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Tabula rasa: Blank Slate or Innatism?

First off, it is expected of every human to possess innate ability and knowledge. However, some consider a child’s mind to be empty, that is,…

First off, it is expected of every human to possess innate ability and knowledge. However, some consider a child’s mind to be empty, that is, it is without innate knowledge at birth. So, the mind is said to be without any knowledge or ideas; a child derives his/her mental lexicon from experience. It is important to note that a child’s mind has ideas, knowledge, and perception because he/she does not only build his/her mental knowledge through experiences.

Further, on the one hand, tabula rasa, a Latin word that compares the mind of a child to a blank slate, is a theory that claims individuals are born without built-in mental content, and therefore all knowledge comes from experience or perception. 

Moving, the doctrine of innatism has it that human has in-built content. This doctrine opposes the “blank slate” theory. The philosophers, Plato and René Descartes posited that innate knowledge is born in every human, and this knowledge makes up their mental content. Also, they agreed that humans possess some knowledge through experiences they acquire from their personal and social life. But all humans have the inborn ability to do things because of their innate knowledge.

A child gradually attempts to talk by blabbing first. The attempt by the child is simply triggered by his/her innate ability. Such a child also attempts to walk by crawling first. The ability to walk and crawl at an early stage is not learned by the child through experiences. Therefore, this doctrine supports and subscribes to the concept of nature rather than nurture.

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In contrast, tabula rasa — the theory of blank slate — accentuates that the human mind is without innate knowledge. The human mind is built and developed through experiences. It is the antithesis of innatism. John Locke in his essay ‘Human Understanding’ stated that “tabula rasa” meant the mind of an individual was born ‘blank’. It emphasized the fact that individuals have the freedom to author their lives because the rules on how to live are processed by their sensory experiences. 

In sum, tabula rasa and innatism distinguish between the concepts of nature and nurture. Tabula rasa is important to shaping a child. Educators could adopt this theory to aid the learning process of children.

Gbewa Segbenu wrote in from the Department of English, Lagos State University, Ojo

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