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The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature Hardcover – September 30, 2002
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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.
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Like the definitions of human freedom, human nature does not lead to simple definitions. It is a matter of understanding and education with no absolute boundaries. Steven Pinker makes this point clear but some of the reviewers assumes this book presents the argument that a person's nature is all predetermined - it does not and in fact refutes that premise. It also rejects with facts the premise that a person's environment determines their nature.
This magnificent book can be upsetting but if read in context, it will lead the reader to a better understanding of human nature and our world. Thank you Steven Pinker for a true gift.
Professor Pinker argues that the famous tabula rasa notion is at the heart of empiricism; moreover, he argues that the thesis that all scientific concepts are nothing more than social constructions is itself an expression of empiricism's basic principle. He then submits an analysis of this view, in all of its manifestations, that reveals its untenability as an epistemological theory or a basis for social policy. Not to know the arguments that Pinker presents in this book, whether one accepts them or not, illegitimates one's participation in further discourse on these matters.
This book is certainly required reading for those scholars interested in philosophy of education, my own area of concern. Going even further, I would say that anyone interested in any aspect of educational theory should read this book.
Jerome Popp, Professor Emeritus
Southern Illinois University Edwardsville
Most recent customer reviews
Pinker, a consummate Humanist, provides much backing to his thesis...Read more