Journal Article

Mad Dog Nativism

Fiona Cowie

in The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science

Published on behalf of British Society for the Philosophy of Science

Volume 49, issue 2, pages 227-252
Published in print June 1998 | ISSN: 0007-0882
Published online June 1998 | e-ISSN: 1464-3537 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/bjps/49.2.227
Mad Dog Nativism

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In his recent book, Concepts: Where Cognitive Science Went Wrong, Jerry Fodor retracts the radical concept-nativism he once defended. Yet that postion stood, virtually unchallenged, for more than twenty years. This neglect is puzzling, as Fodor's arguments against concepts being learnable from experience remain unanswered, and nativism has historically been taken very seriously as a response to empiricism's perceived shortcomings. In this paper, I urge that Fodorean nativism should indeed be rejected. I argue, however, that its deficiencies are not so obvious that they can simply be taken for granted. Fodor can counter extant objections by stressing two distinctions: between historicist and counterfactual semantic theories and between explaining reference and explaining concept-acquisition. But, I argue, this victory is pyrrhic. Reformulated as objections to his account qua theory of concept-acquisition, and not qua theory of reference, analogous difficulties are fatal to the Fodorean position.

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Subjects: Philosophy of Science ; Science and Mathematics

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