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The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature is a best-selling 2002 book by Steven Pinker arguing against tabula rasa models of psychology, arguing that the human mind is substantially shaped by evolutionary psychological adaptations.
Synopsis[edit | edit source]
Pinker argues that modern science has challenged three "linked dogmas" that comprise the dominant view of human nature in intellectual life:
- the blank slate (the mind has no innate traits)
- the noble savage (people are born good and corrupted by society)
- the ghost in the machine (each of us has a soul that makes choices free from biology) 
Much of the book is dedicated to examining fears of the social and political consequences of his view of human nature:
- "the fear of inequality"
- "the fear of imperfectibility"
- "the fear of determinism"
- "the fear of nihilism"
Pinker claims these fears are non sequiturs, and that the blank slate view of human nature would actually be a greater threat if it were true. For example, he argues that political equality does not require sameness, but policies that treat people as individuals with rights; that moral progress doesn't require the human mind to be naturally free of selfish motives, only that it has other motives to counteract them; that responsibility doesn't require behavior to be uncaused, only that it responds to praise and blame; and that meaning in life doesn't require that the process that shaped the brain must have a purpose, only that the brain itself has purposes. He also argues that grounding moral values in claims about a blank slate opens them to possibility of being overturned by future empirical discoveries; and that belief in a blank slate human nature encourages destructive social trends such as persecution of the successful and totalitarian social engineering.
Reviews of the book have been mixed. Steven Johnson praised the book in a review in The Nation, arguing that Pinker's Darwinian theory of the mind is not intrinsically conservative. Skeptic Magazine has a more critical review of the book.
The book and the reviews linked to below approach the definition of various terms differently, as for example the book and most of the reviews do not deny the existence of free will yet a reading of the book or of the reviews shows that the authors have differing interpretations how much free will factors into people's decisions and human behavior and how it does so.
Notes[edit | edit source]
References[edit | edit source]
- Pinker, Steven (2002), The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature, Penguin Putnam, ISBN 0-670-03151-8.
See also[edit | edit source]
[edit | edit source]
- Pinker's website on The Blank Slate
- Steven Pinker (2002) MIT video lecture for book tour
- Louis Menand's critique of The Blank Slate by Steven Pinker
- Meet the Flintstones by Simon Blackburn, a critical review of The Blank Slate
- Steven Johnson (2002) "Sociobiology and You", a positive review in the October 31 issue of The Nation.
- The Great Debate Articles - Newcastle University debate on The Blank Slate and other topics.
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