Tabula Rasa

views updated May 23 2018


English philosopher John Locke (1632-1704) proposed that the mind of the newborn infant is a tabula rasa, or blank slate, on which experience writes. Although research on infant cognition has shown that this view is too extreme, some psychologists (known as empiricists) continue to believe that development is primarily a process of learning from the environment. Other psychologists (known as nativists) believe that knowledge emerges through a developmental process directed primarily by the genes.

Most contemporary psychologists, however, are interactionists. Rejecting the nativist/empiricist (or nature-nurture) dichotomy, interactionists argue that development is an ongoing interaction of genetic and environmental forces. Psychologists known as constructivists, moreover, acknowledging the interactive roles of genes and environment, add that the mind itself is an active agent in the construction of knowledge. Thus psychologists continue to debate how much knowledge we should attribute to the infant at birth and how development proceeds from there.

See also:INFANCY


Moshman, David. Adolescent Psychological Development: Rationality, Morality, and Identity. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, 1999.

Spelke, Elizabeth, and Elissa Newport. "Nativism, Empiricism, and the Development of Knowledge." In William Damon ed., Handbook of Child Psychology, 5th edition, Vol. 1:Theoretical Models of Human Development, edited by Richard Lerner. New York: Wiley, 1998.


tabula rasa

views updated May 11 2018

tabula rasa Also known as the blank-slate or white-paper thesis, a name for the radically empiricist view of the mind and knowledge which inspired so-called associationism in psychology. According to John Locke, the contents of the mind are written on it by experience as if it were white paper, a view comparable with modern behaviourist theories which try to account for mental processes as a product of external stimulus and behavioural response.

tabula rasa

views updated Jun 08 2018

tabula rasa.
1. Tablet from which the inscription is erased, ready to be written upon again.

2. Obliteration of history and collective memory.