The Blank Slate

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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 the social sciences. Pinker argues that human behavior is substantially shaped by evolutionary psychological adaptations. The book was nominated for the 2003 Aventis Prizes and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.


[edit] Synopsis

Pinker argues that modern science has challenged three "linked dogmas" that constitute the dominant view of human nature in intellectual life:

Much of the book is dedicated to examining fears of the social and political consequences of his view of human nature:

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 respond 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 must have purposes. He also argues that grounding moral values in claims about a blank slate opens them to the 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.[2] The Biologist H. Allen Orr's review was called an "out-and-out attack" by Pinker. Orr argues that Pinker's work often lacks scientific rigor, and suggests that it is "soft science".

Richard Dawkins has said that Pinker "is a star," and also that it was courageous of him to "buck the liberal trend in science, while remaining in person the best sort of liberal," perhaps recalling his own struggle, in early life, with creationism.[citation needed] "We academics are too sophisticated to fall for taboos," Dan Dennett adds, with approval.[citation needed]

The book and the reviews linked to below approach the definition of various terms differently. 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, reveals that the authors have different assumptions regarding the extent to which free will factors into people's decisions and human behavior, and how it does so.

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[edit] Notes

  1. ^  Vol. 11 #2 2004 of the Skeptic Magazine

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