara," to give us resistance, so that we can grow and overcome it?


How can somebody just wake up one day, without any trigger (regret, guilt...) and be a different person?

2) If someone knows they desire to stay in bed in the morning, yet also want to get out of bed because they have things to, they will weigh the options, and see which one they'd rather do. In addition to all the other factors contributing to this decision, they will come up with an equation. They will then get a result. They will then act on that result. How did free will apply? Yes, they could've gone against the "logic", but He's not that kind of person, or if he did go against the logic, there's also reason why. I understand that we have a choice, I don't understand why it's called free will, we could choose, but there's a whole bunch of arrows leading up to the decision, and so many factors!

I know I am wrong, I don't know where though! You've been trying to answer the question, but for some reason I just still have it! Thank You again for helping me answer it, and I'm sorry for persisting. I feel like if I can get this off my mind, answered, then it may clear up some other things too.

#18 Rabbi Shapiro

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Posted 17 April 2012 - 09:21 PM

I am not understanding your question. You are basing your questions on certain assumptions, assumptions which I denied. But you keep insisting on keeping those assumptions without telling me why you do.

If I know that my action is coming from an unhealthy spot, I'll change it. Yes I chose to change, but my "personality" made me listen to that thought, a thought that would only occur if I was a certain person

No. Your personality did not make you listen to that thought. What basis do you have for that?

If a person has a certain Yetzer Hara towards something, he can't just "overcome" it. He needs to strengthen himself, an act that may be considered "nurture."

If he chooses to strengthen himself, then it is a Bechirah decision.

Isn't that whole point of "Yetzer Hara," to give us resistance, so that we can grow and overcome it?

Only enough resistance that you can choose to overcome it.

On what basis do you say most human beings are not born with the ability to overcome their predispositions?

I didnt say that,

Yes, they could've gone against the "logic", but He's not that kind of person, or if he did go against the logic, there's also reason why. I understand that we have a choice, I don't understand why it's called free will, we could choose, but there's a whole bunch of arrows leading up to the decision, and so many factors!

You keep insisting that these "factors" are more than just pressure; that they negate choice. They do not. I said this many times. There are "arrows" leading in both directions. he chooses which arrows to follow. Because he chooses, not because anything caused him to. You keep saying this and repeating it more often does not make it more true. You need to tell me why you insist on this assertion or I cannot really address it.

#19 shaya

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Posted 17 April 2012 - 11:03 PM




I didnt say that,



i think role model was quoting you.

i think what role model is asking is, why are you saying that the arrows pointing the person to a certain way that he will eventually choose is not part of his make up? i understand that he has arrows pointing to both direction but certain factors and some of it is his/her nature helped him/her choose one over the other, of course you have to be the one choosing it, but there are still factors outside of his/hers bechirah that made him choose one over the other.

RMW, i apologize if i got it wrong.
Start with God - the first step in learning is bowing down to God; only fools thumb their noses at such wisdom and learning.

#20 Rabbi Shapiro

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Posted 18 April 2012 - 07:00 AM

Again, I ask:

How do you know that it was the person's makeup that made him choose between the two sides pulling him in either direction, as opposed to his Bechirah that chose it?

Yes, his personality, his mood, what he ate for breakfast, if he was stressed that morning, if his wife yelled at him, if he is hungry, if he had a bad day at work - all of those pull him in a certain direction or directions. But when he chooses which way to go - you are asserting, for no reason at all, that it is the preponderance of factors that MAKES him go one way or the other.

I say it is his choice that can overcome the preponderance of factors.

Or: If you like, put it this way: It is he who chooses how much each factor means to him and so he determines with his Bechirah what the preponderance of factros will be.

Same thing - it is his choice that makes him go one way or another.

You keep saying it is not his choice, but rather the factors make him go one way or the other.

If you don't tel me why you assume that you're not asking anything but just insisting on something for no reason at all. Now please, without simply telling me again that a person does not choose, tell me why you think it is the preponderance of factors that MAKES him go one way as opposed to his CHOICE that does.