Natural-Born Pianists?

The new moral orthodoxy, suitable for a world in which the unrestrained pursuit of greed has proved economically disastrous, is that humans are genetically programmed to be ethical, because only by caring for the survival of others can we ensure our long-term survival. But we need to rescue morality from the claims of science.

LONDON – The editor of The Guardian, Alan Rusbridger, has written a book about how he decided to practice the piano 20 minutes a day. Eighteen months later, he played Chopin’s fearsomely difficult Ballade No. 1 in G Minor to an admiring audience of friends. Could anyone have done this? Or did it require special talent?

The nature-versus-nurture debate has been around a long time. It is unresolved because the scientific question has always been entangled with politics. Broadly speaking, those stressing inborn capacity have been political conservatives; those emphasizing nurture have been political radicals.

The nineteenth-century philosopher John Stuart Mill was of the “anyone can do it” school. He was convinced that his achievements were in no way due to superior heredity: anyone of “normal intelligence and health,” subjected to his father’s educational system – which included learning Greek at the age of three – could have become John Stuart Mill.

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