What's Within?: Nativism Reconsidered / Edition 1

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Overview

This powerfully iconoclastic book reconsiders the influential nativist position toward the mind. Nativists assert that some concepts, beliefs, or capacities are innate or inborn: "native" to the mind rather than acquired. Fiona Cowie argues that this view is mistaken, demonstrating that nativism is an unstable amalgam of two quite different—and probably inconsistent—theses about the mind.

Unlike empiricists, who postulate domain-neutral learning strategies, nativists insist that some learning tasks require special kinds of skills, and that these skills are hard-wired into our brains at birth. This "faculties hypothesis" finds its modern expression in the views of Noam Chomsky. Cowie, marshaling recent empirical evidence from developmental psychology, psycholinguistics, computer science, and linguistics, provides a crisp and timely critique of Chomsky's nativism and defends in its place a moderately nativist approach to language acquisition.

Also in contrast to empiricists, who view the mind as simply another natural phenomenon susceptible of scientific explanation, nativists suspect that the mental is inelectably mysterious. Cowie addresses this second strand in nativist thought, taking on the view articulated by Jerry Fodor and other nativists that learning, particularly concept acquisition, is a fundamentally inexplicable process. Cowie challenges this explanatory pessimism, and argues convincingly that concept acquisition is psychologically explicable. What's Within? is a clear and provocative achievement in the study of the human mind.

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Editorial Reviews

Georges Rey
Cowie's writing is so unusually clear that novices could well acquire a good appreciation of many of the mafor issues involved...The book is a good read. It's efforts at iconoclasm cast the issues in a vivid light, even if they also make one appreciate with just how much wisdom many of the icons were iriginally conceived.
The Times Literary Supplement
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195159783
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 1/28/2003
  • Series: Philosophy of Mind Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 352
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Fiona Cowie is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the California Institute of Technology. Born in Sydney, Australia, she received her Ph.D. in philosophy from Princeton University in 1994.

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Table of Contents

Pt. I The Historical Debate
1 What Nativism Is Not 3
2 What Nativism Is: I. The Hypothesis of Special Faculties 27
3 What Nativism Is: II. The Mystery Hypothesis 49
Pt. II Concept Acquisition: Problem or Mystery?
4 The Case Against Empiricism 69
5 The Constitution Hypothesis 91
6 Prospects for a Psychology of Concept Acquisition 112
Pt. III The Fate of the Faculties Hypothesis
7 Language-Learning: From Behaviorism to Nativism 151
8 The Poverty of the Stimulus 176
9 The Logical Problem of Language Acquisition 204
10 The Role of Universal Grammar in Language-Learning 238
11 Will the Evidence for Linguistic Nativisim Please Stand Up? S
Conclusion 309
Bibliography 313
Index 331
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