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The term inheritance refers to something, physical or otherwise, that one receives from another. Receivers have no say in whether an inheritance is given to them; but they do have choice in what they do with it. For example, one cannot choose to be born with blue or brown eyes, a small or a large nose, with parents who are rich or poor, criminals or lawyers, speaking English or Chinese. However, one can choose to make good use of one's inheritance or squander it. People can build on their inheritance, be constrained by it, or change it. Therefore, one should take responsibility for everything inherited, both good and bad.

According to The American Heritage Dictionary, "Inheritance" can mean

  1. Something that one came into possession of.
  2. Something that is received from an ancestor or other person by legal succession or will.
  3. Something regarded as heritage: the cultural inheritance of Rome.
  4. Biology
    a. The process of genetic transmission of characteristics.
    b. A characteristic so inherited.

These various types of inheritance, and others, are studied within different fields:

  • Biology

Biological inheritance or Heredity is the process by which a cell or organism acquires characteristics of its parent cell or organism. The study of biological inheritance is called genetics.

  • Computer science

Applying the concept of inheritance in computer science allows the reuse of existing code with little or no modification, by creating a new context which receives certain traits from one previously defined. For example, in some word processing applications, stylistic attributes such as font size, layout, or color, may be inherited from a template or from another document.

  • Religion

In addition to inheriting physical, social, and biological items or characteristics, there are also spiritual or religious aspects to inheritance. These involve passing on spiritual merit, karma, original sin, ancestral sin, etc. debt to one's descendants.

  • Sociology

Sociologists study several aspects of Inheritance: the legal inheritance of physical and monetary items from one's forebearers, namely the practice of passing on property, titles, debts, and obligations after death. Also of interest to sociologists is the third type of inheritance, the heritage we receive from our family, society, culture, nation, and world.


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