"Sweeping, erudite, sharply argued, and fun to read... also highly persuasive."
—Michael Lemonick, Time
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.
In The Blank Slate, Steven Pinker, bestselling author of The Language Instinct
and How the Mind Works, explores the idea of human nature and its moral,
emotional, and political colorings. He shows how many intellectuals have denied
the existence of human nature by embracing three linked dogmas:
The Blank Slate (the mind has no innate traits), The Noble Savage (people are
born good and corrupted by society), and The Ghost in the Machine (each of us
has a soul that makes choices free from biology). Each dogma carries a moral
burden, so their defenders have engaged in the desperate tactics
to discredit the scientists who are now challenging them.
Pinker tries to inject calm and rationality into these debates by showing
that equality, progress, responsibility, and purpose have nothing to fear
from discoveries about rich human nature. He disarms even the most
menacing threats with clear thinking, common sense, and pertinent facts
from science and history. Despite its popularity among intellectuals during
much of the twentieth century, he argues, the doctrine of the Blank Slate
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, and the arts.