Philosophical and Psychological
Foundations of Education
QUOTATIONS BY PHILOSOPHER
 

STEVEN PINKER

Steven Pinker  

My Educational Philosophy
Quotations by Topic


Aristotle
Audi
Bandura
Bloom
Bruner
Csikszentmihalyi
de Bary
Dewey
Eble
Edmundson
Emerson
Frankl
Freire
Gardner
Giamatti
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Gregory
Hirst
Hook
James
Kant
Locke
Maritain
Maslow
Matthews
Mill
Montessori
Nehring
Noddings
Pajares
Palmer
Piaget
Pinker
Plato
Roland Martin
Rorty
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Searle
Skinner
Vygotsky
Whitehead
Woolf

Excerpts from The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window Into Human Nature

Science proceeds by studying particulars. No one has ever gotten a grant to study "the human mind." One has to study something more tractable, and when fortune smiles, a general law may reveal itself in the process. ~ Steven Pinker, The Stuff of Thought, p. 26


The goal of education is to make up for the shortcomings in our instinctive ways of thinking about the physical and social world. And education is likely to succeed not by trying to implant abstract statements into empty minds but by taking the mental models that are our standard equipment, applying them to new subjects in selective analogies, and assembling them into new and more sophisticated combinations. ~ Steven Pinker, The Stuff of Thought, p. 439


When you combine these two aptitudes—metaphor and compositionality—the language of thought can be pressed into service to conceive and express a ceaseless geyser of ideas. People can discover new metaphors in their efforts to understand something, and can combine them to form still newer and more complex metaphors and analogies. ~ Steven Pinker, The Stuff of Thought, p. 437


Excerpts from Seed:

People are always realists when it comes to their own convictions. ~ Steven Pinker, Seed


Excerpts from The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature

Preface

The things children experience while they are growing up are just as important as the things they are born with. ~ Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate, p. vii


Part I: The Blank Slate, the Noble Savage, and the Ghost in the Machine

Our theory of human nature is the wellspring of much in our lives. We consult it when we want to persuade or threaten, inform or deceive. ~ Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate, p. 1


Chapter 1: The Official Theory

The behavior of people is freely chosen. With choice comes freedom, and therefore optimism about our possibilities for the future. ~ Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate, p. 10


Philosophy today gets no respect. ~ Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate, p. 11


Chapter 2: Silly Putty

Until recently, psychology ignored the content of beliefs and emotions and the possibility that the mind had evolved to treat biologically important categories in different ways. ~ Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate, p. 21


The topics in psychology that most interest laypeople—love, hate, work, play, food, sex, status, dominance, jealousy, friendship, religion, art—are almost completely absent from psychology textbooks. ~ Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate, p. 21


[During the early twentieth century] psychology banished mental entities like beliefs and desires altogether and replaced them with stimuli and responses. ~ Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate, p. 24


A photo taken by Steven Pinker in the Blue Hills

 

Chapter 3: The Last Wall to Fall

The unification of our understanding of life with our understanding of matter and energy was the greatest scientific achievement of the second half of the twentieth century. ~ Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate, p. 30


Making correct predications in pursuit of a goal is a pretty good definition of "intelligence." ~ Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate, p. 33


The mind cannot be a blank slate, because blank slates don't do anything. . . . The inscriptions will sit there forever unless something notices patterns in them, combines them with patterns learned at other times, uses the combinations to scribble new thoughts onto the slate, and reads the results to guide behavior toward goals. ~ Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate, p. 34


An infinite range of behavior can be generated by finite combinatorial programs in the mind. ~ Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate, p. 36


With a few thousand nouns that can fill the subject slot and a few thousand verbs that can fill the predicate slot, one already has several million ways to open a sentence. . . . And if the number of sentences is infinite, the number of possible thoughts and intentions in infinite too, because virtually every sentence expresses a different thought or intention. ~ Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate, p. 37


Behavior is not just emitted or elicited, nor does it come directly out of culture or society. It comes from an internal struggle among mental modules with differing agendas and goals. ~ Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate, p. 40


The idea from the cognitive revolution that the mind is a system of universal, generative computational modules obliterates the way that debates on human nature have been framed from centuries. It is now simply misguided to ask whether humans are flexible or programmed, whether behavior is universal or varies across cultures, whether acts are learned or innate, whether we are essentially good or essentially evil. Humans behave flexibly because they are programmed: their minds are packed with combinatorial software than can generate an unlimited set of thoughts and behavior. Behavior may vary across cultures, but the design of the mental programs that generate it need not vary. Intelligent behavior is learned successfully because we have innate systems that do the learning. And all people may have good and evil motives, but not everyone may translate them into behavior in the same way. ~ Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate, pp. 40-41


Under the microscope, brain tissue shows a staggering complexity—a hundred billion neurons connected by a hundred trillion synapses—that is commensurate with the staggering complexity of human thought and experience. ~ Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate, p. 42


Cognitive neuroscience is showing that the self, too, is just another network of brain systems. ~ Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate, p. 42


The conscious mind—the self or soul—is a spin doctor, not the commander in chief. ~ Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate, p. 43


Small differences in the genes can lead to large differences in behavior. ~ Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate, p. 45


The importance of genes in organizing the normal brain is underscored by the many ways in which nonstandard genes can give rise to nonstandard minds. ~ Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate, p. 45


[Genes'] effects can vary depending on the environment. ~ Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate, pp. 48-49


The slate cannot be blank if different genes can make it more or less smart, articulate, adventurous, shy, happy, conscientious, neurotic, open, introverted, giggly, spatially challenged, or likely to dip buttered toast in coffee. ~ Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate, p. 50


Psychologists have discovered that our personalities differ in five major ways: we are to varying degrees introverted or extroverted, neurotic or stable, incurious or open to experience, agreeable or antagonistic, and conscientious or undirected. ~ Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate, p. 50


In either case genetics and neuroscience are showing that a heart of darkness cannot always be blamed on parents or society. ~ Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate, p. 51


A thoroughly noble anything is an unlikely product of natural selection, because in the competition among genes for representation in the next generation, noble guys tend to finish last. ~ Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate, p. 55


Love, will, and conscience are in the traditional job description for the soul and have always been placed in opposition to mere "biological" functions. If those faculties are "biological" too—that is, evolutionary adaptations implemented in the circuitry of the brain—then the ghost is left with even less to do and might as well be pensioned off for good. ~ Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate, p. 55


Chapter 4: Culture Vultures

A mind unequipped to discern other people's beliefs and intentions, even if it can learn in other ways, is incapable of the kind of learning that perpetuates culture. ~ Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate, p. 62


Social psychologists have amply documented that people have a powerful urge to do as their neighbors do. . . . But [they] point out that human conformity . . . has genuine rationale in social life—indeed, two rationales. The first is informational, the desire to benefit from other people's knowledge and judgment. . . . [the second is] normative, the desire to follow the norms of a community, whatever they are. ~ Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate, p. 63


[A] social fact depends entirely on the willingness of people to treat it as a fact. ~ Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate, p. 65


Political power grows out of a regime's ability to command the fear of enough people at the same time. ~ Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate, p. 65


. . . depends on seeing a culture as a product of human desires rather than as a shaper of them. ~ Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate, p. 69


Good reductionism (also called hierarchical reductionism) consists not of replacing one field of knowledge with another but of connecting or unifying them. ~ Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate, p. 70


What is the payoff of connecting the social and cultural levels of analysis to the psychological and biological ones? It is the thrill of discoveries that could never be made within the boundaries of a single discipline, such as universals of beauty, the logic of language, and the components of the moral sense. ~ Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate, p. 72


Our understanding of ourselves and our cultures can only be enriched by the discovery that our minds are composed of intricate neural circuits for thinking, feeling, and learning rather than blank slates, amorphous blobs, or inscrutable ghosts. ~ Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate, p. 72


Chapter 5: The Slate's Last Stand

I think we have reason to believe that the mind is equipped with a battery of emotions, drives, and faculties for reasoning and communicating, and that they have a common logic across cultures, are difficult to erase or redesign from scratch, were shaped by natural selection acting over the course of human evolution, and owe some of their basic design (and some of their variation) to information in the genome. ~ Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate, p. 73


The problem lies in the credo that one can do everything with a generic model as long as it is sufficiently trained. ~ Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate, p. 82


So there is no scientific question as to whether experience, learning, and practice affect the brain; they surely do if we are even vaguely on the right track. ~ Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate, p. 86


All this should be obvious, but nowadays, any banality about learning can be dressed up in neurospeak and treated like a great revelation of science. ~ Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate, p. 86


All learning affects the brain. It is undeniably exciting when scientists make a discovery about how learning affects the brain, but that does not make the learning itself any more pervasive or profound. ~ Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate, p. 87


A person's temperament and personality emerge early in life and remain fairly constant throughout the lifespan. ~ Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate, p. 102


Chapter 8: The Fear of Inequality

"Men's natures are alike; it is their habits that carry them far apart." ~ Confucius, as quoted in Steven Pinker's The Blank Slate, p. 142


People are qualitatively the same but may differ quantitatively. ~ Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate, p. 143


Any racist ideology that holds that the members of an ethnic group are all alike, or that one ethnic group differs fundamentally from another, is based on false assumptions about our biology. ~ Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate, p. 143


The case against bigotry is not a factual claim that humans are biologically indistinguishable. It is a moral stance that condemns judging an individual according to the average traits of certain groups to which the individual belongs. ~ Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate, p. 145


To predict someone's behavior perfectly we would need an X-ray machine for the soul. ~ Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate, p. 148


We have to decide on a case-by-case basis whether the discrimination is justifiable. ~ Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate, p. 148


A nonblank slate means that a tradeoff between freedom and material equality is inherent to all political systems. The major political philosophies can be defined by how they deal with the tradeoff. ~ Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate, p. 152


Psychologists have found that they can create instant intergroup hostility by sorting people on just about any pretext, including the flip of a coin. ~ Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate, p. 157


Chapter 16: Politics

When it comes to attitudes that are heritable, people react more quickly and emotionally, are less likely to change their minds, and are more attracted to like-minded people. ~ Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate, p. 283


Bands, clans, tribes, and other social groups are central to human existence and have been so for as long as we have been a species. ~ Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate, p. 285


Chapter 17: Violence

History has shown that plenty of healthy, rational people can bring themselves to injure others and destroy property because, tragically, an individual's interests sometimes are served by hurting others. . . . Conflicts of interest are inherent to the human condition. ~ Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate, p. 313


There are many reasons to believe that violence in humans is not literally a sickness or poisoning but part of our design. ~ Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate, p. 314


If the brain is equipped with strategies for violence, they are contingent strategies, connected to complicated circuitry that computes when and where they should be deployed. ~ Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate, p. 315


Most people today live their adult lives without ever pressing their violence buttons. ~ Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate, p. 316


Violence is a social a political problem, not just a biological and psychological one. ~ Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate, p. 317


Hobbes's analysis of the causes of violence, borne out by modern data on crime and war, shows that violence is not a primitive, irrational urge, nor is it a 'pathology' except in the metaphorical sense of a condition that everyone would like to eliminate. Instead, it is a near-inevitable outcome of the dynamics of self-interested, rational social organisms. ~ Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate, p. 329


With violence, as with so many other concerns, human nature is the problem, but human nature is also the solution. ~ Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate, p. 336


Chapter 18: Gender

There is, in fact, no incompatibility between the principles of feminism and the possibility that men and women are not psychologically identical. ~ Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate, p. 340


Many psychological traits relevant to the public sphere, such as general intelligence, are the same on average for men and women, and virtually all psychological traits may be found in varying degrees among the members of each sex. ~ Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate, p. 340


To ignore gender would be to ignore a major part of the human condition. ~ Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate, p. 340


The fear, of course, is that different implies unequal—that is the sexes differed in any way, then men would have to be better, or more dominant, or have all the fun. Nothing could be farther from biological thinking. ~ Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate, p. 343


Just because many sex differences are rooted in biology does not mean that one sex is superior, that the differences will emerge for all people in all circumstances, that discrimination against a person based on sex is justified, or that people should be coerced into doing things typical of their sex. ~ Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate, pp. 350-351


Males and females do not have interchangeable minds. ~ Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate, p. 351


In most professions, average differences in ability are irrelevant, but average differences in preferences may set the sexes on different paths. ~ Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate, p. 356


Since no one acquires the truth by divine revelation, we must also respect those who explore theories that may turn out to be incorrect. ~ Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate, p. 360


Chapter 19: Children

When it comes to genes, people suddenly lose their ability to distinguish 50 percent from 100 percent, "some" from "all," "affects" from "determines." ~ Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate, p. 378


Not to put too fine a point on it, but much of the advice from the parenting experts is flapdoodle. ~ Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate, p. 384


In almost every case, people model themselves after their peers, not their parents. ~ Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate, p. 390


Children are not just attracted to the norms of their peers; to some degree they are immune to the expectations of their parents. The theory of parent-offspring conflict predicts that parents do not always socialize a child in the child's best interests. ~ Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate, p. 390


Children do not spend their waking hours trying to become better and better approximations of adults. They strive to be better and better children, ones that function well in their own society. ~ Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate, p. 390


Perhaps our history of collisions and near misses explains what made us what we are. ~ Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate, p. 396


Random events can divert the trajectory of growth, but the trajectories are confined within an envelope of functioning designs for the species. ~ Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate, p. 397


The truth doesn't care about our hopes, and sometimes it can force us to revisit those hopes in a liberating way. ~ Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate, p. 398


Childrearing is above all an ethical responsibility. ~ Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate, p. 398


The fact that people can forget these simple truths when intellectualizing about children shows how far modern doctrines have taken us. They make it easy to think of children as lumps of putty to be shaped instead of partners in a human relationship. ~ Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate, p. 399


Chapter 20: The Arts

It's hard to recognize nascent art forms when they are on the rise, and by the time they are widely appreciated their best days are behind them. ~ Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate, p. 403


Art is in our nature—in the blood and in the bone, as people used to say; in the brain and in the genes, as we might say today. In all societies people dance, sing, decorate surfaces, and tell and act out stories.~ Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate, p. 404


In good works of art, these aesthetic elements are layered so that the whole is more than the sum of its parts. ~ Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate, p. 406


A compelling story may simulate juicy gossip about desirable or powerful people, put us in an exciting time or place, tickle our language instincts with well-chosen words, and teach us something new about the entanglements of families, politics, or love. ~ Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate, p. 406


The psychology of art is entangled with the psychology of esteem, with its appreciation of the rare, the sumptuous, the virtuosic, and the dazzling. ~ Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate, p. 412


Artists and critics have long believed that an appreciation of elite art is ennobling and have spoken of cultural philistines in tones ordinarily reserved for child molesters. ~ Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate, p. 415


The real medium of artists, whatever their genre, is human mental representations. ~ Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate, p. 417


Ultimately what draws us to a work of art is not just the sensory experience of the medium but its emotional content and insight into the human condition. And these tap into the timeless tragedies of our biological predicament: our mortality, our finite knowledge and wisdom, the differences among us, and our conflicts of interest with friends, neighbors, relatives, and lovers. ~ Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate, p. 418


 

 
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