Steven Gross and Georges Rey

in The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Cognitive Science

Published in print January 2012 | ISBN: 9780195309799
Published online May 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks


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The article describes to what extent the structures and contents of the mind are innate, and to what extent they are learned or otherwise acquired from the environment. Aristotle argued that all ideas are derived from experience by a causal process in which forms (or properties of things) in the external world are transmitted into the mind. John Locke insisted that the simple ideas are derived from sensation, and all other ideas are constructed from the simple ones by the mental operations of compounding, comparing, and abstracting. Sober emphasized that there is no common currency with which to compare the relative contributions of genes and environment and suggested that biological determinants do not in general decompose into amounts of genetic versus nongenetic force. Sober suggested that there might not be a single specification of relevant environments and one might need to fix the range pragmatically as it varies with explanatory interests. Ariew suggested that what matters for innateness is whether a trait's emergence is sensitive to certain specific kinds of environmental factors, where the relevant factors can vary with the trait in question and indeed with one's explanatory interest. Fodor's initial agument for the innateness of concepts was quite simple. He pointed out that standard accounts of learning a trait it as a process of hypothesis confirmation.

Keywords: conceptual innateness; invariance; canalization; innate traits; primitivism; learning

Article.  20875 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy ; Philosophy of Mind

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