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Gregory S. Nyquist cites that Ayn Rand's view of human nature was that we're born tabula rasa. Gregory S. Nyquist says this is not true and cites Steven Pinker's the blank slate as proof that Rand was wrong.

An excerpt from the book the blank slate says this:

"Pinker argues that the dogma that the mind has no innate traits-a doctrine held by many intellectuals during the past century-denies our common humanity and our individual preferences,".

As we know, Ayn Rand claimed man has no innate traits, or as she called it, innate ideas.

Gregory S. Nyquist also cites behavioral genetics as more evidence that Rand was wrong about tabula rasa. Nyquist goes on to say that "Man is not a being of a self-made soul; his volition is in fact saddled with tendencies; and his emotions are not entirely the product of his conclusions". "genes influence (though they don't determine!) the mind and the behavior that emerges from it."

On the matter of innate predispositions, Gregory S. Nyquist says "All scientific evidence to date suggests it does. There are general emotional predispositions, such as aversions to incest, general cognitive predispositions, such as the tendency to learn language, and individual predispositions, such as handedness".

How would you defend Rand on these concerns? Was Rand wrong on Tabula Rasa?

asked Feb 19 '14 at 04:41

KineticPhilosophy's gravatar image

KineticPhilosophy
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edited Feb 19 '14 at 12:12


Yet again we find this questioner uncritically repeating material from critics who have consistently demonstrated that they can't be bothered to actually acquaint themselves with Objectivist thought.

This question about Objectivism features several quotes about what Objectivists think -- but strangely they are all from people other than Objectivists. Doesn't that seem troublesome? Looking around for what actual Objectivists think, I find Dr. Leonard Peikoff discussing it in his masterful Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand (which anybody who is even mildly interested in the philosophy will read and reference):

Since concepts, according to Objectivism, are integrations of perceptual data, there can be no concepts apart from sense experience. There are no innate ideas, ideas in the mind at birth. Consciousness begins as a tabula rasa (a blank slate); all of its conceptual content is derived from the evidence of the senses. [OPAR 39]

And there is a whole development around that which I encourage you to read.

In saying consciousness begins tabula rasa, Objectivists are talking about conceptual content. We are of course given a slate (our perceptual and conceptual and emotional apparatus, with whatever automatic behaviors and inbuilt tendencies and traits and the like they might have) -- but we cannot be given the content that is written on the slate through our engagement with the world. Products of a process can't precede the process.

answered Feb 19 '14 at 12:08

Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

Greg Perkins ♦♦
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edited Apr 23 '14 at 10:10

Good point, Mr. Perkins. It seems that these "authorities" conflate the idea of "Tabula Rasa" (no innate ideas) with the notion that the human mind has no specific identity - that is that the blank slate dispenses even with the slate.

(Apr 22 '14 at 18:48) c_andrew ♦ c_andrew's gravatar image

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Asked: Feb 19 '14 at 04:41

Seen: 1,561 times

Last updated: Apr 23 '14 at 10:10