Philosophy Compass 13 (5):e12492 (2018)

Authors
Stefan Linquist
University of Guelph
Abstract
It is widely recognized that the innate versus acquired distinction is a false dichotomy. Yet many scientists continue to describe certain traits as “innate” and take this to imply that those traits are not acquired, or “unlearned.” This article asks what cognitive role, if any, the concept of innateness should play in the psychological and behavioural sciences. I consider three arguments for eliminating innateness from scientific discourse. First, the classification of a trait as innate is thought to discourage empirical research into its developmental origin. Second, this concept lumps together a number of different biological properties that ought to be treated as distinct. Third, innateness is associated with the outmoded folk biological theory of essentialism. In response to these objections, I consider two attempts to revise the concept of innateness which aim to make it more suitable for scientific explanation and research. One proposal is that innateness can be defined in terms of the biological property of environmental canalization. On this view, a trait is innate to the extent that it is developmentally buffered against a range of different environments. Another proposal is that innateness serves as an explanatory primitive for cognitive science. This view holds that there exist a sharp boundary between psychological and biological explanations and that to identify a trait as innate means that it falls into the latter explanatory domain. This essay ends with some questions for future research.
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DOI 10.1111/phc3.12492
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Special Sciences.Jerry A. Fodor - 1974 - Synthese 28 (2):97-115.
The Art Instinct: Beauty, Pleasure, and Human Evolution.Mara Miller - 2009 - Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 67 (3):333-336.

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