Tags: science
Steven Pinker, The Blank SlateSteven Pinker, The Blank Slate

 

In his book, The Blank Slate, Steven Pinker, explores the last discoveries made about human nature. He shows how many intellectuals of today have come to deny the existence of human nature by embracing three dogmas linked together:

● the Blank Slate: the idea that the human mind has no innate traits

● the Noble Savage: the idea that people are born good but are corrupted by society

● the Ghost in the Machine: the idea that human mind is above the law of physics and biology, through free will for instance.

Our conceptions of human nature affect every aspect of our lives, from the way we raise our children to the political movements we embrace. Yet just as science is bringing us into a golden age of understanding human nature, many people are hostile to the very idea. They fear that discoveries about innate patterns of thinking and feeling may be used to justify inequality, to subvert social change, to dissolve personal responsibility, and to strip life of meaning and purpose.

Each of these dogmatic beliefs is attached to political and moral combat and social progress. Thus their defenders perceived the scientific discoveries made since the 70's which challenge these beliefs as a threat toward social progress. But Pinker shows that the values like equality and justice (promoted among others by the advocates of these beliefs) have nothing to fear from discoveries that speak of our common humanity: human nature. Pinker injects calm and rationality into these debates full of taboos and he disarms even the most menacing threats with clear thinking and pertinent facts from science and history.

Pinker also demonstrates that these beliefs also have their dark side. The doctrine of the Blank Slate for instance, despite its popularity among intellectuals during much of the twentieth century, 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..."

At last Pinker shows that an acknowledgment of a human nature grounded in science and not in beliefs, is not only far from being dangerous, but is above all our most practical and effective way to improve the condition of human and create more harmonious societies.

 

 

 


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