Sunday, July 22, 2012

Tabula rasa – blank slate – meaning

We’ve already dealt with free will and determinism; however, you may still wonder what’s the origin of your mind. According to tabula rasa theory your mental content comes only from your experience. The meaning of tabula rasa originates from Latin “blank slate” or “white paper”; it means that you’re born with an empty mind which is to be filled with your life experiences which, according to tabula rasa theory, are the unique source of mental content. One of the most famous philosophers who held belief in tabula rasa is probably English philosopher John Locke who claimed that “all ideas come from sensation or reflection”. It sounds reasonable, doesn’t it?

Personally, I don’t believe in tabula rasa theory. There are numerous literary works which aim to prove that we are not born with tabula rasa. Some of them (such as "Lord of the Flies" by W. Golding) seem to convince the reader of an innate evil, others (such as a classic of children’s literature "Pollyanna" by E. H. Porter) claim that all people are born good. It shows how different philosophical theories may be when it comes to mind – tabula rasa, innate evil, or innate goodness. Are you really born with tabula rasa then?

John Locke
That would mean that you didn’t have any experiences before you were born. John Locke claimed that “in experience all our knowledge is funded”. I believe it is a very reasonable argument. Think about a skill you have learnt recently – how did you learn it? From experience. You can’t learn how to read without seeing letters, you can’t learn how to write without actually writing – you must experience something in order to learn something. This is the source of knowledge. Nevertheless, new born babies know how to suck mother’s breast despite the fact they have not experienced breast-feeding before. It is, however, disputable if such an act counts as knowledge or simply as reflex actions. Whatever the truth about reflex actions and knowledge is I strongly believe that knowledge does come from experience… And this is why I can’t agree with Locke’s tabula rasa view –  we are already born with experiences.

There are various scientific experiments which show that a foetus is able to hear what happens outside the womb. He can hear his mother’s voice and is even able to distinguish it from other voices; some claim that music influences foetus’s IQ and personality. Of course there is still no consensus about how much foetus can hear (and to what extent it influences his future life) but most scientists agree that foetus does hear. And hearing is undeniably an experience which is, according to Locke, a source of knowledge. Is tabula rasa theory false? What do you think about it?

People are born with...


  1. A priori knowledge exists. Some call it instinct.

    1. I don't think that instinct is or requires knowledge

  2. Nature vs Nurture
    I'm going with the theory that John Locke has define Tabula rasa the human development of the mind at birth. Born with Goodwill is a given depending on the Nurturing part of ones life.

    1. Born with good will a given? I think one is born with the ability to react to stimuli and one does not have to be of good will to do so. Stimuli can be sounds, touch, light, temparature etc. Experiencing stimuli and reacting to them is part of the start of life outside the womb. We learn from our reactions which ones result in good stuff, like a cuddle or an other response and we take it from there. Bein a tabula rasa at brith does not mean we are stupid, just as yet without knowledge.

    2. genes don't control behavior, the signal from the quantum field does.
      Epi-as in on top of genes, Epigenetic influences not Newtonian celectial machine mechanics.

  3. Born with "experience" is inherently different than natural instinct. That would be the fallacy in your argument.


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