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The term tabula rasa can be traced back to its Latin roots which literally translate to “erased slate” or “blank slate”. The Roman “tabula” refers to the wax tablet used in making notes. The process involved heating the wax on the tablet and then smoothing it out to make it blank or a tabula rasa. The idea of Tabula rasa was largely popularized in the 17th century by the English philosopher, John Locke in “An Essay Concerning Human Understanding” where he talks of the free will of the individual to shape his personality.
The idea of the Tabula Rasa can be traced back to the Aristotle’ s writings which talks of the notion of the unscribed tablet. Later after nearly 1,000 years the concept of tabula rasa was clearly developed in the eleventh century by Ibn Sina. the Islamic philosopher known in the Western world by the name of “Avicenna”. He formulated the theory that human intellect is like tabula rasa at birth and knowledge is acquired through education. Later the novelist and philosopher Ibn Tufail demonstrated the concept of tabula rasa in the 12th century, in his novel Hayy ibn Yaqzan. He depicted how the mind of a child in a tabula rasa state develops to an adult state only through experience, on a desert island far from human society.
John Locke was an English thinker and philosopher, known widely as the “Father of Liberalism”. Locke was the pioneer in his views on the working of the mind and self. He was the first one to postulate in the 17th century, that the mind was a tabula rasa or blank state. The idea was that man is born with an empty mind or in other words, without any innate ideas and in the course of time, acquires knowledge through experience. Most of the ideas that shape a person’s mind is derived from reflections and sensations in his environment. Locke defined the self as “that conscious thinking thing”
According to the Epistemological theory, humans are born without any innate knowledge and a mind that is empty or tabula rasa. Empiricists believe that individuals fill up the blank slate of the mind with knowledge acquired through experience. In keeping with the empirical beliefs, in the “nature versus nurture” argument. the importance is given to the nurture aspect in influencing one’s personality traits, intelligence and other behaviors. Interestingly, many writers of the 18th century Romantic era favored the Platonic concept of the soul already existing in heaven before descending on earth and ignored the theory of tabula rasa. However during the end of 19th century Freud subscribed to the theory of tabula rasa stating that human behavior is largely the result of nurturing experiences.