Tabula Rasa and Human Nature

Robbie Duschinsky

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    11 Citations (Scopus)
    2 Downloads (Pure)

    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.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)509-529
    JournalPhilosophy
    Volume87
    Issue number04
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - Oct 2012

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