Skip to main content
×
Home

Tabula Rasa and Human Nature

  • Robert Duschinsky (a1)
Abstract
Abstract

It is widely believed that the philosophical concept of ‘tabula rasa’ originates with Locke's Essay Concerning Human Understanding and refers to a state in which a child is as formless as a blank slate. Given that both these beliefs are entirely false, this article will examine why they have endured from the eighteenth century to the present. Attending to the history of philosophy, psychology, psychiatry and feminist scholarship it will be shown how the image of the tabula rasa has been used to signify an originary state of formlessness, against which discourses on the true nature of the human being can differentiate their position. The tabula rasa has operated less as a substantive position than as a whipping post. However, it will be noted that innovations in psychological theory over the past decade have begun to undermine such narratives by rendering unintelligible the idea of an ‘originary’ state of human nature.

Copyright
Corresponding author
robert.duschinsky@northumbria.ac.uk
References
Hide All

1 Leary D.E. (ed.), Metaphors in the History of Psychology, (Cambridge: CUP 1999). Some of the material in this article will also appear in a different form in a short entry on ‘Tabula Rasa’ for the forthcoming International Encyclopaedia of Critical Psychology.

2 Derrida J., Writing and Difference, trans. Bass Alan, (London: Routledge ([1967] 1978).

3 Brill A.A., Basic Principles of Psychoanalysis, (NY: University Press of America, 1921), 16.

4 Forrester J., The Seductions of Psychoanalysis, (London: Routledge, 1990), 81.

5 Nietzsche F., On the Genealogy of Morality, ed. Ansell-Pearson Keith, (Cambridge: CUP, ([1887] 1997), 35.

6 Weber M., The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, trans. Parsons T., (NY: Charles Scribner's Sons, [1905] 1958), 182.

7 Agamben G., The Kingdom and the Glory, trans. Chiesa Lorenzo, (Stanford: Stanford University Press, [2008] 2012), 4.

8 C. Moss, ‘Frozen lands that can thaw the conscience’ Daily Telegraph, 14th January 2012.

9 Aristotle, De Anima trans. Smith J.A., (Oxford: Clarendon University Press, 1931), 430a.

10 Agamben G., ‘Bartleby, or On Contingency’ in Potentialities, ed. Heller-Roazen Daniel, (Stanford: Stanford University Press, ([1993] 1996), 244–5.

11 Polansky R., Aristotle's De anima, (Cambridge: CUP, 2007), 454.

12 Agamben G., ‘Bartleby, or On Contingency’ in Potentialities, ed. Heller-Roazen Daniel, (Stanford: Stanford University Press, [1993] 1996), 249.

13 Aquinas, A Summa of the Summa, ed. Kreeft Peter J., Fransisco San, (CA.: Ignatius Press, [1274] 1990), 271–4.

14 Descartes R., ‘The Search After Truth by the Light of Nature’ in Philosophical Essays and Correspondence, ed. Ariew Roger, (NY: Hackett Publishing Company, [1641?] 2000), 320.

15 Ibid., 321.

16 Wolin S., Tocqueville between two worlds: the making of a political and theoretical life, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001), 41.

17 Payne W., Learning and Knowledge, (London: Walter Kettilby, 1682), 11.

18 Whichcote B., ‘That those who are truly religious will be delivered from all dangerous errors about religion’ in The Works of the Learned Benjamin Whichcote, Volume II, (Aberdeen: Alexander Thomson, [1651] 1703), 4.

19 Masham D., cited in Yolton, J.S., A Locke Miscellany, (Bristol: Thoemmes, 1990), 349

20 Harrison J. & Laslett P., The Library of John Locke, (Oxford: OUP, 1965).

21 More H., ‘An Antidote to Atheism’ in A Collection of Several Philosophical Writings, (London: William Morden, [1655] 1712), 17.

22 Marvell A., ‘Upon Appleton House’ in Marvell: The Complete Poems, ed. Bate Jonathan, (London: Penguin [1951] 1972), lines 445–8.

23 Marvell A., ‘A Nymph Complaining at the Loss of her Fawn’ in Marvell: The Complete Poems, ed. Bate Jonathan, (London: Penguin [1951] 1972), lines 1, 89.

24 Locke J., ‘Essays on the Law of Nature’ in Locke: Political Writings, ed. Goldie Mark, (Cambridge: CUP, [1664] 1997), 96.

25 Locke J., ‘Draft A’ in Drafts for the Essay Concerning Human Understanding, and other Philosophical Writings, ed. Nidditch Peter H. & Rogers G.A.J., (London: Clarendon Press, [1671] 1990), 78.

26 Kant I., Critique of Pure Reason, 2nd ed., trans. Smith Norman Kemp, (NY: Palgrave, [1787] 2007) 121–2.

27 Locke J., ‘Draft B’ in Drafts for the Essay Concerning Human Understanding, and other Philosophical Writings, ed. Nidditch Peter H. & Rogers G.A.J., (London: Clarendon Press, [1671] 1990), 128.

28 Locke J., An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, and other Philosophical Writings, ed. Nidditch Peter H., (London: Clarendon Press, [1690] 1979), 104.

29 Plotkin H., Evolutionary Thought in Psychology, (Oxford: Blackwell, 2004), 18.

30 Locke J., An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, and other Philosophical Writings, ed. Nidditch Peter H., (London: Clarendon Press, [1690] 1979), 202.

31 Locke J., Some Thoughts Concerning Education, and Of the Conduct of the Understanding, ed. Grant Ruth W. & Narcov Nathan, (London: Clarendon Press, [1693] 1996) 44, 161.

32 Jeffreys E.g. M.V.C., Locke: Prophet of Common Sense, (London: Methuen 1967); Walker W., Locke, Literary Criticism and Philosophy, (Cambridge: CUP, 1994).

33 Dewey J.Contributions to Dictionary of Philosophy and Psychology’ in The Middle Works of John Dewey, Volume 2, 1899 – 1924, ed. Boydston Jo Ann & Hook Sidney, (Carbondale, IL.:Southern Illinois University Press, [1902] 1976), 256.

34 Leibniz G.W., New Essays on Human Understanding, ed. Remnant Peter & Bennett John, (Cambridge: CUP [1765] 1996), P54.

35 Laclau E., New Reflections on the Revolution of Our Time, (NY: Verso, 1990), 18, 56.

36 Hume D., An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, ed. Steinberg Eric, 2nd ed., (NY: Hackett Publications Company, [1777] 1993), 13.

37 Molyneux W., ‘Réflections de Mr. L–.’ in The Correspondence of John Locke: Letters nos. 2199–2664, ed. De Beer Esmond Samuel, (Oxford: OUP, [1697] 1981), 779, my translation

38 Kant I., Critique of Pure Reason, 2nd ed., trans. Smith Norman Kemp, (NY: Palgrave, [1787] 2007), 8.

39 Wahrman D., The Making of the Modern Self, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004), 186.

40 Hegel G.W.F., Lectures on the History of Philosophy, II, ed. Brown Robert F., (Oxford: OUP, ([1826] 2006), 226.

41 Patterson R.H., Essays in History and Art, (Edinburgh: William Blackwood & Sons, 1861), 82.

42 Ibid. 174.

43 Rand A., The Virtue of Selfishness: a new concept of egoism, (New York: New American Library, 1964), 52. My thanks to inestimably erudite Benjamin Crowne for this reference.

44 King R., Indian Philosophy: An Introduction to Hindu and Buddhist Thought, (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1999), 149.

45 Le Bon G., The Psychology of Socialism, trans. Miall Bernard, (NY: Transaction, [1899] 1981), 62.

46 Durkheim E., The Evolution of Educational Thought, (London: Routledge, [1904] 1977), 78.

47 Husserl E., Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology, (Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern University Press, [1954] 1970), 85.

48 Allport G., Becoming: basic considerations for a psychology of personality, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1955), 78.

49 Davies M., Childhood Sexual Abuse and the Construction of Identity, (Bristol, PA.: Taylor & Francis, 1995), 75.

50 Duschinsky R., ‘Childhood Innocence: Essence, Education, PerformativityTextual Practice, 2012, in press.

51 Abed R.T., ‘Psychiatry and Darwinism: Time to reconsider?The British Journal of Psychiatry 177 (2000): 13, at 2.

52 Sherry J.L., ‘Media Effects Theory and the Nature/Nurture Debate: A Historical Overview and Directions for Future ResearchMedia Psychology 6 (2004): 83109, at 88, parentheses suppressed.

53 Harris J.R., ‘Socialization, personality development, and the child's environmentsDevelopmental Psychology, 36 (2000), 699710, at 701; citing Vandell D.L.Parents, peer groups, and other socializing influencesDevelopmental Psychology, 36 (2000): 699710.

54 Foucault M., ‘Nietzsche, History, Genealogy’ in Aesthetics: Essential Works Volume 2, ed. Faubion James D., (London: Penguin, ([1971] 1998), 375.

55 Butler J., ‘Foucault and the Paradox of Bodily InscriptionsThe Journal of Philosophy, 86(11) (1989): 601607, at 603.

56 Turner T., ‘Bodies and Anti-Bodies’ in Embodiment and Experience: The Existential Ground of Culture and Self, ed. Csordas Thomas J., (Cambridge: CUP, 1996), 37.

57 Bartky S.L., ‘Agency: What is the Problem?’ in Provoking Agents: Theorizing Gender and Agency, ed. Gardiner Judith Kegan, (Champaign, IL., University of Illinois Press, 1995), 188–9.

58 Kirby V., Telling flesh: the substance of the corporeal, (London: Routledge, 1997), 44, 147.

59 Geuss R., Morality, Culture and History, (Cambridge: CUP, 1999), 13.

60 McLaren M.A., Feminism, Foucault, and Embodied Subjectivity, (NY: SUNY, 2002), 206.

61 Foucault M., The Order of Things, (London: Routledge, [1966] 1989), 79.

62 Rutter M., Genes and Behaviour, (Oxford: Blackwell, 2005).

63 Pinker S., The Blank Slate, (London: Penguin, 2002), 6.

64 Schaffer D.R. & Kipp K., Developmental Psychology, 7th ed., (Belmont, CA: Thompson Higher Education, 2007), 8.

65 Lennox P., ‘Pecking orderTimes Higher Educational Supplement, 4th February, 2010.

66 Kenrick D.T. et al., ‘Evolutionary Cognitive Science’ in From Mating to Mentality, (Hove, East Sussex: Psychology Press, 2003), 21.

67 Mitchell C. & Reid-Walsh J., Girl Culture, (Westport, CT.: Greenwood Publishing, 2008), 365.

68 The Guardian, 23 June 2011

69 Wasserman J.A. & Clair J.M., ‘The Medicalization of Homelessness and the Sociology of the SelfStudies in Symbolic Interaction, 37 (2011): 2962, at 33.

70 Z. Williams, ‘I called my daughter Harper first’ Guardian, 11th July, 2011.

71 A. Graham-Dixon, ‘Age of Innocence’ Sunday Telegraph, 5th August, 2007.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Philosophy
  • ISSN: 0031-8191
  • EISSN: 1469-817X
  • URL: /core/journals/philosophy
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *
×

Metrics

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 79
Total number of PDF views: 224 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 1382 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 21st November 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.