Innateness is canalization: In defense of a developmental account of innateness

In Philosophy of Science. MIT Press, Cambridge, MA. pp. S19-S27 (1999)

Abstract

Lorenz proposed in his (1935) articulation of a theory of behavioral instincts that the objective of ethology is to distinguish behaviors that are “innate” from behaviors that are “learned” (or “acquired”). Lorenz’s motive was to open the investigation of certain “adaptive” behaviors to evolutionary theorizing. Accordingly, since innate behaviors are “genetic”, they are open to such investigation. By Lorenz’s light an innate/acquired or learned dichotomy rested on a familiar Darwinian distinction between genes and environments. Ever since Lorenz, ascriptions of innateness have become widespread in the cognitive, behavioral, and biological sciences. The trend continues despite decades of strong arguments that show, in particular, the dichotomy that Lorenz invoked in his theory of behavioral instincts is literally false: no biological trait is the product of genes alone. Some critics suggest that the failure of Lorenz’s account shows that innateness is not well-defined in biology and the practice of ascribing innateness to various biological traits should be dropped from respectable science. Elsewhere (Ariew 1996) I argued that despite the arguments of critics, there really is a biological phenomenon underlying the concept of innateness. On my view, innateness is best understood in terms of C.H. Waddington’s concept of “canalization”, i.e. the degree to which a trait is innate is the degree to which its developmental outcome is canalized. The degree to which a developmental outcome is canalized is the degree to which the developmental process is bound to produce a particular endstate despite environmental fluctuations both in the development’s initial state and during the course of development. The canalization account differs in many ways to the traditional ways that ethologists such as Konrad Lorenz originally understood the concept of innateness. Most importantly, on the canalization account the distinction between innate and acquired is not a dichotomy, as Konrad Lorenz had it, but rather a matter of degree difference that lies along a spectrum with highly canalized development outcomes on the one end and highly environmentally sensitive development outcomes on the other end. Nevertheless, I justified the canalization account on the basis of a set of desiderata or criteria that I suggested falls-out of what seemed uncontroversial about Lorenz’s account of innateness (briefly): innateness is a property of a developing individual, innateness denotes environmental stability, and innate-ascriptions are useful in certain natural selection explanations (more below). From that same set of desiderata I argued (in my 1996) that neither the concept of heritability nor of norms of reactions—two concepts from population genetics—suffice to ground innateness. In this essay, I wish to provide further support of the canalization account in two ways. First, I wish to better motivate the desiderata by revisiting a debate between Konrad Lorenz and Daniel Lehrman over the meaning and explanatory usefulness of innate ascriptions in ethology. Second, I wish to compare my canalization account of innateness with accounts proposed by contemporary philosophers, one by Stephen Stich (1975), another by Elliott Sober (forthcoming), and a third by William Wimsatt (1986).

Download options

PhilArchive



    Upload a copy of this work     Papers currently archived: 72,660

External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server

Through your library

Analytics

Added to PP
2009-01-28

Downloads
239 (#48,123)

6 months
2 (#259,908)

Historical graph of downloads
How can I increase my downloads?

Similar books and articles

The Resurrection of Innateness.James Maclaurin - 2002 - The Monist 85 (1):105-130.
Irretrievably Confused? Innateness in Explanatory Context.Jonathan Birch - 2009 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 40 (4):296-301.
Innateness as an Explanatory Concept.David Wendler - 1996 - Biology and Philosophy 11 (1):89-116.
Nativism: In Defense of a Biological Understanding.John M. Collins - 2005 - Philosophical Psychology 18 (2):157-177.

Author's Profile

Ariew Andre
University of Missouri, Columbia

References found in this work

No references found.

Add more references

Citations of this work

Inference to the Best Explanation.Peter Lipton - 2004 - In Martin Curd & Stathis Psillos (eds.), The Routledge Companion to Philosophy of Science. Routledge. pp. 193.
What is Innateness?Paul E. Griffiths - 2001 - The Monist 85 (1):70-85.
Innateness and the Sciences.Matteo Mameli & Patrick Bateson - 2006 - Biology and Philosophy 21 (2):155-188.
Sensitive and Insensitive Causation.James Woodward - 2006 - Philosophical Review 115 (1):1-50.

View all 51 citations / Add more citations