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The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human…

The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature (2002)

by Steven Pinker

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Showing 1-5 of 39 (next | show all)
Thought provoking and insightful. A heavy read full of discussion topics and theories for years to come. ( )
  CherieKephart | Aug 3, 2017 |
Excellent book about how we got to this idea that everyone is malleable and "fixable". Overly detailed so it was a bit tedious but well worth the listen ( )
  ShadowBarbara | Jan 27, 2017 |
This is a must-read. Pinker argues against the notion that humans are born with a blank slate of personality, etc. Instead, he asserts that we are animals just like every other animal that has certain genetic tendencies and instincts from birth. He does not deny that the environment or our culture has an impact on how we behave, though. I cannot give this book enough praise. ( )
  fliesbath | Oct 26, 2015 |
In The Blank Slate, Pinker outlines three dogmas that he says are the prevailing views of human nature in modern philosophy:

1) The blank slate, in which the mind has no innate (genetic) properties and, as John Watson boasted, through conditioning you could train a child to become anybody you want her to become.

2) The noble savage, in which people are born good, and society forms them into deviants. Pinker suggested that Rousseau was a strong proponent of this theory, but according to Wikipedia (which is always accurate), Rousseau never used this term.

3) The ghost in the machine, in which people's choices are solely dependent upon their soul.

Pinker provides evidence that these three dogmas are false, and that there is a strong genetic drive in human behavior. He covers diverse topics including racism, violence, rape, and feminism (among many others).

Overall, I found this book fascinating. I didn't think I was going to agree with Pinker...especially when I first started the book. But he presented some pretty good arguments that convinced me to waffle, if not to change my mind. I was a bit put off by Pinker's arrogance (like when he says that he's "proven" something when he's only provided evidence), but I guess that's to be expected in many well-respected intellectuals.

To see my full review: http://hibernatorslibrary.blogspot.com/2015/09/the-blank-slate-by-stephen-pinker... ( )
  The_Hibernator | Sep 13, 2015 |
So it turns out this book looks more credible than it actually is. Pinker does a poor job of actually defining what he means by "human nature" and capitalizes on the ambiguity by never planting a flag on the sort and extent of influence heredity and environment play on said human nature. His opponents on the other hand are inevitably presented as holding the most implausible and rigid stance in the nurture camp. It's not immediately suspicious when looking at the historical debate, but is very much so if one plans to refute 'the modern denial of human nature'.

Ultimately Pinker fails to properly address the modern voices of science and psychology. He practically admits this when he mentions that when explaining his book to colleagues the usual reaction is skepticism of the relevancy of a book refuting a belief no one holds. But he dismisses that. Instead of venturing into the disputed territory of the how both hereditary and environmental factors come together Pinker intentionally takes an unspecified position somewhere on the side of nature and nurture so he may benefit from portraying his opponents' cartoonishly defined positions as two-dimensionally as possible. Here there be straw men.

It simply isn't very scientific. When studies are mentioned they are often poorly explained if at all which does fuck all to support his argument beyond some childish appeal to the authority. Data is only as good as its source and rigor and the nearest Pinker comes to defining studies is to occassionally tell us if there were twins involved. Yes, I understand twins are great to have in genetic studies, but I'd also like to know what was being tested and how it was evaluated and if that thing the study puts a number is actually the sort of data that can quantified. But no.

Ultimately Pinker isn't debating a scientific point, but a political one. A dumb political one. And while it's certainly no surprise that fake science and poor philosophy are often shitty bedfellows when it comes to politics the arguments against them ought to stand on the rigors of science and logic, not petulent rhetoric. I probably agree with at least 80% of Pinker's actual postion on the matter, but none of that came of any argument Pinker brought to the table. No, the only reasonable arguments Pinker trots out were some elementary ethics and common sense. And frankly, I don't need anyone to explain that just because something may be true doesn't make it right any more than I need Pinker to explain that, actually, rape is sexual. No shit Sherlock. ( )
  fundevogel | Mar 22, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 39 (next | show all)
It is breathtaking, rabid stuff. In particular, Pinker's monstering of Marxists and feminists is likely to reduce most university common-rooms to states of gibbering apoplexy. So be it, Pinker will doubtless respond: my only concern is to tell the truth about human nature. The question is: does he actually land any telling punches in the process?
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"Not another book on nature and nurture! Are there really people out there who still believe that the mind is a blank slate?"


Everyone has a theory of human nature.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0142003344, Paperback)

In The Blank Slate, Steven Pinker, one of the world's leading experts on language and the mind, explores the idea of human nature and its moral, emotional, and political colorings. With characteristic wit, lucidity, and insight, Pinker argues that the dogma that the mind has no innate traits-a doctrine held by many intellectuals during the past century-denies our common humanity and our individual preferences, replaces objective analyses of social problems with feel-good slogans, and distorts our understanding of politics, violence, parenting, and the arts. Injecting calm and rationality into debates that are notorious for ax-grinding and mud-slinging, Pinker shows the importance of an honest acknowledgment of human nature based on science and common sense.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:06:57 -0400)

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"In The Blank Slate, Steven Pinker explores the idea of human nature and its moral, emotional, and political colorings. He shows how many intellectuals have denied the existence of human nature by embracing three linked dogmas: the Blank Slate (the mind has no innate traits), the Noble Savage (people are born good and corrupted by society), and the Ghost in the Machine (each of us has a soul that makes choices free from biology). Each dogma carries a moral burden, so their defenders have engaged in desperate tactics to discredit the scientists who are now challenging them." "Pinker injects calm and rationality into these debates by showing that equality, progress, responsibility, and purpose have nothing to fear from discoveries about a rich human nature. He disarms even the most menacing threats with clear thinking, common sense, and pertinent facts from science and history. Despite its popularity among intellectuals during much of the twentieth century, he argues, the doctrine of the Blank Slate may have done more harm than good. It denies our common humanity and our individual preferences, replaces hardheaded analyses of social problems with feel-good slogans, and distorts our understanding of government, violence, parenting, and the arts." "Pinker shows that an acknowledgement of human nature that is grounded in science and common sense, far from being dangerous, can complement insights about the human condition made by millennia of artists and philosophers. All this is done in the style that earned his previous books many prizes and worldwide acclaim: wit, lucidity, and insight into matters great and small."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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