John Locke Was Wrong

Babies are not Blank

John Locke, (1632-1704) is said to have been a very influential philosopher, respected in his own time and in ours, since he had a large influence on Thomas Jefferson and we like what Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence.

Babies as Blank Slates

One of the things John Locke said that was influential was that human beings are born tabula rasa, or blank slates, and society writes on these slates. This idea had profound influence on educational theory in our country. But it’s wrong. Human babies may be born tabula magna, or great big slates for society to write on, but they aren’t born blank.

Bad Philosophy Behind Educational System

Where did Locke get this idea that was used to implement so many U.S. educational programs? He got it from an Islamic philosophical novel Hayy ibn Yaqzan by Ibn Tufail. In the novel, the author imagines a feral child growing up alone on a desert island and learning all he needs to know from experience alone. This idea is grounded in a bias toward empiricism (knowledge comes only from experience.)

Western Male Philosophers

This, of course, is fairy tale bull-feces. I’ve noticed that almost all philosophers, who have so profoundly influenced us with their ideas, are 1). male 2). gentry. They are isolated from real life for the most part, by their financial independence. They have a patron, or their own inheritance to live on, and so have free time to philosophize. They are male because women do not have the brain power to philosophize, and they should be busy in the kitchen anyway. I imagine them announcing, “Keep the kids quiet, I’m going to the study now to think deep thoughts.”

Humans are Social Creatures

If Locke was a mommy, he would know that babies cannot possibly grow up alone. A baby must find a breast and suck or they will be tabula nada in short order ( I made that one up.) Feral children do not develop into happy savages apart from human “interference.” Feral children are pretty much a tragic mess. A baby seeks out human faces and shows preference for a proper face over a face with eyes on the bottom, for example. How? They’ve never seen a face before.

Human Universals

How is it that human universals exist, across all times and cultures? Donald E. Brown , an anthropologist, has discovered over 200 universal human traits. Since they are universal, and not the result of any particular culture, it is reasonable to say that we are born with them, or more accurately with the tendency toward them.

Human Connectedness

I am encouraged by human universals because I have a bias toward connectedness. I believe we are not only connected to each other, but ultimately, to the universe. What we do affects us first, then those close to us, then our extended family and friends, and on and on. Babies must grown up connected, first to mommy’s breast, then to the rest of the family, then on and on.

I realize that I am approaching this subject in this way partly because I’m a female. But I say it’s about time we heard something from the other half of the population of the planet. Now if I could just find a patron, so I could retire to the study to think deep thoughts.

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