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The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature [Kindle Edition]

Steven Pinker
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (278 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $19.00
Kindle Price: $10.47
You Save: $8.53 (45%)
Sold by: Penguin Group (USA) LLC

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Book Description

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.




Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In his last outing, How the Mind Works, the author of the well-received The Language Instinct made a case for evolutionary psychology or the view that human beings have a hard-wired nature that evolved over time. This book returns to that still-controversial territory in order to shore it up in the public sphere. Drawing on decades of research in the "sciences of human nature," Pinker, a chaired professor of psychology at MIT, attacks the notion that an infant's mind is a blank slate, arguing instead that human beings have an inherited universal structure shaped by the demands made upon the species for survival, albeit with plenty of room for cultural and individual variation. For those who have been following the sciences in question including cognitive science, neuroscience, behavioral genetics and evolutionary psychology much of the evidence will be familiar, yet Pinker's clear and witty presentation, complete with comic strips and allusions to writers from Woody Allen to Emily Dickinson, keeps the material fresh. What might amaze is the persistent, often vitriolic resistance to these findings Pinker presents and systematically takes apart, decrying the hold of the "blank slate" and other orthodoxies on intellectual life. He goes on to tour what science currently claims to know about human nature, including its cognitive, intuitive and emotional faculties, and shows what light this research can shed on such thorny topics as gender inequality, child-rearing and modern art. Pinker's synthesizing of many fields is impressive but uneven, especially when he ventures into moral philosophy and religion; examples like "Even Hitler thought he was carrying out the will of God" violate Pinker's own principle that one should not exploit Nazism "for rhetorical clout." For the most part, however, the book is persuasive and illuminating.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Pinker moves from How the Mind Works to how human nature works, offering a theory that ably blends instinct and choice.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • File Size: 1309 KB
  • Print Length: 532 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0142003344
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (August 26, 2003)
  • Sold by: Penguin Group (USA) LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B000QCTNIM
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #43,780 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
622 of 670 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Because we're all relatives, it's not all relative October 20, 2002
Format:Hardcover
Cultural relativism, the intellectual underpinnings of which rest on a faith (whether acknowledged or not) in the supremacy of nurture over nature, has had a long run. But has its boiler run out of steam at last?
In his latest and by far his most ambitious work, Steven Pinker tells us, in a lively but dispassionate voice of sweet reason, that the answer is yes. His demolition of cultural relativism may well make him a lot of enemies. He's touched on many of these same ideas before, but now he is spelling out the consequences - and the incompatibility of those consequences with the received wisdom of most of the last century.
His fundamental message is: Yes, Virginia, there is a human nature. People of all cultures are born with a host of inborn predispositions - to acquire language and music, to favor kin over strangers, to desire sex and to be ashamed of it, to value even trades and to punish cheaters, and dozens more. Our common nature springs from our common biology; it is not very malleable, and it is not "socially constructed." Cultural diversity is marvelous, but it is all a variation on an immutable theme; and there have never been any human cultures free of war, of greed, or of prescribed gender roles. (Any more than there have ever been any free of conflict resolution techniques, altruism, and shared parenting.)
His secondary theme is that the differences between people, so much smaller than what we have in common, are also primarily biologically determined. A juggernaut of data has finally put the nature/nurture controversy to rest, at least from a scientific standpoint, and the final score is pretty much nature one, nurture zero.
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234 of 275 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, but not particularly well researched October 30, 2004
By debeehr
Format:Paperback
Pinker constructs an elaborate and well-thought out argument, and his overall thesis is one whose outlines I largely agree with--that as biological creatures, humans are influenced by biology in many ways, often so subtly that we are unaware of it. Humans are animals, after all, and subject to the same instinctual drives and influences as other animals are; it's only human arrogance that would ever lead us to think otherwise. His assertion that humans are inherently *both* peaceable, kind, and generous *and* violent, savage and cruel, is one that I also agree with; see my point above about humans being animals.

However, I have doubts about the validity of some of the information Pinker presents here. One reviewer called Pinker a "polymath;" another and less favorable way to state that might be to say "jack of all trades, master of none." Pinker presents scores upon scores of statistics, facts, factoids and examples to buttress his claims, and at first glance it does all appear to be very impressive. However, on closer inspection, I found that claims pertaining to fields of which I had knowledge were all somewhat dubious. For example, his contrast on page 45 of common chimps and bonobos, in which he characterizes common chimps as "among the most aggressive mammals known to zoology" and bonobos as "among the most peaceful," "in common chimps, males dominate the females while among bonobos the females have the upper hand, common chimps have sex for procreation, bonobos for recreation" is a gross oversimplification of the differences between these two species, to the point of caricature if not outright distortion.
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51 of 57 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Because we're all relatives, it's not all relative October 6, 2002
Format:Hardcover
In his latest, and by far his most ambitious, work, Steven Pinker speaks in a wide-ranging, lively but dispassionate voice of sweet reason. It may well make him a lot of enemies. He's touched on many of these same ideas before, but now he is spelling out the consequences - and the incompatibility of those consequences with the received wisdom of most of the last century.
His fundamental message is: Yes, Virginia, there is a human nature. People of all cultures are born with a host of inborn predispositions - to acquire language and music, to favor kin over strangers, to want sex and to be ashamed of it, to value even trades and to punish cheaters, and dozens more. Our common nature springs from our common biology; it is not very malleable, and it is not "socially constructed." Cultural diversity is marvelous, but it is all a variation on an immutable theme; and there have never been any human cultures free of war, of greed, or of prescribed gender roles. (Nor any free of conflict resolution techniques, altruism, and shared parenting.)
His secondary theme is that the differences between people, so much smaller than what we have in common, are also primarily biologically determined. A juggernaut of data has finally put the nature/nurture controversy to rest, at least from a scientific standpoint, and the final score is pretty much nature one, nurture zero. Fifty to seventy percent of the variation between individuals - in intelligence, in personality, in political leanings, or just about any other mental character you care to name - derives from the genes; zero to ten percent derives from the home environment; and the mysterious remainder is due to chance or to non-parental environment.
We have been conditioned in recent decades to think of both these contentions as shocking.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Genes have consequences.
Great book. Well structured well researched and well argued..

Another nail in the coffin of politically directed 'science' discussion. Read more
Published 5 days ago by Mark Dana Floden
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting and useful perspective
Since the Enlightenment philosophers have asked the question "what is the basic nature of man?" (Unfortunately back in those days women didn't count for much. Read more
Published 16 days ago by svzephyr44
5.0 out of 5 stars Very clever book
One of the best books I read. It helps to understand better who we are and gives a lot of food for thought.
Published 20 days ago by Eugene Retunsky
2.0 out of 5 stars Pinker Overreaches.
Pinker asserts that nature is everything, and nurture is next to meaningless. As a psychology major, I find that his assertions disagree with essentially everything that is taught... Read more
Published 1 month ago by robosteve
4.0 out of 5 stars A very worthwhile read
This took me a while to get into but by the middle part of the book I was quite focused and enjoying it. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Jon Anderson
3.0 out of 5 stars We are Far from Blank Slates, but...
According to the author, we are not born as blank slates that will have our inclinations and identities written on us by the environment and our culture. Read more
Published 2 months ago by D.R. Cozen author of How We Lie, Deceive, and Mislead to Succeed
2.0 out of 5 stars The Blank Slate - Steven Pinker
'In his book, The Blank Slate, Steven Pinker argues that there may be no impact of nurture whatsoever on a person’s personality development. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Jeff
5.0 out of 5 stars I'm about 1/3 of the way through the book and so far I would give it a...
Reasonably written although paragraph structure is often marginal with mutliple ideas/points in a paragraph (but I suppose that reflects the current de-emphasis of writing... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Harry A. Kiesel
4.0 out of 5 stars excellent
Most of the chapters outstanding,not all of course.Delicate subject.

We have a saying in Iceland " fjordungi bregdur til fosturs". Read more
Published 2 months ago by hordur bergsteinsson
5.0 out of 5 stars modern perspective
very modern perspective on what influences us as humans. Steven Pinker explores biology, cognition, evolutionary theory, and data on social aspects. Read more
Published 2 months ago by sam
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More About the Author

Steven Pinker is one of the world's leading authorities on language and the mind. His popular and highly praised books include The Stuff of Thought, The Blank Slate, Words and Rules, How the Mind Works, and The Language Instinct. The recipient of several major awards for his teaching, books, and scientific research, Pinker is Harvard College Professor and Johnstone Family Professor of Psychology at Harvard University. He also writes frequently for The New York Times, Time, The New Republic, and other magazines.

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