Three ways of understanding humanity and three rebuttals

Daily blog post 302

Today in “Human Person” we discussed Steven Pinker’s “Blank Slate” where he introduces three popular ways of understanding humanity and then provides three rebuttals:

The first theory is the theory of “Blank Slates”, introduced by a philosopher by the name of John Locke. That all humans are born as blank slates without innate knowledge, and it is only through life experiences are humans shaped to have certain qualities and personality traits and skills.

The second theory is the theory of “Noble savages”, introduced by John Dryden. This theory is that humanity is born noble, with the potential for goodness, and thus does not require government. However, it is civilization and society that corrupts humanity.

Finally, the third theory is René Descartes “Ghost in the machine”,  where the soul and the body are completely separated. That is, the mind and soul are able to live fully without biology, as the body is just a machine, and each of us has a “ghost”.

The doctrine of blank slates is both an idealistic yet rejectable theory. It is not to say that each of us should not be born equal as stated in the American constitution, as we should. However, the blank slate theory veers off instead of saying man and women are born equal, to say that man and women are born clones. Yet, we know this is not true. Humans are shaped largely in part by experiences, but as well as by genetics. Even if two people were blank slates per se, and grew up with the same upbringing, it is still not to say they are to be the same person, as some traits must be inherited. Natural talent in physical sports, academics, niche talents exist. A magician born with larger hands will have the upper hand, literally and figuratively, to someone born with smaller hands. Professional basketball players are much more likely to succeed if able to inherit the genes to be at least 6’3. To say humans are blank slates is to dispell many biological and objective facts, such as ethnicity & race, height, gender/sex, nationality, and the sorts. Humans should be born equal, that is, to have equal rights, opportunities, resources, the right to live and the right to education, safety, love. But to say we are blank slates are to say we are clones.

The theory of noble savages paints a picture of a corrupt society that cannot be veered off. Yet, it is true that through history, humanity has transitioned from a society of chaos to order. The introduction of government and control has made us less savage, and not all humans are necessarily born noble. On the flip side, it is very possible for a person born noble to switch, just as it is possible for someone to be nurtured into nobility.

Finally, the ghost in the machine is equally idealistic as it is objectively false when dissected with science and biology. However true it may be that each of us possesses a soul, the soul is still attached to the earth by means of biology so far as we know. Separate the body, that is, to kill the brain (or mind) is to kill the person. If the ghost is separate from the machine then the body should be subjectable to alterations without changing the mind. Yet, we know that damage to the brain (biology) changes the person, and thus, changes the soul. Cut the brain in half and a person forgets the face of someone familiar, or the place they grew up. The brain is complex and every interaction on earth, there are neurons firing innumerably. Detach the brain (biology) and you detach the soul (the ghost) from the machine.

Humanity is difficult to understand. We may never truly understand what it means to be human, at least not as objectively as we understand physics and the workings of gravity, or the statistics that prove correlation and causation. Yet, these are just three theories and three rebuttals that I’ve explored in the class thus far, each unique, and each bearing merit. Each of us, after all, has an individual perspective on humanity. I am excited to learn more…


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