Tabula Rasa (Latin: blank slate) is the idea that human beings are born psychologically equal, and that all knowledge comes from experience or perception.
We usually hear that the British empirical philosopher John Locke forwarded this view. This is true, but Locke was by no means the first to advance the idea. It is found as far back as Aristotle, the Stoics and, still before Locke, the Persian thinker Avicenna.¹
Locke believed the human being is born into the world with a blank slate. Accordingly, we inherit nothing more than physical characteristics and a basic sense of goodness. The mind is free and equal among different individuals, sort of like a computer processor rolling down the assembly line. We’re all hardwired just the same.
Most contemporary psychologists adhere to the “nature-nurture” paradigm, meaning we’re each the outcome of genetically inherited and socially developed potentials.
More recently, the ideas of epigenetics and brain plasticity have complicated the picture. Basically these two concepts mean that we can not only outgrow our genetic programming but, moreover, in some instances experience and perception can alter that programming.²
Scientific and religious debates continue, but most of us agree that, regardless of our differences, we are all of equal value as human beings.
² This development should have a profound influence on psychology and psychiatry, particularly in regard to the professional and public perception of current diagnostic categories. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epigenetics and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neuroplasticity
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