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The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature

Steven Pinker

Top 10 Best Quotes

“Equality is not the empirical claim that all groups of humans are interchangeable; it is the moral principle that individuals should not be judged or constrained by the average properties of their group.”

“Much of what is today called "social criticism" consists of members of the upper classes denouncing the tastes of the lower classes (bawdy entertainment, fast food, plentiful consumer goods) while considering themselves egalitarians.”

“Nature is a hanging judge," goes an old saying. Many tragedies come from our physical and cognitive makeup. Our bodies are extraordinarily improbable arrangements of matter, with many ways for things to go wrong and only a few ways for things to go right. We are certain to die, and smart enough to know it. Our minds are adapted to a world that no longer exists, prone to misunderstandings correctable only by arduous education, and condemned to perplexity about the deepest questions we can ascertain.”

“Feminism as a movement for political and social equity is important, but feminism as an academic clique committed to eccentric doctrines about human nature is not. Eliminating discrimination against women is important, but believing that women and men are born with indistinguishable minds is not. Freedom of choice is important, but ensuring that women make up exactly 50 percent of all professions is not. And eliminating sexual assaults is important, but advancing the theory that rapists are doing their part in a vast male conspiracy is not.”

“The foundation of individual rights is the assumption that people have wants and needs and are authorities on what those wants and needs are. If people's stated desires were just some kind of erasable inscription or reprogrammable brainwashing, any atrocity could be justified.”

“We are all members of the same flawed species. Putting our moral vision into practice means imposing our will on others. The human lust for power and esteem, coupled with its vulnerability to self-deception and self-righteousness, makes that an invitation to a calamity, all the worse when the power is directed at a goal as quixotic as eradicating human self-interest.”

“Disgust is intuitive microbiology”

“People do more for their fellows than return favors and punish cheaters. They often perform generous acts without the slightest hope for payback ranging from leaving a tip in a restaurant they will never visit again to throwing themselves on a live grenade to save their brothers in arms. [Robert] Trivers together with the economists Robert Frank and Jack Hirshleifer has pointed out that pure magnanimity can evolve in an environment of people seeking to discriminate fair weather friends from loyal allies. Signs of heartfelt loyalty and generosity serve as guarantors of one s promises reducing a partner s worry that you will default on them. The best way to convince a skeptic that you are trustworthy and generous is to be trustworthy and generous.”

“Though many of my arguments will be coolly analytical — that an acknowledgment of human nature does not, logically speaking, imply the negative outcomes so many people fear — I will not try to hide my belief that they have a positive thrust as well. "Man will become better when you show him what he is like," wrote Chekhov, and so the new sciences of human nature can help lead the way to a realistic, biologically informed humanism. They expose the psychological unity of our species beneath the superficial differences of physical appearance and parochial culture. They make us appreciate the wondrous complexity of the human mind, which we are apt to take for granted precisely because it works so well. They identify the moral intuitions that we can put to work in improving our lot. They promise a naturalness in human relationships, encouraging us to treat people in terms of how they do feel rather than how some theory says they ought to feel. They offer a touchstone by which we can identify suffering and oppression wherever they occur, unmasking the rationalizations of the powerful. They give us a way to see through the designs of self-appointed social reformers who would liberate us from our pleasures. They renew our appreciation for the achievements of democracy and of the rule of law. And they enhance the insights of artists and philosophers who have reflected on the human condition for millennia.”

“Nothing invests life with more meaning than the realisation that every moment of sentience is a precious gift”

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Book Keywords:

rights, gift-of-life, feminism, trustworthiness, classism, justice, equality, discrimination, loyalty, gift, generosity, morality, altruism, bourgeois, social-criticism, life, moments, psychology, evolution, individualism, human-nature, life-and-living, politics

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