The Foundation Walls that are Carried by the House: A Critique of the Poverty of Stimulus Thesis and a Wittgensteinian—Dennettian Alternative

Journal of Mind and Behavior 19 (2):177-194 (1998)

Wendy Lynne Lee
Bloomsburg University
A bedrock assumption made by cognitivist philosophers such as Noam Chomsky, and, more recently, Jerry Fodor and Steven Pinker is that the contexts within which children acquire a language inevitably exhibit a irremediable poverty of whatever stimuli are necessary to condition such acquisition and development. They argue that given this poverty, the basic rudiments of language must be innate; the task of the cognitivist is to theorize universal grammars, languages of thought, or language instincts to account for it. My argument, however, is that this assumption is philosophically suspect in that it assumes an untenably Cartesian conception of "stimulus" which itself presupposes a rigid dualism of subject-user and context and hence confuses the underdetermination of stimulus for its lack. I argue that the former does in fact provide the necessary conditions for language acquisition. I then go on to develop a Wittgensteinian—Dennettian model within which underdetermination plays a key role
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