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The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature (Penguin Press Science) [Paperback]

Steven Pinker
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (43 customer reviews)
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Book Description

5 Jun 2003 Penguin Press Science

From bestselling author Stephen Pinker, The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature shatters the myths surrounding human behaviour and 'nature versus nurture'.

Recently many people have assumed that we are shaped by our environment: a blank slate waiting to be inscribed by upbringing and culture, with innate abilities playing little part.

The Blank Slate shows that this view denies the heart of our being: human nature. Violence is not just a product of society; male and female minds are different; the genes we give our children shape the more than our parenting practices. To acknowledge our nature, Pinker shows, is not to condone inequality, but to understand the very foundations of humanity.

'Magnificent and timely'
  Sunday Telegraph

'A passionate defence of the enduring power of human nature ... both life-affirming and deeply satisfying'
  Tim Lott, Daily Telegraph Books of the Year

'Brilliant ... enjoyable, informative, clear, humane'
  New Scientist

Steven Pinker is a best-selling author and Professor of Psychology and Director of the Center for cognitive Neuroscience at MIT. Pinker has been awarded research prizes from the National Academy of Sciences and the American Psychological Association, graduate and undergraduate teaching prizes from MIT, and book prizes from the American Psychological Association, the Linguistics Society of America and the Los Angeles Times. He is the author of How the Mind Works, The Blank Slate, The Better Angels of Our Nature, and The Language Instinct.


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The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature (Penguin Press Science) + How the Mind Works (Penguin Press Science) + The Better Angels of Our Nature: A History of Violence and Humanity
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Product details

  • Paperback: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin; New Ed edition (5 Jun 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 014027605X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140276053
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 2.3 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (43 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 12,706 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

More About the Author

Steven Pinker is one of the world's leading authorities on language and the mind. His popular and highly praised books include The Stuff of Thought, The Blank Slate, Words and Rules, How the Mind Works, and The Language Instinct. The recipient of several major awards for his teaching, books, and scientific research, Pinker is Harvard College Professor and Johnstone Family Professor of Psychology at Harvard University. He also writes frequently for The New York Times, Time, The New Republic, and other magazines.

Product Description

Amazon Review

In The Blank Slate, the bestselling author Steven Pinker produces his most polemical and convincing attack upon the nurture side of the nature versus nurture debate. Pinker's previous books The Language Instinctand How the Mind Works have already attracted huge praise and controversy in arguing that language and cognition are natural rather than cultural. In The Blank Slate he refines and extends his arguments.

The book is aimed at "people who wonder where the taboo against human nature came from", and promises to explain "the moral, emotional and political colorings of the concept of human nature in modern life". For Pinker, the belief that we are all born as "blank slates" upon which culture places its decisive imprint is not only wrong but dangerous. He persuasively argues that "the conviction that humanity could be reshaped by massive social engineering projects led to some of the greatest atrocities in history". This is all very well, but at over 500 pages it can also be daunting for the general reader, as Pinker takes on all-comers, from biologists and sociologists to a dizzying array of classical thinkers from Calvin and Hobbes to Marx and Dawkins. The sections on gender will undoubtedly inflame many feminist writers (the most persuasive of which Pinker sadly neglects to discuss), and the criticisms of modern art are flimsy, but The Blank Slate is an impressive and sustained broadside that cannot be ignored. -–Jerry Brotton --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

'A magnificent and timely work' Fay Weldon, Daily Telegraph, Books of the Year; 'A passionate defence of the enduring power of human nature... both life-affirming and deeply satisfying' Tim Lott, Daily Telegraph, Books of the Year; "Reading Pinker is one of the biggest favours I've ever done my brain" Richard Dawkins

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
"BLANK SLATE" is a loose translation of the medieval Latin term tabula rasa-literally, "scraped tablet." Read the first page
Browse Sample Pages
Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
73 of 77 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful & Essential Reading 18 Oct 2002
Format:Hardcover
This profound book examines 3 doctrines: The Blank Slate (no human nature), The Noble Savage (no selfish or evil instincts), and The Ghost in the Machine (independent existence of the mind from the body/brain).
Steven Pinker elegantly presents the evidence against these views, sometimes in concise and quite overwhelmingly devastating lists.
In a small way this subject matter is similar to J.Diamond's 'The 3rd Chimpanzee' or E.O. Wilson's 'Consilience'- showing that we are imperfect products of evolution, limited in knowledge and wisdom, tempted by status and power, and blinded by self-deception and delusions of moral superiority.
If this were all the book was about it would still be fascinating reading. Fortunately however, Pinker has gone two steps further, thus making this book a landmark in the Nature/Nurture debate.
Firstly he explains that the reason why so many people (Postmodernists, Marxists, Gender Feminists etc) want to believe in these 3 doctrines is based on fears of inequality, determinism, imperfectability, and nihilism. He examines each of these fears and demonstrates that they are based on a poverty of understanding of human nature (the 3 doctrines), a myriad of fallacies and non sequiturs, a lack of understanding of ethics, and moralistic self-displays.
Secondly, in agreement with Chekhov's 'Man will become better when you show him what he is like', Pinker gives powerful and sensible arguments how an accurate understanding of human nature would aid in the reduction of violence & oppression and increase human happiness. They are a real and timely intellectual treat, brimming with positive potential of application.
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51 of 56 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Tabula not so rasa 11 Oct 2003
Format:Paperback
The 'blank slate' of the title is the human mind at birth, a view held, often implicitly, by our modern society, which has been conditioned to accept this by religions, progressive educationists, and the left in general. Those who hold the opposing view, that much of our nature is inherited, are subjected to frequent and vicious personal attacks (see the reviews of this book).
Pinker, however, is made of stern stuff, and has put a large explosive device under his opponents with this book based, as it is, on carefully documented research and grounded in appropriate theory. He ranges from genetics to computational linguistics via neurology and statistical theory in dazzling fashion.
It might seem that the weight of evidence gathered might cause the book to be heavy going, but the writing is sharper, and the touch is lighter and more humorous than anyone has a right to expect. As an example, consider the following, after a discussion on the effects of ageing: "Forget 'As the twig is bent, so the tree grows', think 'Omigod, I'm turning into my parents'".
While there are parts to the book which some will question, Pinker has turned the searchlights of reason and common sense on much of the political correctness of our time, showing how ludicrous most of it is, and showing also how science is beginning to give us a better understanding of what is meant by 'human nature'. If 'the proper study of mankind is man' then this is the essential primer.
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34 of 38 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Read it 19 Sep 2003
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
The Blank Slate is the most interesting and challenging book I have read this year. Pinker claims that our abilities and behavioural tendencies are heritable and less influenced by society than is currently accepted. He moves on to examine how this affects our political affiliations, religion, gender issues and child development. He’s occasionally guilty of academic one-upmanship and nit-picking and is undeniably US-centric in terms of his cultural analysis; no other Western nations have adopted the extremism of American feminists, for example, but is otherwise coherent and compassionate.
I agree with Pinker that discussions of race and gender lead to extreme, knee-jerk responses and that over-simplification of issues and mud slinging does nothing to progress our understanding. The chapter on gender, for example, asserts that men and women are different and that these differences are consistent, though may be more or less extreme, across cultures. This isn’t news to me and I don’t feel that Pinker is dictating how people ‘ought’ to behave depending on their sex, race etc. He emphasises throughout that ‘natural’ doesn’t mean inevitable or right and that most us have the capacity to understand our impulses and moderate our behaviour.

I don’t agree with everything Pinker claims, in particular the chapter on art is tosh (I don’t think you have to intellectualise all modern art to feel an emotional response to it – Guernica, anybody?), but I don’t think he’s a right wing apologist either. Let’s have more rational discussion on these issues, without demonising people who dare suggest that people aren’t born angels.
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46 of 52 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Pinker's Best Yet 4 Nov 2002
By Mick H
Format:Hardcover
This is Pinker's best book to date. He's no great original thinker, but what he does superbly well is to clarify and summarise. There's no hidden ideology here: the author sets out to present as clearly as he can what he sees as the current state of research into the nature/nurture evolutionary psychology debate, and there is simply no escaping the fact that nature is vitally important. Not only is current scientific research showing this, but it's also common sense. The extraordinary thing is how strong the resistance is to this obvious fact, largely from the academic left, who have adopted the Blank Slate doctrine that human nature doesn't exist (pace Marx - consciousness doesn't determine society: society determines consciousness), and like to accuse all those who disagree as fascists. As Pinker points out, there is absolutely no reason why the left should have to saddle itself with this absurd doctrine; after all, if your aim is to improve society, the basic starting point should be to establish exactly what material you're working with. And it should hardly need emphasising at this point in history that those societies which have based themselves on the notion of an infinitely malleable human nature have been uniformly totalitarian. So not only is this book an excellent guide to contemporary scientific thinking on human pyschology, it's also a powerful work of popular philosophy, and a wake-up call to the left. As Peter Singer and others have stated, the left needs to abandon its disastrous alliance with Marxism, and start looking at Darwin instead.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Thinking thinking thinking all the time
Read it paragraph by paragraph and you will find yourself going back and reading paragraphs twice even three times just to get it right in your mind,he has done his homework and... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Terry
5.0 out of 5 stars great
the reviews really helped I ordered this for my son who is at university he said it will be very useful
Published 3 months ago by Joanna Letelier-Lobos
5.0 out of 5 stars A concise reading
A good starting reading for those interested in evolutionary issues in social sciences. Easy to read, good bibliography. I was satisfied.
Published 15 months ago by Rasa
5.0 out of 5 stars Bring your brain!
Demanding and absorbing book that brings us up to date with human sciences and their bearing on our self image.
Published 16 months ago by New Jam
4.0 out of 5 stars In Defence of Behavioural Genetics
In essence this book allays the fears of biological explanations of the mind and challenges the ideological standpoints that can spring-forth when social scientists try to exorcise... Read more
Published 21 months ago by nicholas hargreaves
5.0 out of 5 stars Heavy stuff!
I did read The Blank Slate by Steven Pinker as a paperback, but still it was so heavy at times that I did not have strength to read it more than half an hour at a time at some... Read more
Published on 4 Mar 2012 by Wallenius Jaakko
5.0 out of 5 stars Fundementally important book
In my view this is probably one of the most important books to have been written so far about the human condition. Why? Read more
Published on 18 Jan 2012 by Amazon Customer
3.0 out of 5 stars The outsider
Blank Slate is a defence of, for want of a better term, pseudo-genetic determinism. Pinker argues that while genetic research has not reached an appropriate level of knowledge to... Read more
Published on 15 Dec 2011 by markss
4.0 out of 5 stars Not controversial enough !
This book presents Stevens' conclusions about the role of hereditary in human behavior, based on his reading of the literature. Read more
Published on 5 Nov 2011 by John Penfold
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent account of nature/nurture
The interrelationship between nature and nurture is an endlessly intriguing and controversial subject. Read more
Published on 17 Mar 2011 by anozama
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