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The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature (Penguin Press Science) Paperback – 5 Jun 2003

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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: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (53 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 13,899 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.


'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
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

88 of 92 people found the following review helpful By pascal dunning on 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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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By John Penfold on 5 Nov. 2011
Format: Paperback
This book presents Stevens' conclusions about the role of hereditary in human behavior, based on his reading of the literature. It is also liberally sprinkled with anecdotes, presumably to get his point across more clearly.

While some of the conclusions are surprising, and many people will not agree with them, I can't help thinking that the only people who are actually going to get upset by this book are academics with competing pet theories. But not you and me.

The main conclusion is that hereditary plays a surprisingly strong role in how we behave as adults. Almost to the point where it does not make much difference how we bring up our children. If, like me, you do not accept this conclusion, then I am sure that Steven would be genuinely delighted for you to present evidence to back your argument. This is how scientific understanding progresses.

A lot of the evidence, such as twin studies, is not actually described in the book. Only Stevens' conclusions about the studies are presented, so it is hard to judge for yourself how valid his conclusions are. And that is why the book did not convince me.

The style is a bit dry, like lecture notes, and the injections of humor often seemed artificial. It also goes over much well-worn ground for anyone already interested in psychology.

The strong point of this book is that it challenges some of our preconceptions, and lets us dare to think new things.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on 18 Jan. 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
In my view this is probably one of the most important books to have been written so far about the human condition. Why?, well he demolishes three of the most prevalent views about human motivations and development and places us in a biological evolutionary perspective.

The first view he deals with is the blank slate, the idea that we are born with empty minds/brains and that our behaviours and motivations are formed by the type of society we live in, or more ominously our behaviour can be determined by social engineering. Pinker shows that our physical brains are composed of a "took kit" that has evolved over millenia and that this "tool kit" affects our behavioural responses to the environment we find ourselves in and is passed on through genetics.

The second view Pinker addresses is the ghost in the machine, the idea that we have a soul or spirit floating about in our head somewhere that affects our behaviour and can leave our body when it dies. Again Pinker refers to our biological evolution to explain why we have no need for a soul.

The last view is the Noble Savage, the idea that in a state of nature (ie with no Government, social institutions etc) that humans live moral, good lives. Pinker demolises this belief by showing that in so called state of nature societies violence was endemic.

The thrust of this book means that all the experiments in social engineering that have occured over the last 200 years that have tried to mould a "new man" have and will fail. Socialism, communism, fascism, free market economic man, won't work.

We need to be more aware of our evolutionary psychological makeup, understand how this motivates us and affects out behaviour.
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54 of 59 people found the following review helpful By John James on 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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