The Concept of Tabula Rasa and Innatism and Free Will Essay

Paper Type:  Essay
Pages:  5
Wordcount:  1229 Words
Date:  2022-07-08

The philosophical concept of tabula rasa is a belief that the minds of children at birth resemble a blank slate and only gain character through their experiences. According to Duschinsky (2012), this concept is widely believed to have originated from John Locke's Essay Concerning Human Understanding but was advocated by numerous social scientists before Locke and after him in various forms. For example, Aristotle advocated this notion, stating that there are no innate ideas with which human beings come to earth and that they formulate all their ideas through their perceptions using the senses (Hill, 2010). Moreover, Duschinsky clarifies that the theory does not argue that the mind of the newborn is formless and chaste, rather he stipulates that our experiences shape the brain starting from infancy throughout our lives. On the other hand, a section of philosophers and social scientists believe in innatism, an idea that the human mind is formed by preconceived ideas that shape his perception of the world. According to Hill (2010), the concept of innatism traces its origins from Plato who held the belief that the mind is born with notions such as goodness, likeness, beauty, being, and parity. The concept of innateness is further supported by linguists who observe innateness in the manner of learning native languages as infants or later or in life. Without innate grammar, acquiring language would be difficult or next to impossible. Descartes proposed innate ideas as a sort of truth compass that directs the mind towards true perception (Duschinsky, 2012).

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While both concepts hold certain appeals and advocate some very valid points, the concept of tabula rasa caries the most weight. According to Plato (cited in Duschinsky, 2012), the innate notions the mind is created with include on goodness, beauty, being, and likeness among others. All arguments on innatism stipulate that the human mind comes equipped with some ideas or conceptions that ultimately influence the way we perceive the world. Tabula rasa, on the other hand, maintains that we form our experiences based on the events that shape our lives, beginning from infancy and holding all the way through adulthood and beyond (Hill, 2010). Since there is no way to test the origin of these preconceptions, the philosophy of tabula rasa holds more water, mostly because the inborn notions advanced in innatism could very easily be shaped by experiences of the person from their conception, through birth and infancy, and all through their lives. For example, a child conceived, born, and raised in America by Chinese parents would have no personal links to the motherland except for having ancestors from there. On a visit to China, that child will feel the link with ancestors, fostered through the concepts of family implanted in their mind from birth, rather than an innate link.

Between innatism and tabula rasa, the former most diminishes free will by promoting the idea that our perceptions of the world are decided for us long before we are born and become conscious of the world around us. The tabula rasa concept stipulates that the beliefs and character traits of each one of us have a foundation of our own experiences from birth, having no personal linkage to the past other than that in which we started existing (Johansson, 1991). The only way such aspects of our heritage as culture and even evolutional coding is through the early years of our existence when family and society implants these notions in our minds. Therefore, each one of us is free to form our own reality in life. On the other hand, innatism, in its suggestion that we are born with certain notions promotes stereotyping by race, cultural backgrounds, and other such grounds tends to compartmentalize people. According to Duschinsky (2012), innate beliefs are likely to develop based on ancestry and geographical placement, which suggests that people with similar backgrounds can be pigeonholed as having similar beliefs and conceptions about various aspects of life.

A time in my life when I felt that my free will was compromised was during Hurricane Harvey in 2017. As a Caucasian mother of two young children residing in Houston, Texas, I was forced to evacuate as a safety measure. My free will was compromised because I had to make the decision on whether to stay and risk m life or leave and be safe. The consideration was made all the more vital because I am responsible not just for my safety but for the safety of my two young children who could not make a decision for themselves. Society would judge harshly a decision by a mother of two young children to remain in an area where their lives would be at constant risk. As such, I had to leave the city and relocate to Dallas.

While survival during a hurricane depends on a myriad of factors, and while it is perfectly possible for one to remain safe while still being within the risk zone, tensions, and panic force people to look upon those unwilling to relocate with judgment and accusation. The compromise occurred in two ways, namely societal expectations of mothers to act in the best interests of their offspring, and the notion that evacuation is necessary for a disaster like Hurricane Harvey. The other, seeing as a mother is responsible for the safety of their children, meant that there were more considerations than just my preferences, such as the stability of living in my own space during a disaster. Moreover, a compulsory evacuation order was given by the administrators to minimize the risk of fatalities. Refusing to move would have been a direct contradiction of the law, which goes against my principles.

The outside forces included the hurricane, which was the main cause for concern on my safety, necessitating a decision on whether to relocate or stay put. Social norms and political directives played a part in forcing the decision, making it illegal to remain within the high-risk areas during the storm. With the notion that hurricanes could lead to massive loss of life imprinted in my mind from previous storms witnessed, moving was a decision I had to make based on my own reasoning, and I was of the opinion that there was no risk. However, municipal authorities, government directives, and societal expectations of human conduct, especially the actions of young mothers in situations like the one I was in, forced my evacuation.


When encountering a conflict between personal goals and societal norms, it is important to consider that societal norms are simply a set of behaviors followed by people in the same environments based on established precedents in different situations. Personal goals and feelings should be important in making a decision on what to do, but one should be more understanding of societal norms. Self-preservation is a finely tuned evolutionary characteristic of the human species, and in most cases, it is exhibited in societal norms. Johansson (1991) agrees that a person whose self-preservation tendencies are not in tandem with popular beliefs should be concerned for their safety. People should be willing to reconsider when their feelings and goals are against societal norms, to determine if their unique line of reasoning is grounded in reasoning or it is necessary to change their perspective.


Duschinsky, R. (2012). Tabula Rasa and human nature. Philosophy, 87(04), 509-529, DOI: 10.1017/S0031819112000393

Hill, J. (2010). The synthesis of empiricism and innatism in Berkeley's doctrine of notions. Berkeley Studies, 21(1), 3-15

Johansson, S. (1991). Universal grammar and the innateness hypothesis.

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