Arguments from the Logical Problem of Language Acquisition suggest that since linguistic experience provides few negative data that would falsify overgeneral grammatical hypotheses, innate knowledge of the principles of Universal Grammar must constrain learners hypothesis formulation. Although this argument indicates a need for domain-specific constraints, it does not support their innateness. Learning from mostly positive data proceeds unproblematically in virtually all domains. Since not every domain can plausibly be accorded its own special faculty, the probative value of the argument in (...) the linguistic case is dubious. In ignoring the holistic and probablistic nature of theory construction, the argument underestimates the extent to which positive data can supply negative evidence and hence overestimates the intractability of language learning in the absence of a dedicated faculty. While nativism about language remains compelling, the alleged Logical Problem contributes nothing to its plausibility and the emphasis on the Problem in the recent acquisition literature has been a mistake. (shrink)
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. (shrink)
The Architecture of Mind is an ambitious and informative work, surveying an impressive range of empirical literature and arguing that the mind is massively modular. However, it suffers from two major theoretical flaws. First, Carruthers’ concept of a module is weak, so much so that it robs his thesis of massive modularity of any real substance. Second, his conception of how the mind’s modules evolved ignores the role of niche construction and cultural evolution to its detriment.
Hurford's discussion also vindicates the classical empiricist program in semantics. The idea that PREDICATE(x) is the logical form of the sensory representations encoded via the dorsal and ventral streams validates empiricists' insistence on the psychological primacy of sense data, which have the same form. In addition to knowing the logical form of our primitive representations, however, we need accounts of (1) their contents and (2) how more complex thoughts are derived from them. Ideally, our semantic vocabulary would both reflect the (...) psychological “primitiveness” of these representations and make clear how more complex representations derive from them. (shrink)
It is often thought that the correct metaphysics and epistemology of reasons will be broadly unified across different kinds of reason: reasons for belief, and reasons for action. This approach is sometimes thought to be undermined by the contrasting natures of belief and of action: whereas belief appears to have the ‘constitutive aim’ of truth (or knowledge), action does not appear to have any such constitutive aim. I develop this disanalogy into a novel challenge to metanormative approaches by thinking about (...) disagreement. The constitutive aim of belief can play a role in adjudicating epistemic disagreements for which there is no analogue in practical disagreements. Consequently, we have more reason, all else being equal, to expect convergence in epistemic judgment than in practical judgment. This represents a prima facie challenge to the metanormative theorist because the extent of (suitably specified) disagreement in an area of thought is of prima facie significance for the metaphysics of that area of thought. (shrink)
My paper defends the use of the poverty of stimulus argument (POSA) for linguistic nativism against Cowie's (1999) counter-claim that it leaves empiricism untouched. I first present the linguistic POSA as arising from a reflection on the generality of the child's initial state in comparison with the specific complexity of its final state. I then show that Cowie misconstrues the POSA as a direct argument about the character of the pld. In this light, I first argue that the (...) data Cowie marshals about the pld does not begin to suggest that the POSA is unsound. Second, through a discussion of the so-called `auxiliary inversion rule', I show, by way of diagnosis, that Cowie misunderstands both the methodology of current linguistics and the complexity of the data it is obliged to explain. (shrink)
I started with no goal more ambitious than a critical discussion of Fiona Cowieâ€™s new book about innateness; it seemed to me that her arguments, unless refuted in detail, were likely to affront some or other abstract entity whose cause I favor: The Good, The True, The Beautiful; whatever. But there were so many things that the book struck me as being wrong about that the proposed critique became, in effect, an explication of the kind of nativism I think a (...) rationalist in cognitive psychology should endorse. And the more of that I came to explicate, the more digressions and elaborations suggested themselves. And elaborations of the digressions. And digressions from the elaborations. (shrink)
Ford’s <span class='Hi'>Helen</span> <span class='Hi'>Keller</span> Was Never in a Chinese Room claims that my argument in How <span class='Hi'>Helen</span> <span class='Hi'>Keller</span> Used Syntactic Semantics to Escape from a Chinese Room fails because Searle and I use the terms ‘syntax’ and ‘semantics’ differently, hence are at cross purposes. Ford has misunderstood me; this reply clarifies my theory.
A computer can come to understand natural language the same way HelenKeller did: by using “syntactic semantics”—a theory of how syntax can suffice for semantics, i.e., how semantics for natural language can be provided by means of computational symbol manipulation. This essay considers real-life approximations of Chinese Rooms, focusing on HelenKeller’s experiences growing up deaf and blind, locked in a sort of Chinese Room yet learning how to communicate with the outside world. Using the (...) SNePS computational knowledge-representation system, the essay analyzes Keller’s belief that learning that “everything has a name” was the key to her success, enabling her to “partition” her mental concepts into mental representations of: words, objects, and the naming relations between them. It next looks at Herbert Terrace’s theory of naming, which is akin to Keller’s, and which only humans are supposed to be capable of. The essay suggests that computers at least, and perhaps non-human primates, are also capable of this kind of naming. (shrink)
William Rapaport, in How Helen Keller used syntactic semantics to escape from a Chinese Room, (Rapaport 2006), argues that Helen Keller was in a sort of Chinese Room, and that her subsequent development of natural language fluency illustrates the flaws in Searle’s famous Chinese Room Argument and provides a method for developing computers that have genuine semantics (and intentionality). I contend that his argument fails. In setting the problem, Rapaport uses his own preferred definitions of semantics and syntax, (...) but he does not translate Searle’s Chinese Room argument into that idiom before attacking it. Once the Chinese Room is translated into Rapaport’s idiom (in a manner that preserves the distinction between meaningful representations and uninterpreted symbols), I demonstrate how Rapaport’s argument fails to defeat the CRA. This failure brings a crucial element of the Chinese Room Argument to the fore: the person in the Chinese Room is prevented from connecting the Chinese symbols to his/her own meaningful experiences and memories. This issue must be addressed before any victory over the CRA is announced. (shrink)
This paper argues that two of my critics (Cowie and Wilson) have become fixated on Fodor’s notion of modularity, both to their own detriment and to the detriment of their understanding of Carruthers, 2006. The paper then focuses on the supposed inadequacies of the latter’s explanations of both content flexibility and human uniqueness, alleged by Machery and Cowie respectively.
Plato, in his dialog Charmides, presents the question of how society can determine whether a person who claims superior expertise in a particular field of knowledge does, in fact, possess superior expertise. In the modern era, society tends to answer this question by funding institutions (universities) that award credentials to certain individuals, asserting that those individuals possess a particular expertise; and then other institutions (the journalistic media and government) are expected to defer to the credentials. When, however, the sequential reasoning (...) and theorizing and conclusion-stating of generation after generation of credential-bearing experts (i.e., scientists) leads to the assertion of the truth of statements that large segments of society find to be in conflict with the statements of persons who have earned credentials of expertise bestowed by an alternative institutional structure (i.e., religious teachers), representatives of the people are put to a choice. And when the conflicting statements present substantial implications for the moral and sexual behavior of people in the society, addressing the conflict brings into play not only the highest intellectual speculations and analyses, but also the most animal emotions and motivations. This paper, taking the form of a dialog, presents a scientist (Avram Codosia) named after an ancient Jewish patriarch and makes him a supplicant to a U.S. Senator (Helen Astartian) named after a pagan goddess. The stakes turn out to be not merely financial and intellectual, but personal and moral, involving the scientist's son (Isaac), an art student, and the senator's niece (Halia), a philosophy student. In a four-phase encounter, the paper hopes to offer some innovative observations on age-old issues and to stimulate productive new thinking on questions that too often seem to be debated by means of repetitions of the same old points. (shrink)
Nature's experiments in isolation—the wild boy of Aveyron, Genie, their name is hardly legion—are by their nature illusive. HelenKeller, blind and deaf from her 18th month and isolated from language until well into her sixth year, presents a unique case in that every stage in her development was carefully recorded and she herself, graduate of Radcliffe College and author of 14 books, gave several careful and insightful accounts of her linguistic development and her cognitive and sensory situation. (...) Perhaps because she is masked, and enshrined, in William Gibson's mythic and false Miracle worker , cognitive scientists have yet to come to terms with this richly enlightening, albeit anecdotal, resource. (shrink)
In this paper, I examine a new line of response to Frankfurt’s challenge to the traditional association of moral responsibility with the ability to do otherwise. According to this response, Frankfurt’s counterexample strategy fails, not in light of the conditions for moral responsibility per se, but in view of the conditions for action. Specifically, it is claimed, a piece of behavior counts as an action only if it is within the agent’s power to avoid performing it. In so far as (...) Frankfurt’s challenge presupposes that actions can be unavoidable, this view of action seems to bring his challenge up short. Helen Steward and Maria Alvarez have independently proposed versions of this response. Here I argue that this response is unavailable to Frankfurt’s incompatibilist opponents. This becomes evident when we put this question to its proponents: “Are actions that originate deterministically ipso facto unavoidable?” If they answer “yes,” they encounter one horn of a dilemma. If they answer “no,” they encounter the other horn. Since no one has a clearer stake in meeting Frankfurt’s challenge than these theorists do, it is significant that the Steward-Alvarez response is unavailable to them. (shrink)
Helen Beebee has recently argued that David Lewis’s account of compatibilism, so-called local miracle compatibilism (LMC), allows for the possibility that agents in deterministic worlds have the ability to break or cause the breaking of a law of nature. Because Lewis’s LMC allows for this consequence, Beebee claims that LMC is untenable and subsequently that Lewis’s criticism of van Inwagen’s Consequence Argument for incompatibilism is substantially weakened. I review Beebee’s argument against Lewis’s thesis and argue that Beebee has (...) not refuted LMC and concomitantly has not demonstrated that Lewis’s criticism of the Consequence Argument fails. (shrink)
: A central claim of Longino's contextual empiricism is that scientific inquiry, even when "properly conducted", lacks the capacity to screen out the influence of contextual values on its results. I'll show first that Longino's attack against the epistemic integrity of science suffers from fatal empirical weaknesses. Second I'll explain why Longino's practical proposition for suppressing biases in science, drawn from her contextual empiricism, is too demanding and, therefore, unable to serve its purpose. Finally, drawing on Bourdieu's sociological analysis of (...) scientific communities, I'll sketch an alternative view of scientific practice reconciling a thoroughly social view of science (such as Longino's) with a defense of its epistemic integrity. (shrink)