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Melchior if your comment meant by "wether or not it is true" as in the "possible truth" then I misunderstood you. I read it as if you said that a philosophy can still be true if it is contradicted by another "truth".

I dont see why you come back from your previous post, he still stated the notion of multiple ''possible truths''.

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DavidOdden, I'm not sure what you're talking about. Nothing I've read (or can even find after reading your post) suggests Chomsky abandoned his theory. I know about the minimalist model, and I understand this is the paradigm that's used now even though many resources feel the need to stick to the old ones. I'm aware I have an outdated understanding of the syntax model, which I'm not happy about, but I assumed the principle was still the same. You'll have to forgive me I'm not taking linguistics just yet (god knows I want to though) so I can only go on the books and lectures I can get my hands on. To be honest I don't understand some of what you said, and to be even more honest your condescending tone doesn't serve as a good motivation for me to try, but it seems you're ahead of the game on this front and I don't think I'm going to win this argument now anyway so I concede. I just need to study more I guess.

And people, I never said there can be such a thing as multiple contradictory truths, I don't even know how you could read that into my statement unless you were on the lookout for blatantly anti-Oist statements like that. My point was if you have a moral system based on X and X is subject to scientific falsifiability, it doesn't matter how much you like your moral system, X may very well still be proven false. It doesn't matter to me though because I don't believe the core of Rand's ethical philosophy need be harmed by psychological nativism (I'm surprised to find she thought we are tabula rasa, although I probably just don't remember the statement from VOS, and further that she found it important). If anything it seems like it should be congruent with the idea that people live and make decisions best when it's at an individual level. Maybe Misean praxeology is just obscuring my view here, who knows, but my impression was that Ayn Rand set out to define human nature and derive an ethical system from it (hence creating the issue of the whole is-ought thing I addressed in my other thread, if there is no human nature than what is is there to derive an ought from? what's the controversy?). To the accusation that I don't understand anything about philosophy; well I can't say I'm an expert, especially if we're talking about Objectivism, but if you think tabula rasa is a prerequisite for philosophy in general then I'm confident enough to say you're mistaken. Philosophy isn't founded on it and not all philosophers are in agreement it, I know that much. There is room for debate here, even if I'm not the one equipped to make the arguments.

You guys also seem to have a difference conception of the blank slate issue from what I've learned. No one as far as I know has suggested conscious knowledge of specific concepts like "chair" and "television," except extreme nativists like Jerry Fodor of whom I've never encountered, but rather an intuitive and instinctive mind that is designed to work in the specific kind of environment that it evolved in; dealing with other human beings, objects that follow the laws of physics, etc. Just as fish have evolved fins and gills that "expect" them to be born in water, even though fish themselves aren't aware fo it. I'm talking about free floating rationales here. Math itself doesn't require seeing or interacting with the environment, you can work out basic arithmetic in your head in the abstract, as well as conceiving of concepts such as intentionality between entities and minds, etc. It's how we have an imagination in the first place. You can think of it like the difference between a computer that comes out of the box with all it's files (which is not what I am arguing) and a computer that is designed to be compatible with certain kinds of files, and needs a harddrive with instructions to begin with before it can do anything with those files anyway.

I'll read that latter.

It's worth the read. It's not a science book, being entirely anecdotal (and written with the prose of a journalist trying to sell his story) but the events it recounts involving this guy's life is astonishing, and telling.

Edited by Melchior

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My point was if you have a moral system based on X and X is subject to scientific falsifiability, it doesn't matter how much you like your moral system, X may very well still be proven false.

This corresponds to my second post. I did misunderstand you then.

To the accusation that I don't understand anything about philosophy; well I can't say I'm an expert, especially if we're talking about Objectivism, but if you think tabula rasa is a prerequisite for philosophy in general then I'm confident enough to say you're mistaken. Philosophy isn't founded on it and not all philosophers are in agreement it, I know that much. There is room for debate here, even if I'm not the one equipped to make the arguments.

I probably could have been more constructive by suggesting you read more of Rands works. My comment was about the law of non contradiction not tabula rasa. A philosophical concepts validity is not determined by consensus by the way.

You guys also seem to have a difference conception of the blank slate issue from what I've learned. No one as far as I know has suggested conscious knowledge of specific concepts like "chair" and "television," except extreme nativists like Jerry Fodor of whom I've never encountered, but rather an intuitive and instinctive mind that is designed to work in the specific kind of environment that it evolved in; dealing with other human beings, objects that follow the laws of physics, etc. Just as fish have evolved fins and gills that "expect" them to be born in water, even though fish themselves aren't aware fo it. I'm talking about free floating rationales here. Math itself doesn't require seeing or interacting with the environment, you can work out basic arithmetic in your head in the abstract, as well as conceiving of concepts such as intentionality between entities and minds, etc. It's how we have an imagination in the first place. You can think of it like the difference between a computer that comes out of the box with all it's files (which is not what I am arguing) and a computer that is designed to be compatible with certain kinds of files, and needs a harddrive with instructions to begin with before it can do anything with those files anyway.

It's worth the read. It's not a science book, being entirely anecdotal (and written with the prose of a journalist trying to sell his story) but the events it recounts involving this guy's life is astonishing, and telling.

Melchior May I suggest you read Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology. Your comments all seem to bare on not understanding the relationship of concepts to percepts.One cannot grasp the concept "one" without the ubiquitous observation of concrete entities.

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You guys also seem to have a difference conception of the blank slate issue from what I've learned. No one as far as I know has suggested conscious knowledge of specific concepts like "chair" and "television," except extreme nativists like Jerry Fodor of whom I've never encountered, but rather an intuitive and instinctive mind that is designed to work in the specific kind of environment that it evolved in; dealing with other human beings, objects that follow the laws of physics, etc. Just as fish have evolved fins and gills that "expect" them to be born in water, even though fish themselves aren't aware fo it. I'm talking about free floating rationales here.

Multiple philosophers have founded entire systems of thought upon intuitions. Start with Plato and follow forward his Platonist successors. Modern philosphers are especially fond of moral intuitions, because that is all that remains to base ethics upon if one accepts that ought cannot be derived from is. Intuitions fall prey to exactly the same objections that being born understanding "television" does.

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I have read your wiki link now Melchior.

That person would (I think it wasn't mentioned) have known about their original gender.

And emotional imbalance is as far as I read a common side affect of such hormone treatments.

Not to take away that there are differences in the brain between the sexes witch may make certain conclusions easier to reach.

As an analogy (if this does not apply please correct me).

Take someone with strong legs and someone with strong arms.

Both are trying to reach the top of a hill with both a long but steady slope and a sort and rocky but steep cliff.

They could both take either route but for each the other would be faster.

Being told to play with dollies* while you find it easier and more exiting to imagine spatial relationships could be very suppressing.

Man does have a nature and its a rational one.

And if you listen to it you'll hear it say ''don't climb the steep slope if your arms aren't strong enough''.

Just as fish have evolved fins and gills that "expect" them to be born in water, even though fish themselves aren't aware fo it. .

Again please correct me if I'm taking this out of context, but.

Why do you use the word ''expect'' without it pertaining to someone who is expecting something?

Edited by FrolicsomeQuipster

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Again please correct me if I'm taking this out of context, but.

Why do you use the word ''expect'' without it pertaining to someone who is expecting something?

It's just a metaphorical use of language. No conscious thing actually "expects" anything in the environment anymore than a ball on a slope "wants" to roll downwards. It just makes it easier to get the point across. Evolutionary biologists themselves do this (at least Dawkins does, and I think it's very effective).

You could also say, a jeep or something designed with four-wheel-drive "anticipates" rough terrain where a normal car does not, if you catch my meaning.

By the way, David Reimer was completely oblivious to his birth sex as far as I know, yet he said he always "knew" there was something amiss there even if he couldn't put it in words. But I see you don't deny innate sex differences an innate (rational) human nature. I think our disagreement is about degrees here.

Edited by Melchior

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My understanding of Tabula Rasa is that it asserts that people's personalities and beliefs are entirely shaped by their environment (if you're raised by wolves you'll think you're a wolf, if you are raised in a culture where murder is considered a virtue you'll think the same, etc) when this is clearly not the case. There are human universals, for example all cultures consider murder and incest to be taboo. You can't "train" someone to be gay, etc.

You are mixing concepts here. Being gay is not a personality type. Further, tabula rasa does not mean that people's personalities are entirely shaped by their environment. The concept refers to knowledge about reality and as such it does not deny the existance of physiological differences between people.

Math itself doesn't require seeing or interacting with the environment...

Yes it does. We are not born with math knowledge or logic. I assume you don't have children.

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Well for example there are tests they ran on babies gauging their reactions to certain events to see whether it was something they were surprised by or something they expected. Babies would stare a little longer at seemingly impossible events produced by sleight of hand, but showed no interest in things that made sense. For example, if you put one toy behind a screen and the same toy came out the other side, the child would not show interest. Same case if you did two for two or three for three. If however you put one toy behind the screen and two or three came out, or a completely different toy showed up, the baby would be shocked.

Newborn babies lack object permanence, for which there are three stages. If something leaves their field of view, they believe it has ceased to exist. If something went behind a curtain and came out as a different object, the baby would think nothing of it. Upon slipping behind the curtain, the first object is gone and done with. For this experiment to have worked, the babies would need to already be at the third stage, and then it's arbitrary, because they have had time to develop an understanding of physics.

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If you want your argument to be taken seriously, you need to first understand the "tabula rasa" claim, then secondly demonstrate (drawing on Pinker if you want) those scientific facts that refute this tenet of Objectivism. I don't believe that you have done the first, or that you can do the second.

None of his arguments about language are applicable: they either show a frankly unscientific trend to evangelism in leaping to conclusions not supported by the data (many of his claims about notions of structure, which it turns out are no longer believed by even the most ardent Chomskian nativists), or they are simply inapplicable to the tabula rasa debate -- they pertain to the capacity to learn, not to the prior presence of knowledge. This is the fundamental problem that opponents of tabula rasa fail to grasp -- that the claim is that man is born without specific knowledge of reality; it is not that man is born with no mental ability and must learn how to have mental ability.

I suggest digging deeper, looking at the actual research literature, to see what these experiments establish, rule out, and simply "hint". What, for example, is there about a baby being surprised at having multiple toys emerging on the other side of the screen that proves that man has genetically-wired knowledge of thenature of the universe? What fact of the experiment establishes that this is not something that children learn, from observation of the world about them? How, by the setup of the experiment, were the children prevented from getting the notion of "motion" before the experiment?

The fact that brain damage can lead to aphasia in no way establishes any genetic knowledge: it establishess that language is in the brain, not in the foot (in case there is any doubt). So please, look back at your brain-damage argument, and try to understand how that is simply not relevant to the question of tabula rasa. The nativists seem to not understand what the actual claim is -- they are basing their arguments, at best, on long-ago refuted behaviorist notions. So let's see some arguments that actually establish that babies have concrete knowledge of the world which precedes any experience with the fact. Arguments that "language is in the brain" is clearly irrelevant.

Twin studies, similarly, do nothing to establish knowledge. Objectivism does not hold that your nature, in terms of your consciousness, is entirely independent of your brain. Show me the twin study that establishes actal knowledge prior to experience shared by identical twins.

Well David, I take his arguments seriously and so do many prominent researchers. Methinks Objectivism best be informing itself on the new science of genetics and personality, not haughtily dismissing every new finding with a wave of the hand and implying the person who brings it up is somehow deficient.

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Great question. Objectivists should investigate this issue more fully, it will bear fruit. There needs to be more exploration of the concept tabula rasa and what it actually means, not airy dismissal of all the science that is rushing forward. It seems to be a quirk of many Objectivists to affect an "arrogant and prideful" demeanor, and act as if they were characters in bad version of Atlas Shrugged.

An important issue is the distinction between innate ideas and other factors that affect personality and psychology (and what we are referring to when we use those last two concepts). Clearly, the way many thinkers have used the phrase tabula rasa is not correct. It has been used to promote the idea that Man is a more or less a malleable lump of clay that can be molded into anything, either by his environment or by his own free will. This is clearly not true and certainly not how Rand meant it, but it is necessary to make that point clear in our culture. The Standard Social Studies Model (SSSM) has promoted this idea and it is dominant in the humanities and in education departments. We don't want to be associated with that because that idea is rapidly being undone (and it's false).

We also need to make clear that being born tabula rasa (if the concept is to be valid) does not mean being born without a functioning brain that has certain tendencies. There is strong evidence that children have something like a Universal Grammar (so called language "instinct") that helps them learn to speak. This is encouraged by an innate tendency of the baby to babble from an early age and then develops as the child constructs sentences that he could never have been taught. Children born deaf have spontaneously created their own unique sign languages with deaf peers. So there is obviously a capacity and mechanism to do many mental activities that were not learned.

So, we can say babies are not born with the concept of "airplane", for example. And babies don't seem to be born with a bias toward the Austrian school of economics. However, babies do in fact have an intuitive sense of physics. This has been demonstrated time and again and is available to anyone who googles for it. Children later develop something a like a "theory of mind" that allows them to think of other living creatures as agents, with a mind of their own. This not something that is merely learned. Notably, autistic children do not have this ability and it is severely limited in people with Asperger's syndrome. No amount of learning changes this.

Doubt the "language instinct"? Well ask yourself this, why have we never found a group of humans that has forgotten how to speak? If it is purely cultural, then surely over the last 50,000 years, on all the continents of earth, we would find some group of humans that forgot how to talk. People get separated, children are abandoned, etc. There have been small bands of humans that lost the entire culture of their original group. But none forgot how to talk. And this is despite the fact that for at least the first 45,000 years of human language, it wasn't even written! It was all oral! All the easier to forget. So clearly, there is an inbuilt ability at work.

When we begin to catalogue all the things babies and children do, it becomes obvious they are not simply empty computers, blank software waiting to be programmed. If they were, they would most likely never develop at all.

And this point becomes more obvious when we reflect on that fact that Man is an evolved animal, not a creature plopped down by God in his present form. We must accommodate the last 100,000 years of human evolution, the fact that ape-men existed for even longer periods of time, and that they surely acted on various unlearned “instincts”. If a puppy has an intuitive sense of physics (and they do), why do we think every last bit of it was bred out of Man? Beyond that, humans have a fear of snakes and spiders that appears innate. Babies will react differently to snake or spider-like images than to sheep or frog images.

And does anyone think our sexual urges were “learned”, in the crude sense it is often suggested? Sure, learning influences it – a little. But the images that excite boys at a certain age have little to do with some Skinnerian association. It is hard wired, straight up. Evolution would never have had time for every last individual to learn all these things. The more you reflect on it, it becomes impossible to view humans as merely blank computers ready to be filled.

This whole field is fascinating and there are some great books on it. I recommend "The Language Instinct" and "The Blank Slate" by Steven Pinker, as good starters. In a related field, Evolutionary Psychology is emerging as the hottest topic in psychology, much to the consternation of feminists and socialists. David Buss has several books for the popular audience. If you google around you will find tons of websites.

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I can't believe I passed this up!!! Thanks to Grames for the alert.This is actually a bit of rationalism and burying of the conclusion in the premises. It is false that all languages have to have subjects, objects, verbs etc. (I wonder what the referent of etc. is here). These are quite specific grammatical constructs, and there is a good-sized literature on the irrelevance of subject / object in a number of languages (such as Chinese), or the specific category "verb" (I refer you to the seminal work of Jelenik on Salishan). A subject is not the same as an agent (the semantic notion "agent" has a vastly greater claim to linguistic universality than the syntactic notion "subject"), and the crosslinguistic incoherence of the concept "object" is legendary -- corresonding to the fact that we can't even say what is the predominant semantic role of syntactic objects.

In the day, there were certain nativist theories that demanded that all languages had to have subjects in their sentences, but this was pure stipulation, necessitated only by arbitrary Platonist claims made about sentence structure. I wouldn't say that nobody believes anymore that subjects and objects are obligatory in language, but certainly that is no longer a credible claim and has never been an empirically well-supported claim. It has simply been a theoretical stipulation, and not a good one at that. Thus, of course, not evidence at all for any notion of a prior knowledge of language.

Basically, Grames exactly identified the two sources of "universals" perfectly: historical common antecedent, and product of solving the same problem.

Are you claiming there are languages that do not have subjects, verbs and objects? Are you saying Chinese is an example of one that doesn't?

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Great question. Objectivists should investigate this issue more fully, it will bear fruit. There needs to be more exploration of the concept tabula rasa and what it actually means, not airy dismissal of all the science that is rushing forward.

You really should finish reading the thread before replying, especially such a short thread. Objectivism has a precise reference for what is meant by "tabula rasa", and if you had read and understood the posts in this thread there would be no mystery warranting further exploration.

"Tabula rasa" is a metaphor in which the contents of consciousness have the same relation to consciousness as what is written upon a slate blackboard has to the blackboard. The assertion that the slate starts blank is not equivalent to an assertion that there is no slate and no chalk. Clearly there is a slate and chalk, a human nature and identity which is given. It is the same distinction as between having a memory and having the ability to remember. Memories cannot be inherited, but the ability to remember can be.

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You really should finish reading the thread before replying, especially such a short thread. Objectivism has a precise reference for what is meant by "tabula rasa", and if you had read and understood the posts in this thread there would be no mystery warranting further exploration.

"Tabula rasa" is a metaphor in which the contents of consciousness have the same relation to consciousness as what is written upon a slate blackboard has to the blackboard. The assertion that the slate starts blank is not equivalent to an assertion that there is no slate and no chalk. Clearly there is a slate and chalk, a human nature and identity which is given. It is the same distinction as between having a memory and having the ability to remember. Memories cannot be inherited, but the ability to remember can be.

Honestly, you didn't really answer anything. I can look up things in the Ayn Rand lexicon and other sources as well. I'm not so much asking for a parrot as a thinker. Now, if you wish to practice the art of thinking, of dealing with facts and concretes, instead of merely quoting definitions, you may find life more interesting. As a first step, learn to expose yourself to the latest developments in the field you are discussing. And check the unearned arrogance at the door. You have no right to be huffy with anyone here asking honest questions.

The challenge to what is commonly referred to as tabula rasa or the blank slate, is not that Man has concepts such as "toothpick" in his mind at birth, we've already addressed that. The issue is in what way the slate and the chalk may come preloaded, not with ideas as such, but with things such as an intuitive sense of physics, a theory of mind, a certain temperament, ability to delay gratification, a certain type and structure of IQ, and how these things may vary from person to person. If there is significant variance across human population in these traits, this could have implications for things like personality development and the potential of some populations to maintain certain political systems. This is what is called an interesting question by human beings, as opposed to parroting other people's quotes. And it could potentially prove a challenge to the way many Objectivists view personality. I was told my an Objectivist Phd and authority (not Peikoff)that genes have NO impact on personality. This seems a rather strong and unlikely claim.

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It is indeed an interesting topic, and fundamental to Oism. If you could point me to a decent study that shows that infants are born with an "intuitive sense of physics" or "a theory of mind"(!) Id probably read it. Although by "decent" I mean one that doesnt rely on a deductive and/or rationalistic approach. Ive yet to see any.

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I was told my an Objectivist Phd and authority (not Peikoff)that genes have NO impact on personality. This seems a rather strong and unlikely claim.

By all means, name the offender. The war against rationalism continues in house-to-house fighting. That is a ridiculous statement that is obviously wrong and a PhD in this case does nothing except to embarrass whoever made the statement.

And how can "an intuitive sense of physics" or "a theory of mind" possibly be held in a form which is not an idea? Being born knowing what a toothpick is is simpler and if that is not possible how can such abstractions be possible? The set of referents you propose that may be inborn characteristics are incommensurates, having a personality is not the same as having a theory of mind.

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By all means, name the offender. The war against rationalism continues in house-to-house fighting. That is a ridiculous statement that is obviously wrong and a PhD in this case does nothing except to embarrass whoever made the statement.

And how can "an intuitive sense of physics" or "a theory of mind" possibly be held in a form which is not an idea? Being born knowing what a toothpick is is simpler and if that is not possible how can such abstractions be possible? The set of referents you propose that may be inborn characteristics are incommensurates, having a personality is not the same as having a theory of mind.

The offender, so to speak, was Harry Binswanger.

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The offender, so to speak, was Harry Binswanger.

LOL. That figures. Binswanger has a poor track record in philosophizing about the mind-brain-body relationship. Binswanger has also endorsed a version of dualism by hypothesizing a new physical force in the brain which is the causal mechanism of free will. See this reportage about Binswangers lecture course The Metaphysics of Consciousness which is still available at the Ayn Rand bookstore for some reason.

Objectivism is what Ayn Rand wrote, not what Harry Binswanger wrote. Binswanger's embrace of dualism contradicts Objectivism and he cannot be taken as a spokesman for Objectivism on this issue. He might still be okay for explaining capitalism or egoism in ethics.

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LOL. That figures. Binswanger has a poor track record in philosophizing about the mind-brain-body relationship. Binswanger has also endorsed a version of dualism by hypothesizing a new physical force in the brain which is the causal mechanism of free will. See this reportage about Binswangers lecture course The Metaphysics of Consciousness which is still available at the Ayn Rand bookstore for some reason.

Objectivism is what Ayn Rand wrote, not what Harry Binswanger wrote. Binswanger's embrace of dualism contradicts Objectivism and he cannot be taken as a spokesman for Objectivism on this issue. He might still be okay for explaining capitalism or egoism in ethics.

Thanks, I appreciate the feedback and the link.

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"Many classical liberals rely on a tabula rasa or "blank slate" concept of the person. Under such a conception culture and experience 'write themselves' upon the person, who is -- for the most part -- malleable. But this is wrong. And if we think of culture and evolution working in tandem, we'll get a lot further -- not only in our thinking, but in our communication strategies." Max Borders

Edited by Mikee

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As far as I know, there is excellent scientific proof that the human mind is not a tabula rasa if by that you mean there is no innate human nature at all. There most certainly is and must be. Steven Pinker's a Blank Slate is a good refutation of tabula rasa.

We don't have any 'innate knowledge' but we have a nature. This and a few other things is why I don't consider myself a 'proper' objectivist. :worry:

Philosophically speaking, Rand is probably correct, there is no innate knowledge, but I think what is mixed up here is innate knowledge and innate nature. :dough:

Edited by Paeter

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We don't have any 'innate knowledge' but we have a nature. This and a few other things is why I don't consider myself a 'proper' objectivist. :worry:

Don't worry :thumbsup: you are back in the club -- your first sentence is the Objectivist position: we are born with a nature but we acquire knowledge.

Philosophically speaking, Rand is probably correct, there is no innate knowledge, but I think what is mixed up here is innate knowledge and innate nature. :dough:

Nope, no mix-up, except for those who consider the suckling reflex "knowledge". Ayn Rand understood the difference between breathing and knowing, between having to eat and knowing what to eat.

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As far as I know, there is excellent scientific proof that the human mind is not a tabula rasa if by that you mean there is no innate human nature at all. There most certainly is and must be. Steven Pinker's a Blank Slate is a good refutation of tabula rasa.

We don't have any 'innate knowledge' but we have a nature. This and a few other things is why I don't consider myself a 'proper' objectivist. :worry:

Of course we have a nature, and Ayn Rand never denied this. I suggest you read the whole thread; Pinker's book was brought up in post #10 and was responded to by David Odden and Grames. To quote from earlier in the thread:

This is the fundamental problem that opponents of tabula rasa fail to grasp -- that the claim is that man is born without specific knowledge of reality; it is not that man is born with no mental ability and must learn how to have mental ability.

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