Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Tabula Rasa

Tabula rasa means ‘scraped tablet’ in Latin, and in Epistemology (theory of knowledge) and psychology, it means ‘clean slate’. In various works, the human mind has been viewed as a tabula rasa. This means that it has been viewed as a mind that accommodates knowledge and then proceeds to form itself based on experiences and perceptions, locking out the stand that there were any pre-existing innate ideas as a starting platform. This therefore means that humans are born with a blank mind which is later fed with ideas through various experiences.

tabula rasa… an absence of preconceived ideas or predetermined goals; a clean slate…
(Online definition)
Aristotle’s work on the soul (De Anima- 4th Century) postulates that the mind of a new born human can be compared to a blank writing tablet. Some students (Stoics and Peripatetics) from Aristotle’s school also argued that originally humans harbor a state of mental blankness. The faculties of the mind were originally only potential bearing or inactive, so to speak, before they received ideas from the senses and converted the ideas into knowledge, after responding to them via an intellectual process. Later in the 17th Century, an essay on human understanding done by John Locke postulated that initially, the mind resembled a ‘white paper, void of all characters’. The essay went on to argue that all the materials of reason and knowledge were drawn from experiences. However, John Locke did not fully buy the idea of the mind being initially totally blank, he instead held a belief that the mind initially played home to an innate power of reflection - which can be broken down to awareness of own ideas, emotions, sensations and other inbuilt systems. He was later in the 18th century backed by David Hume, a Scottish Empirist. The qualified notions of the tabular rasa remained influential in Anglo-American and British philosophy through the mid 20th century.

Though he did not mention it, JB Watson the proponent of behaviourist approach topsychology  seems to agree on this concept when he said;

Give me a dozen healthy infants, well-formed, and my own specified world to bring them up in and I'll guarantee to take any one at random and train him to become any type of specialist I might select--doctor, lawyer, artist, merchant-chief, and, yes, even beggarman and thief, regardless of his talents, penchants, tendencies, abilities, vocations, and race of his ancestors. I am going beyond my facts and I admit it, but so have the advocates of the contrary and they have been doing it for many thousands of years.

The proponents of the tabular rasa generally add weight to the side of ‘nurture’, when it comes to the heated debate on “nature versus nurture”, a debate touching on the aspects of an individual’s personality, social and emotional behavior, knowledge, and sapience.

”Have not we already disposed off the difficulty about interaction involving a common element, when we said that mind is in a sense potentially whatever is thinkable, though actually it is nothing until it has thought? What it thinks must be in it just as characters may be said to be on a writing tablet on which as yet nothing stands written. This is exactly what happens”  

                                                             Aristotle (In his treatise, De Anima)

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