Noam Chomsky's Poverty of the Stimulus Argument is one of the most famous and controversial arguments in the study of language and the mind. Though widely endorsed by linguists, the argument has met with much resistance in philosophy. Unfortunately, philosophical critics have often failed to fully appreciate the power of the argument. In this paper, we provide a systematic presentation of the Poverty of the Stimulus Argument, clarifying its structure, content, and evidential base. We defend the argument against (...) a variety of philosophical criticisms, new and old, and argue that the Poverty of the Stimulus Argument continues to deserve its guiding role in the study of language and the mind. (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)
We can find no place in psychology for the concept of stimulus as a physical agent to which an individual responds in a psychological manner. Moreover, we can find no place for sensation and image when considered as simple mental elements. We would also purge ...
In this paper it is argued that certain stimulus-response learning models which are adequate to represent finite automata (acceptors) are not adequate to represent noninitial state input-output automata (transducers). This circumstance suggests the question whether or not the behavior of animals if satisfactorily modelled by automata is predictive. It is argued in partial answer that there are automata which can be explained in the sense that their transition and output functions can be described (roughly, Hempel-type covering law explanation) while (...) their behaviors are in principle not predictable short of possession of their complete histories or of information concerning present internal states by indirect observation. (shrink)
The ability to understand the relation between quantities has been documented in a wide range of species. Such quantity discrimination competences are commonly demonstrated by a choice of the larger quantity or numerosity in a two-choice task. However, despite their overall success, many subjects commit a surprisingly large number of errors even in simple discriminations such as 1 vs. 3. Recently, it had been suggested that this is a result of the testing procedure. When monkeys could choose between different quantities (...) of edible rewards, they showed low-level success. If, however, they chose between inedible items and were rewarded with edible items, their performance increased. The same held true if they choose between edible items but were rewarded with other edible items (Schmitt & Fischer, 2011, Nat. Comm., 2, 257). This led to the suggestion that the monkeys may not have been able to mentally separate between choice- and reward-stimuli in the initial test situation. To investigate if this response pattern can also be found in non-primate species, we replicated the experiment with 12 Icelandic horses kept at a private horse-riding school. Horses are known to discriminate between quantities up to three, but are only very distantly related to primates. Unexpectedly, we found only weak evidence for quantity discrimination skills and no effect of the type of stimuli. Only some subjects reliably selected the larger quantity in some, but not all quantity pairs. These findings are not only in contrast to the previously conducted study on monkeys, but also to other studies on horses. From this, we conclude that quantity discrimination competence may only be of minor importance for horses and highlight the influence of experimental conditions on the outcome of cognitive tests. (shrink)