In this discussion, you are comparing two different views on human nature

In this discussion, you are comparing two different views on human nature, in particular the controversy as to whether our natures are innate or shaped by our environments.

In his book The Blank Slate, Stephen Pinker argues that “every society must operate with a theory of human nature” and that “our intellectual mainstream is committed” to the notion of the blank slate. (Pinker, 2002).  How and why has this preference for the blank slate come about and what social and political factors are involved in its continuing promotion?

An early argument for innate structures in the mind comes from the Plato/Socrates.

In “Phaedo” Plato creates a dialogue, with Socrates as the primary spokesperson, that speaks against the conception of the human mind as initially empty, waiting to be filled only from experiences. The Phaedo argues that when we learn something, we are recollecting the knowledge we gained before we were born. In contrast, John Locke take the position that the human mind is a blank slate (tabula rasa) and that we gain all knowledge through sense experience.

Phaedo recounts the last day of Socrates’ life, specifically a conversation in which Socrates explains to his friends why, as a philosopher, he is not afraid to die. The dialogue covers a lot of material related to the immortality of the soul, which is not directly relevant to this course. Therefore, you will read a selection of the dialogue in which Socrates discusses the nature of knowledge. Socrates argues that when we learn something, what is really happening is that we are reminded of something we learned before we were born. That is, for Socrates, learning is not a matter of information or data being impressed on a blank mind, but rather the knowledge already lies dormant within the person, waiting to be activated. So, learning something is remembering what we once knew (before birth) but forgot. This argument (that knowledge is recollection) fits into the larger dialogue because it is one of four arguments Socrates makes for the immortality of the soul.

Compare and evaluate these two positions by first clearly stating the essential points of the philosophical positions of Plato/Socrates and John Locke, and then explain which theory you find more compelling. Support your evaluation with reason, logic, and evidence. The video clip by Steven Pinker outlines the debate.
References: Pinker, S. (2002). The blank slate: The modern denial of human nature. New York: Viking Press.

Steven Pinker. (2008).

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