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The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature Paperback – Deckle Edge, August 26, 2003


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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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (August 26, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0142003344
  • ISBN-13: 978-0142003343
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (308 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #18,255 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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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.

Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

661 of 712 people found the following review helpful By Royce E. Buehler on 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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52 of 59 people found the following review helpful By Royce E. Buehler on 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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70 of 81 people found the following review helpful By M. Spiller on December 24, 2002
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Sociobiology is a controversial, yet important and growing field of scientific exploration. No other field of science elicits as much condemnation from academics and intellectuals, yet no other scientific endeavor has ever cast as much light on the truth about the evolution of human nature. The reason for the distain shown by academic intellectuals is sociobiology's crushing refutation of the concept known as the "blank slate" theory of human nature, which has become the cornerstone of postmodernist ideals of political correctness. The entire edifice of the postmodern human engineering project carried on at many universities and in the popular media is based upon the concept that "everything is political", and that the attribute we call "human nature" is nothing more than cultural propaganda instilled into children by their parents and reinforced throughout their lives by a rigid, chauvinistic propaganda machine that has become known as "Western Civilization". Evidence is fast mounting that human nature is anything but nonexistent, sociobiology is the area of science where this evidence is researched and proven, and Steven Pinker has done a good job of organizing and, with some reservations, elucidating the evidence. In short, boys and girls are no more identical above the neck than they are below, and every personal psychological attribute is nearly as genetically heritable as every physical attribute. This book proves to my satisfaction that human nature is a factor in the human condition, and that the blank slate theory of personality is a politically correct joke.
This is a long book, a bit tedious in places, but well written, interesting and even humorous overall.
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