I’m currently reading Steven Pinker’s The Blank Slate – recently published in paperback. Even though I’m only a fraction of the way through it, I can already recommend it. Part of me is prejudiced, of course. During the time I was failing to complete my doctorate, I spent a lot of time working with Freud. Many people are rightly suspicous of Freud – I would argue that you can’t employ his work effectively if you are not suspicious. You have be prepared to investigate some of the cultural baggage of his period and to be aware of some of the science and philosophy that has emerged since he died. But whether you’re suspicious or not – I asserted then and I still assert now that there is more value in having an explicit model of the mind to play with than to generate a fresh bastardisation on the fly every time you approach a problem which involves human agency. I suppose that’s why I’m quite keen on this quote:
“The interplay of mental systems can explain how people can entertain revenge fantasies that they never act on, or can commit adultery only in their hearts. In this way the theory of human nature coming out of the cognitive revolution has more in common with the Judeo-Christian theory of human nature, and with the psychoanalytic theory proposed by Sigmund Freud, than with behaviorism, social constructionism, and other versions of the Blank Slate. 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.”
If I get a chance later I’ll stick up a reaction paper I gave internally at Bristol University years ago about Haydn White’s The Content of the Form. It’s related. Honest.