Innateness

Abstract
As Paul Griffiths [2002] puts it, “innateness” is associated with different clusters of related ideas where each cluster depends on different historical, cultural and intellectual contexts. In psychology innateness is typically opposed to learning while the biological opposite of innate is ‘acquired’. ‘Acquired’ and ‘learned’ have different extensions. Learning is one way to acquire a character but there are others. Cuts and scratches are unlearned yet acquired; if we could acquire languages by popping a pill, then languages would be unlearned yet acquired according to the wide biological application of the term [Sober, 1998]. Further, in psychology and philosophy innateness is often associated with both “universality” (or species-specificity), and, relatedely, innate traits are often thought to be “fixed” or “unmodifiable”. But, biologists recognize a range of developmental patterns that a specific trait may take. Some are universal, but others are not, as in the case of innate diseases. Some are “fixed” in the sense that once we develop them we have them for the rest of our lives; some innate diseases are like this, but others, are modifiable. Sober [1998] cites a case of an Egyptian vulture that when first confronted with an ostrich egg and a stone, will break the egg with the stone, but if the vulture repeatedly comes to find broken eggs to be empty, it will eventually stop breaking eggs. These examples lend support to Griffiths’s thesis, since the concept of innateness in psychology appears to be in several ways distinct from the concept of innateness in biology.
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Daniel A. Weiskopf (2008). The Origins of Concepts. Philosophical Studies 140 (3):359 - 384.
Jonathan Birch (2009). Irretrievably Confused? Innateness in Explanatory Context. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C 40 (4):296-301.
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