Our conceptions of human nature affect everything aspect of our lives, from child-rearing to politics to morality to the arts. Yet many fear that scientific discoveries about innate patterns of thinking and feeling may be used to justify inequality, to subvert social change, and to dissolve personal responsibility.
In The Blank Slate, Steven Pinker 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 and instead have embraced three 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 desperate tactics to discredit the scientists who are now challenging them.
Pinker provides calm in the stormy debate by disentangling the political and moral issues from the scientific ones. He shows that equality, compassion, responsibility, and purpose have nothing to fear from discoveries about an innately organized psyche. Pinker shows that the new sciences of mind, brain, genes, and evolution, far from being dangerous, are complementing observations about the human condition made by millennia of artists and philosophers.