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Essay help Reading the texts. Assignment 1 - 2000 to 2,500 words: Critically assess the positions of Pinker and Orr on the Blank Slate using the theory.

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Presentation on theme: "Essay help Reading the texts. Assignment 1 - 2000 to 2,500 words: Critically assess the positions of Pinker and Orr on the Blank Slate using the theory."— Presentation transcript:

1 Essay help Reading the texts

2 Assignment to 2,500 words: Critically assess the positions of Pinker and Orr on the Blank Slate using the theory from weeks 2-5.

3 Essay outline A.General introduction (250 words) B.Describe why Pinker thinks genes invalidate the blank slate (300 words) C.Describe why Orr thinks they do not (300 words) D.Relate the concept of rigidity to nature and Pinker (300 words) E.Relate the concept of plasticity to nurture and Orr (300 words) F.Relate the concept of the supplement to nature and Pinker (300 words) G.Relate the concept of the supplement to nurture and Orr (300 words) H.General conclusion (250 words)

4 Nature and Nurture NatureNurture Pinker (and Rousseau…)Orr (Malabou and Derrida…) RigidityPlasticity NatureThe supplement Natural law (behaviour dictated by human nature) Moral law (from blank slate thinking) Natural reasonReason as supplement ??

5 Nature and Pinker ‘The "new sciences of human nature"—combining cognitive science, neuroscience, genetics, and evolution—strongly suggest that our minds are partly "hardwired" at birth. Pinker spends much of his book arguing that this hardwiring likely underlies many human universals—forms of behavior and mental structures shared by all peoples in all cultures, e.g., baby talk and incest avoidance. But it also seems likely that such hardwiring underlies some differences among people.’ (Orr: 2003) ‘…biology is not morality. And once this fact sinks in, we see that we can both recognize and condemn any dark, biological side to humanity. The new sciences of human nature are morally neutral.’ (Orr: 2003) ‘In short Pinker champions a Darwinian psychology of human beings. But the proposition that we can build a Darwinian science of mind is distinct from—and more ambitious than—the proposition that the slate isn't blank.’ (Orr: 2003)

6 Nature and Pinker ‘Pinker's fondness for "evolutionary psychology" will come as no surprise to those who remember How the Mind Works. But it is surprising to see how extreme he has become. Pinker seems never to have met an adaptive tale he doesn't like. Rape is likely an adaptive strategy pursued by low-status males who are "alienated from a community" and "unable to win the consent of women." A gene that predisposes such males to rape will spread. Neonaticide, the killing of newborns, reflects the evolutionary calculus of conflict between parent and offspring. A gene that predisposes mothers to kill newborns when times are tough, saving resources for reproduction when times are better, will also spread. Weak armies may march suicidally into bat-tle because of natural selection. Evolution favors bluffing in confrontations (an opponent might, after all, back down) which in turn favors some self-deception (you're a better liar if you believe your own lie).’ (Orr: 2003)

7 Nature and Pinker ‘You might think that convincing evidence that a particular form of behavior is inherited usually leads to attempts to explain how and why it evolved. But often what happens is the reverse: the fact that we can conceive of an adaptive tale about why a behavior should evolve becomes the chief reason for suspecting it's genetic. Why, after all, does Pinker think human neonaticide might be genetic? Where are the twin studies, chromosome locations, and DNA sequences supporting such a claim? The answer is we don't have any. What we do have is a story—there's an undeniable Darwinian logic underlying the murder of newborns in certain circumstances. And so the inversion occurs: the evolutionary story rings true; but evolution requires genes; therefore, it's genetic. This move is so easy and so seductive that evolutionary psychologists sometimes forget a hard truth: a Darwinian story is not Mendelian evidence. A Darwinian story is a story. And the accumulation of such stories has an important consequence. The slate may seem to get less and less blank in part because evolutionary psychologists keep scribbling more and more tales on it.’ (Orr: 2003)

8 Nurture and Orr ‘The slate might not be blank, but it's unclear if natural selection did the writing.’ (Orr: 2003) ‘Though a behavior may be adaptive, it might not be optimal, i.e., the best possible solution to a "problem" posed by the environment. The point is that natural selection merely makes things better; it does not guarantee that, out of several possible improvements, the best will be chosen.’ (Orr: 2003) ‘The ultimate point of his argument is that the new sciences of human nature pose no threat to decency. We merely have to "distinguish biological facts from human values." Is murderous rage in our genes? No problem. We can still condemn it. Is rape "a feature of human nature"? Also not a problem. For it "is inherent to our value system that the interests of women should not be subordinated to those of men." No matter what our genes say, a liberal ethic is always there to Just Say No. No matter what the truth about human nature, we needn't condone murder, rape, selfishness, or greed. And it's true, we needn't. But Pinker barely notices that the morality that's always there to save the day—the one he glibly invokes to dispel the menace of evolutionary psychology— is itself a legacy of the despised Blank Slate.’ (Orr: 2003)

9 Nurture and Orr ‘Why do we believe all people have a right to something like life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? Why do we deny the divine rights of kings? And why, despite the fact that many cultures grant men nearly unchecked control over women, do we believe "the interests of women should not be subordinated to those of men"? Surely much of the answer is that we are inheritors of a liberal tradition that springs from Locke and his fellow travelers, men who rejected the hereditarian claims of royalty and aristocracy and gave birth to Enlightenment ideology.’ (Orr: 2003)

10 Nature and Orr ‘ Is it really clear that the liberal ethic Pinker reflexively reaches for would be there? While he never articulates this question, Pinker seems to sense it. The evidence is that he tries, in two steps, to evade it. Step one is to claim that our moral sense is itself a product of evolution. But this alone won't do. Darwinism may well have endowed us with a crude morality, but this can't explain why kings but not women once had rights, but now women but not kings do. Hence step two. Here we expand the moral circle out from kin, to tribe, to nation, and ultimately to all humanity. Though Pinker's discussion of this expansion is complex, he thinks it also involves some evolution. For the moral circle mainly expands, he says, by the principle of reciprocal altruism, a sociobiological theory that shows how kindness can spread even among unrelated individuals. To Pinker, then, the moral circle is primarily "pushed outward by the expanding networks of reciprocity that make other human beings more valuable alive than dead." This network is facilitated by "trade, cultural exchanges, and people-to-people activities.“’ (Orr: 2003) Cont. on next slide…

11 Nature and Orr ‘But this is silly. The notion that our moral circle expanded by reciprocity is in many cases ahistorical nonsense. Men had plenty of "people-to-people" interaction with women while condemning them to second-class citizenship. And slaveholding Southerners had more "cultural exchanges" and "people- to-people activities" with African-Americans than did abolitionist Northerners. At what point in history did our "networks of reciprocity" with women and slaves become sufficiently dense that the calculus of reciprocity demanded that we grant them the vote and freedom? The question is absurd. The fact is that for every case in which morality plausibly expanded by reciprocity there's another in which it expanded by selfless moral reasoning, political or religious struggle, or even court rulings that forced a rule of conduct on those who initially opposed it. And it should be evident that a morality that bids us care for the severely handicapped cannot be explained by an expectation of reciprocity. So Pinker cannot, I think, minimize the debt he owes to Enlightenment ideology. The morality he uses to pacify evolutionary psychology is, to a good extent, a Blank Slate morality. Not bad for an "anti-life, anti-human theoretical abstraction.“’ (Orr: 2003)

12 Plasticity and Nature ‘Our brain is plastic and we do not know it. We are completely ignorant of this dynamic, this organization, and this structure. We continue to believe in the “’rigidity’ of an entirely genetically determined brain,”…’ (Malabou, 2008: 4) ‘We are entirely ignorant of brain plasticity. Yet we are not at all ignorant of a certain kind of organization of labor – part- time jobs, temporary contracts, the demand for absolute mobility and adaptability, the demand for creativity…the brain is our work, and we do not know it.’ (Malabou, 2008: 10)

13 Plasticity and Nurture ‘The brain is a work, and we do not know it. We are its subjects - authors and products at once - and we do not know it.’ (Malabou, 2008: 1) ‘…the bond between brain and history – concepts long taken to be antithetical - is now established with certainty’ (Malabou, 2008: 1) ‘But let us not forget that the question What should we do with our brain? is a question for everyone, that it seeks to give birth in everyone to the feeling of a new responsibility.’ (Malabou, 2008: 14)

14 Plasticity and Nurture ‘What should we do with our brain? is not a question reserved for philosophers, for scientists, or for politicians--it is a question for everyone. It should allow us to understand why, given that the brain is plastic, free, we are still always and everywhere "in chains"; why, given that the activity of the central nervous system, as it is revealed today in the light of scientific discovery, presents reflection with what is doubtless a completely new conception of transformation, we nonetheless have the feeling that nothing is transformed; and why, given that it is clear that there can no longer be any philosophical, political, or scientific approach to history that does not pass through a close analysis of the neuronal phenomenon, we nonetheless have the feeling that we lack a future, and we ask ourselves What good is having a brain, indeed, what should we do with it?’ (Malabou, 2008: 11)

15 Plasticity and Nurture ‘Let us dwell for a moment on the modeling of the neuronal connections, made possible by our individual experience, skills, and life habits, by the power of impression of existence in general. We can now see that the plasticity of the brain, understood in this sense, corresponds well to the possibility of fashioning by memory, to the capacity to shape a history.’ (Malabou, 2008: 6) The guiding question of the present effort should thus be formulated: What should we do so that consciousness of the brain does not purely and simply coincide with the spirit of capitalism? (Malabou, 2008: 12)

16 Nature and the supplement A supplement can be thought of as being in addition to or in place of. However, in general Rousseau sees any supplement as being in place of the goodness of nature. For Rousseau nature is good and ought not to be supplemented. But as nature cannot supplement itself we sometimes need to so as to be able to preserve its goodness. But for Rousseau, all education is supplementation; it must therefore be as close to nature as possible. Derrida raises some problems for this: ‘Childhood is the first manifestation of the deficiency which, in Nature, calls for substitution. Pedagogy illuminates perhaps more crudely the paradoxes of the supplement. How is a natural weakness possible? How can Nature ask for forces that it does not furnish? How is a child possible in general?’ (146)

17 Nurture and the supplement Nature and Reason are both supplemented, which is unthinkable in terms of Reason. This puts into question any conception of natural law or human nature. This is because if it necessary to supplement Nature and Reason then they cannot account for everything. This is why the supplement is ‘dangerous’ – it is dangerous for the ideal concepts of Reason and Nature. ‘Reason is incapable of thinking this double infringement upon Nature: that there is a lack in Nature and that because of that very fact something is added to it.’ (149) This kind of paradox is valid but beyond reason: that Nature is ‘naturally’ supplemented. ‘The supplement is therefore equally dangerous for Reason, the natural health of Reason.’ (149) However, Reason itself is also what figures out a logic of supplementary. It exists precisely because of a ‘lack’ in Nature.

18 References Derrida, J. (1997) Of Grammatology London: John Hopkins University Press Malabou, C. (2008) What Should We Do with Our Brain? New York: Fordham University Press


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