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Rand on Nurture

men are born tabula rasa, both cognitively and morally
Ayn Rand, _The Virtue of Selfishness_, p54

Elliot Temple on January 23, 2011

Comments (7)

Tabula non rasa

Can't be born a tabula rasa cognitively, because then one could never learn not to be one, since one would have no knowledge of how to learn. The idea only makes sense to someone who thinks we learn through experience writing ideas onto our blank slate - empiricism.

Can't be born a tabula rasa morally, since we are born with preferences and the propensity to change them (see above).

And anyway, try this thought experiment: Get a tabula rasa. Sit comfortably in an armchair and observe it. Its subsequent behaviour is nothing like a baby's.

David Deutsch at 7:42 PM on January 24, 2011 | #2102 | reply | quote

Yes. I was interested in what Rand's view on the matter was, then I found this. I heard it proposed that she was a Nature advocate, and that that is implicit in Atlas Shrugged. I didn't think Atlas Shrugged expressed a position one way or the other, and I wasn't sure what Rand's position was. This quote clarifies.

I think her position is significantly better than the realistic alternative for what else I might have discovered she thought. It might not be accurate at high precision, but the *spirit* of her position is good.

Elliot at 7:47 PM on January 24, 2011 | #2103 | reply | quote

In terms of what people actually mean when they say 'nature'(fatalism) and 'nurture' (epistemological optimism), 'nurture' is definitely true.

Karl Stocker at 8:33 PM on March 24, 2011 | #2110 | reply | quote

good bad true false

In a way, maybe. Women reinforce what they feel was a good thing for men to do, thusly shaping society. Men are less interested in good/bad, more in true/false. Or is that my bias?


Ron C. de Weijze at 1:34 AM on April 1, 2011 | #2111 | reply | quote

Why is the spirit of this statement good if the statement itself is false?

Anonymous at 4:24 PM on April 10, 2011 | #2114 | reply | quote

> Why is the spirit of this statement good if the statement itself is false?

It's not false like all wrong. It's imperfect in some details which aren't relevant to her point. Her point is that men can improve morally and cognitively during their lives. That's a hopeful, true and important message.

The way she's wrong is: we aren't actually born with a 100% completely blank slate. But that doesn't matter to her point because what we're born with can be changed and improved.

Elliot at 1:46 PM on April 27, 2011 | #2126 | reply | quote

Context is Important

I am late to this but I agree Elliot.

Ayn Rand was careful in her statements and she did not have the medical or scientific knowledge to make such a statement as an objective scientific fact. She also did not add "as far as we know now."

I think she was speaking as a philosopher who believes, as I do, that humans are infinitely capable of improvement and growth, regardless of any pre-programming. I consider it another celebration and emphasis of our rational nature.

She should have made that more clear if that was her intent. Or she allowed her philosophical axioms to negate science, which would be bad philosophy.

John Campbell at 12:10 PM on May 27, 2011 | #2128 | reply | quote

What do you think?

(This is a free speech zone!)