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Transcript
+
Introducing the second section of Loss of
Childhood
The Blank Slate and the
Standard Social Science
Model
+ The SSSM as the extreme of ‘blank slate’
thinking in the C20th

The term ‘Standard Social Science Model’ was coined by its critics
rather than its proponents, who define its precepts as:

Humans born as a blank slate

Brain is a “general-purpose” computer

Culture and socialization is what programs behavior

Cultures are free to vary any direction on any trait

Biology is relatively unimportant to understand behavior
See:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Standard_social_science_model
+
Pinker and the SSSM

A prominent critic of the ‘straw man’ that is the SSSM is the
evolutionary psychologist Steven Pinker. He suggests that
there is ‘a grave moral significance currently attached to the
denial of human nature and of a materialist understanding of
the mind.’ (Pinker 209)

However, despite Pinker’s oversimplifications, he allows us to
move beyond a straight forward oppositional structure of
nature OR nurture.
+
Pinker on Locke, Rousseau and
Descates

Pinker correctly associates the SSSM with Locke’s ideas of the
‘blank slate’ (or ‘white paper’) but he also critiques two other
significant concepts; Rousseau’s ‘noble savage’ and
Descartes’ ‘ghost in the machine’. He does this to remove
extreme moral positions from the nature/nurture debate he is
engaging in. This is also how he attempts to remove ethics
and morality from his discussion of science (all the while
qualifying this move by suggesting we may be able to cure
Alzheimer's faster by doing so).

We should consider how the various positions he critiques
are all oversimplifications of (admittedly problematic) moral
philosophies. What repercussions might such a removal of
ethics/morality have?
+
Nurture or The Blank Slate

‘The first is John Locke’s doctrine of the tabula rasa, the Blank
Slate: that the human mind is infinitely plastic, with all its
structure coming from reinforcement and socialization.’
(Pinker 191)
+
Nature or the Noble Savage

‘The second belief is Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s doctrine of the
Noble Savage: that evil comes not from human nature but
from our social institutions.’ (Pinker 191-2)
+
Mind/body dichotomy or the Ghost in
the Machine

‘The third doctrine is what Gilbert Ryle called the Ghost in
the Machine: the belief that we are separate from biology,
free to choose our actions and define meaning, value, and
purpose.’ (Pinker 192)
+
Can we get rid of ethics in science?:
the language problem

Pinker attempts to separate the scientific from the ethical in
order to give space to discuss the nature of the brain away
from its nurture:
‘With a clearer separation of ethics and science, we can have our
values and greet the new understanding of mind, brain, and
human nature not with a sense of terror but with a sense of
excitement.’ (Pinker 209)

This kind of separation becomes impossible when you
consider the simple fact that language is a product of
socialization

Thereby the means of discussing or investigation ‘nature’ are
always already infected by ‘nurture’.
+
Nature as Nurture

The thinkers we will be looking at throughout the second half
of this model will help us to see the impossibility of
separating ethics from science – or any discussion of ‘nature’
from ‘nurture.’

We will look at thematically at:

How nurture constructs and affects on the brain

The mother as nurturing ‘supplement’

The different ‘natural’ precepts implied in Hobbes and
Rousseau’s politics (and the remnants of these precepts in
contemporary politics and policy)

Bios (life) as a non-biological concept