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

af Steven Pinker

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3,931512,241 (4.1)68
This title makes explicit the argument that has been the backdrop to the author's previous books. It claims that the ideas of the "noble savage" and the "blank slate" which underpin modern attitudes to human nature are untruthful in deflecting responsibility from the individual onto society.
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Pinker deftly blends a deep understanding of philosophy and a thorough review of scientific literature to critic the dearly-held 19070’s intellectual doctrines of the blank slate, the noble savage and the ghost of the machine. Like Better Angles of our Nature, the book is expansive, thorough and convincing - liberally citing from the literature to make his points with data.

Whether we like it or not, we have a common human nature and it’s imparted by our genes. While this does not mean our destiny is predetermined, it does shape our lives and our society. To ignore it, or worse, actively deny it exists, is folly.

What was particularly striking was how recognizable the debunked arguments still are in today’s intellectual debates. As explored in the book, many intellectuals espouse theories they want to be true, largely because they fit with their ideology, even if they have no basis in fact. After reading this book, you’ll see these arguments frequently in debates of many of societies most passionate disagreements.

A quote I think succinctly summarizes Pinker’s argument:
“Acknowledging human nature does not mean overturning our personal world views, and I would have nothing to suggest as a replacement if it did. It means only taking intellectual life out of its parallel universe and reuniting it with science and, when it is borne out by science, with common sense. The alternative is to make intellectual life increasingly irrelevant to human affairs, to turn intellectuals into hypocrites, and to turn everyone else into anti-intellectuals.” ( )
  064 | Jan 24, 2021 |
Steven Pinker describes the "blank slate" hypothesis, that humans are essentially uniform clay on which external influences (culture, society, etc.) are responsible for the entirety of identity. This is particularly discussed in the context of gender (and "second wave" or "gender feminism"), and race, and uses studies to demonstrate that some traits are innate/inherited. Most of the book is about the implications of the "blank slate" and what it means for it to be true or not true.

What really struck me is how much "trouble" he would get in for presenting this argument today. ( )
  octal | Jan 1, 2021 |
Equality is not the empirical claim that all groups of humans are interchangeable; it is the moral principle that individuals should not be judged or constrained by the average properties of their group.

I must confess that I'm broadly sympathetic to almost every point made by Steven Pinker in The Blank Slate. For the most part, he lays out the case against social constructivism clearly and convincingly. There are a few areas where he seems out of his depth of expertise, but it is refreshing to see such a work of wide scope attempted by someone so insightful. In fact, I would argue that The Blank Slate is one of the most significant works produced by any public intellectual this century. Whether one agrees with the thesis or not, Pinker's arguments are put forward so thoroughly and powerfully that any counterargument must contend with them. ( )
  drbrand | Jun 8, 2020 |
The arguments of what affects us more as a human, or inherent nature or our environment, have been going on for years, and this is Pinker's attempt to look at the arguments for and against.

A lot of what he puts forward here is fascinating stuff, from details of collaboration between fishing crews, boys brought up as girls after failed operations, test and observations on twins brought up apart and so on. But he spent an awful lot of the time being very critical on subject as diverse as feminism and philosophy, and it didn't really play a part of this book.

Disappointing in the end, as some of his other books that I have read have been so much more coherent. ( )
  PDCRead | Apr 6, 2020 |
The Blank Slate is erudite, enjoyable, and refreshingly free of polemics. Pinker mines the scientific data on human nature, all the while qualifying his arguments with evidence and (shockingly) common sense. The main thesis of the book is that engaging with our scientific understanding of the world, that is that our minds have innate structures as proven by science, doesn't shackle us but allows us to move closer to a holistic understanding of our species. ( )
  b.masonjudy | Apr 3, 2020 |
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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?
tilføjet af souloftherose | RedigerThe guardian, Robin McKie (Sep 15, 2002)
 
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Preface
"Not another book on nature and nurture! Are there really people out there who still believe that the mind is a blank slate?"
PART I

THE BLANK SLATE, THE NOBLE
SAVAGE, AND THE GHOST
IN THE MACHINE

 
Everyone has a theory of human nature.
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This title makes explicit the argument that has been the backdrop to the author's previous books. It claims that the ideas of the "noble savage" and the "blank slate" which underpin modern attitudes to human nature are untruthful in deflecting responsibility from the individual onto society.

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