The Blank Slate

by Steven Pinker

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 217

In The Blank Slate, evolutionary psychologist Steven Pinker offers a range of arguments against the hypothesis that human beings have no innate characteristics (the Blank Slate hypothesis). He instead defends the idea that evolutionary psychology can help us arrive at a robust account of human nature that is not at odds with moral progress, as many of its detractors have claimed. The idea is that human psychology can be understood as a series of specialized adaptations. An adaptation, for Darwinians, is a characteristic that has arisen through natural selection. Adaptation regularly develops in members of the same species because it helps solve the problems of survival and reproduction in the evolutionary ancestry of the organism.

Pinker's work is influenced by linguist Noam Chomsky, who put forward influential and popular claims about an innate universal grammar. Pinker is committed to a range of theories—adaptationism, the massive modularity thesis, reverse engineering, and, most importantly in The Blank Slate, the idea of a universal human nature. He is among a small group of researchers that hold these views; the other prominent ones include Leda Cosmides, John Tooby, David Buss, Martin Daly, and Margo Wilson. Pinker argues, controversially, that gender differences are innate, as are all other kinds of human variations, and that failing to understand this does untold harm.

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