The Blank Slate

The Blank Slate

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- The Modern Denial of Human Nature -

Steven Pinker

Nature and nurture

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Book Details
 700 p
 File Size 
 2,777 KB
 File Type
 PDF format
 Steven Pinker, 2002 

About the Author
Steven Pinker is Johnstone Professor of Psychology at Harvard University. His
research on visual cognition and the psychology of language has earned prizes
from the National Academy of Sciences and the American Psychological
Association. Pinker has also received many awards for his teaching at MIT and
for his books How the Mind Works (which was also a finalist for the Pulitzer
Prize) and The Language Instinct. He is an elected fellow of several scientific
societies, associate editor of Cognition, and a member of the usage panel of the
American Heritage Dictionary. He has written for The New York Times, Time,
The New Yorker, The New Republic, Slate, and Technology Review.

For The Blank Slate, Pinker received the 2004 William James Book Prize
and the Eleanor Maccoby Book Prize, both from the American Psychological
Association, as well as the Yorkshire Post Book Prize.

Praise for The Blank Slate
“A brilliant and forceful summary…A well-informed and well-written account of [human] limitations,
[written with] a graceful interleaving of scientific and literary sources….[This] fine book helps with a task that we all must begin to take seriously…Can it be that we have finally grown up?”
—Melvin Konner, The American Prospect
“This is a brilliant book. It is beautifully written, and addresses profound issues with courage and clarity. There is nothing else like it, and it is going to have an impact that extends well beyond the scientific academy.”
—Paul Bloom, Trends in Cognitive Sciences
“Steven Pinker has written an extremely good book—clear, well argued, fair, learned, tough, witty, humane, stimulating. I only hope that people study it carefully before rising up ideologically against him. If they do, they will see that the idea of an innately flawed but wonderfully rich human nature is a force for good, not evil.”
—Colin McGinn, The Washington Post
“Steven Pinker is a man of encyclopedic knowledge and an incisive style of argument. His argument in The Blank Slate is that intellectual life in the West, and much of our social and political policy, was increasingly dominated through the twentieth century by a view of human nature that is fundamentally flawed; that this domination has been backed by something that amounts to academic terrorism (he does not put it quite so strongly): and that we would benefit substantially from a more realistic view. Pinker’s exposition is thoroughly readable and of enviable clarity. His explanation of such a difficult technical matter as the analysis of variance and regression in twin studies, for example, would be very hard to better. He is not afraid of using strong language…in addition, parts of the book are delightfully funny.”
—John R. G. Turner, The Times Literary Supplement
“Anyone who has read Pinker’s earlier books—including How the Mind Works and The Language Instinct— will rightly guess that his latest effort is similarly sweeping, erudite, sharply argued, richly footnoted and fun to read. It’s also highly persuasive.”
—Michael Lemonick, Time
“[Pinker] makes his main argument persuasively and with great verve…. The Blank Slate ought to be read by anybody who feels they have had enough of nature-nurture rows or who thinks they already know where they stand on the science wars. It could change their minds…. If nothing else, Mr. Pinker’s book is a wonderfully readable taster of new research, much of it ingenious, designed to show that many more of our emotional biases and mental aptitudes than previously thought are hard-wired or, to use the old word, innate…. This is a breath of air for a topic that has been politicized for too long.”
—The Economist
“[Pinker] wades resolutely into the comforting gloom surrounding these not quite forbidden topics and
calmly, lucidly marshals the facts to ground his strikingly subversive Darwinian claims—subversive not of any of the things we properly hold dear but subversive of the phony protective layers of misinformation surrounding them…. My reservations with Pinker’s view [will be resolved]in the bright light of rational inquiry that he brings to these important topics.”
—Dan Dennett, The Times Literary Supplement
“The Blank Slate brilliantly delineates the current state of play in the nature-nurture debate. Read it to
understand not just the moral and aesthetic blindness of your friends, but the misguided idealism of nations. A magnificent and timely work .”
—Fay Weldon, The Daily Telegraph
“[Pinker] points us in the direction of a more productive debate, a debate in which the implications of
science are confronted forthrightly and not simply wished away by politicized scientists.”
—Francis Fukuyama, The Wall Street Journal
“The Blank Slate is…a stylish piece of work. I won’t say it is better than The Language Instinct or How the Mind Works, but it is as good—which is very high praise indeed. What a superb thinker and writer he is: what a role model to young scientists. And how courageous to buck the liberal trend in science, while remaining in person the best sort of liberal. Pinker is a star, and the world of science is lucky to have him.”
—Richard Dawkins, The Times Literary Supplement
“The Blank Slate is not dismal at all, but unexpectedly bracing. It feels a bit like being burgled. You’re
shocked, your things are gone, but you can’t help thinking about how you’re going to replace them. What Steven Pinker has done is break into our common human home and steal our illusions.”
—John Morrish, The Independent
“As a brightly lighted path between what we would like to believe and what we need to know, [The Blank Slate] is required reading. Pinker presents an unanswerable case for accepting that man can be, as he is, both wired and free.”
—Frederic Raphael, Los Angeles Times
“Pinker’s thinking and writing are first-rate; maybe even better than that. 
The Blank Slate is much-needed,
long overdue and—if you are interested in what might be called the ‘human nature wars’—somewhere
between that old standby, ‘required reading,’ and downright indispensable. It is unlikely to change the
minds of those who are rigidly committed to the blank slate perspective, but for anyone whose ‘nature’
includes even a modicum of open-mindedness, it should prove a revelation.”
—David Barash, Human Nature Review
“Pinker is one of those rare writers who is at once persuasive and comprehensive, informative and entertaining.”
—Kevin Shapiro, Commentary
“The fight for a separation of politics from science is an eminently sensible, logical, and ultimately
humanistic task, and it took someone as brave as Pinker to dedicate himself to it….[This is a] necessary
book, a book that in a more truthful intellectual climate—one open to the idea that any knowledge about ourselves can only enhance our ability to act well and compassionately—would not have had to be written. In this climate, however, we should be grateful that it was.”
—Daniel Smith, The Boston Globe
“The Blank Slate deserves to be read carefully and with an open mind…This landmark book makes an
important contribution to the argument about nature vs. nurture in humans. Whether or not most readers end up on Pinker’s side of the fence, one can hope that his thoroughness and reasoning will shed light into the darker corners where research has been suppressed by taboos, and where freedom of thought and speech have been inhibited by fear of consequences for asking forbidden questions.”
—Nancy Jeannette Friedlander, The San Diego Union-Tribune
“This book is a modern magnum opus. The scholarship alone is mind-boggling, a monument of careful
research, meticulous citation, breadth of input from diverse fields, great writing and humor.”
—Tom Paskal, The Montreal Gazette
“A delightfully provocative read…A constantly dynamic, if tacit, exchange between the author and his readers.”
—Patrick Watson, The Globe and Mail
“A feast of a book. Pinker’s analytical and impish mind ranges from Charles Darwin to Abigail Van Buren, from scientific studies to Annie Hall…. It will be a rare reader who agrees with everything in this book. But it is an intelligent book that says what it means and thinks about what it is saying…. Though much of the book is about human differences, the bigger idea is inherited similarity—the ‘psychological unity of our species.’ It is not a blank slate but a slate with a face—a face that might be called human nature. When Pinker starts describing it, the reader will surely recognize it.”
—Bruce Ramsey, The Seattle Times

Table of Contents
PART I The Blank Slate, the Noble Savage, and the Ghost in the Machine
Chapter 1 The Official Theory
Chapter 2 Silly Putty
Chapter 3 The Last Wall to Fall
Chapter 4 Culture Vultures
Chapter 5 The Slate’s Last Stand
PART II Fear and Loathing
Chapter 6 Political Scientists
Chapter 7 The Holy Trinity
PART III Human Nature with a Human Face
Chapter 8 The Fear of Inequality
Chapter 9 The Fear of Imperfectibility
Chapter 10 The Fear of Determinism
Chapter 11 The Fear of Nihilism
PART IV Know Thyself
Chapter 12 In Touch with Reality
Chapter 13 Out of Our Depths
Chapter 14 The Many Roots of Our Suffering
Chapter 15 The Sanctimonious Animal
PART V Hot Buttons
Chapter 16 Politics
Chapter 17 Violence
Chapter 18 Gender
Chapter 19 Children
Chapter 20 The Arts
PART VI The Voice of the Species
APPENDIX: Donald E. Brown’s List of Human Universals


First published in the United States of America by Viking Penguin, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. 2002
Published in Penguin Books 2003