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The Blank Slate

Steven Pinker (Penguin Group: August 2003), 528 pages.

In The Blank Slate, Steven Pinker, one of the world’s leading experts on language and the mind, explores the idea of human nature and its moral, emotional, and political colorings. With characteristic wit, lucidity, and insight, Pinker argues that the dogma that the mind has no innate traits-a doctrine held by many intellectuals during the past century-denies our common humanity and our individual preferences, replaces objective analyses of social problems with feel-good slogans, and distorts our understanding of politics, violence, parenting, and the arts. Injecting calm and rationality into debates that are notorious for ax-grinding and mud-slinging, Pinker shows the importance of an honest acknowledgment of human nature based on science and common sense. ~ Product Description

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…

Table of Contents

    • Preface
  • Pt. I    The Blank Slate, the Noble Savage, and the Ghost in the Machine    1
    • Ch. 1    The Official Theory    5
    • Ch. 2    Silly Putty    14
    • Ch. 3    The Last Wall to Fall    30
    • Ch. 4    Culture Vultures    59
    • Ch. 5    The Slate’s Last Stand    73
    • Pt. II    Fear and Loathing    103
    • Ch. 6    Political Scientists    105
    • Ch. 7    The Holy Trinity    121
  • Pt. III    Human Nature with a Human Face    137
    • Ch. 8    The Fear of Inequality    141
    • Ch. 9    The Fear of Imperfectibility    159
    • Ch. 10    The Fear of Determinism    174
    • Ch. 11    The Fear of Nihilism    186
  • Pt. IV    Know Thyself    195
    • Ch. 12    In Touch with Reality    197
    • Ch. 13    Out of Our Depths    219
    • Ch. 14    The Many Roots of Our Suffering    241
    • Ch. 15    The Sanctimonious Animal    269
  • Pt. V    Hot Buttons    281
    • Ch. 16    Politics    283
    • Ch. 17    Violence    306
    • Ch. 18    Gender    337
    • Ch. 19    Children    372
    • Ch. 20    The Arts    400
  • Pt. VI    The Voice of the Species    421
    • App    Donald E. Brown’s List of Human Universals    435
    • Notes    441
    • References    461
    • Index    491