Only human beings have a rich conceptual repertoire with concepts like tort, entropy, Abelian group, mannerism, icon and deconstruction. How have humans constructed these concepts? And once they have been constructed by adults, how do children acquire them? While primarily focusing on the second question, in The Origin of Concepts , Susan Carey shows that the answers to both overlap substantially. Carey begins by characterizing the innate starting point for conceptual development, namely systems of core cognition. Representations of core cognition (...) are the output of dedicated input analyzers, as with perceptual representations, but these core representations differ from perceptual representations in having more abstract contents and richer functional roles. Carey argues that the key to understanding cognitive development lies in recognizing conceptual discontinuities in which new representational systems emerge that have more expressive power than core cognition and are also incommensurate with core cognition and other earlier representational systems. Finally, Carey fleshes out Quinian bootstrapping, a learning mechanism that has been repeatedly sketched in the literature on the history and philosophy of science. She demonstrates that Quinian bootstrapping is a major mechanism in the construction of new representational resources over the course of childrens cognitive development. Carey shows how developmental cognitive science resolves aspects of long-standing philosophical debates about the existence, nature, content, and format of innate knowledge. She also shows that understanding the processes of conceptual development in children illuminates the historical process by which concepts are constructed, and transforms the way we think about philosophical problems about the nature of concepts and the relations between language and thought. (shrink)
A theory of conceptual development must specify the innate representational primitives, must characterize the ways in which the initial state differs from the adult state, and must characterize the processes through which one is transformed into the other. The Origin of Concepts (henceforth TOOC) defends three theses. With respect to the initial state, the innate stock of primitives is not limited to sensory, perceptual, or sensorimotor representations; rather, there are also innate conceptual representations. With respect to developmental change, conceptual development (...) consists of episodes of qualitative change, resulting in systems of representation that are more powerful than, and sometimes incommensurable with, those from which they are built. With respect to a learning mechanism that achieves conceptual discontinuity, I offer Quinian bootstrapping. TOOC concludes with a discussion of how an understanding of conceptual development constrains a theory of concepts. (shrink)
Teleological explanations (TEs) account for the existence or properties of an entity in terms of a function: we have hearts because they pump blood, and telephones for communication. While many teleological explanations seem appropriate, others are clearly not warranted-for example, that rain exists for plants to grow. Five experiments explore the theoretical commitments that underlie teleological explanations. With the analysis of [Wright, L. (1976). Teleological Explanations. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press] from philosophy as a point of departure, we examine (...) in Experiment 1 whether teleological explanations are interpreted causally, and confirm that TEs are only accepted when the function invoked in the explanation played a causal role in bringing about what is being explained. However, we also find that playing a causal role is not sufficient for all participants to accept TEs. Experiment 2 shows that this is not because participants fail to appreciate the causal structure of the scenarios used as stimuli. In Experiments 3-5 we show that the additional requirement for TE acceptance is that the process by which the function played a causal role must be general in the sense of conforming to a predictable pattern. These findings motivate a proposal, Explanation for Export, which suggests that a psychological function of explanation is to highlight information likely to subserve future prediction and intervention. We relate our proposal to normative accounts of explanation from philosophy of science, as well as to claims from psychology and artificial intelligence. (shrink)
While endorsing Gopnik's proposal that studies of the emergence and modification of scientific theories and studies of cognitive development in children are mutually illuminating, we offer a different picture of the beginning points of cognitive development from Gopnik's picture of "theories all the way down." Human infants are endowed with several distinct core systems of knowledge which are theory-like in some, but not all, important ways. The existence of these core systems of knowledge has implications for the joint research program (...) between philosophers and psychologists that Gopnik advocates and we endorse. A few lessons already gained from this program of research are sketched. (shrink)
Dehaene articulates a naturalistic approach to the cognitive foundations of mathematics. Further, he argues that the ‘number line’ system of representation is the evolutionary and ontogenetic foundation of numerical concepts. Here I endorse Dehaene’s naturalistic stance and also his characterization of analog magnitude number representations. Although analog magnitude representations are part of the evolutionary foundations of numerical concepts, I argue that they are unlikely to be part of the ontogenetic foundations of the capacity to represent natural number. Rather, the developmental (...) source of explicit integer list representations of number are more likely to be systems such as the object–file representations that articulate mid–level object based attention, systems that build parallel representations of small sets of individuals. (shrink)
A theory of conceptual development must provide an account of the innate representational repertoire, must characterize how these initial representations differ from the adult state, and must provide an account of the processes that transform the initial into mature representations. In Carey, 2009 (The Origin of Concepts), I defend three theses: 1) the initial state includes rich conceptual representations, 2) nonetheless, there are radical discontinuities between early and later developing conceptual systems, 3) Quinean bootstrapping is one learning mechanism that underlies (...) the creation of new representational resources, enabling such discontinuity. I also claim that the theory of conceptual development developed in The Origin of Concepts addresses two of Fodor's challenges to cognitive science; namely, to show how learning could possibly lead to an increase in expressive power and to defeat Mad Dog Nativism, the thesis that all concepts lexicalized as mono-morphemic words are innate. A recent article by Georges Rey (Mind & Language, 29.2, 2014) argues that my responses to Fodor's challenges fail, because, he says, I fail to distinguish concept possession from manifestation and I do not confront Goodman's new riddle of induction. My response is to show that, and how, new primitives in a language of thought can be learned, that there are easy routes and hard ones to doing so, and that characterizing the learning mechanisms involved is the key to understanding both concept possession and constraints on induction. (shrink)
The Origin of Concepts sets out an impressive defense of the view that children construct entirely new systems of concepts. We offer here two questions about this theory. First, why doesn't the bootstrapping process provide a pattern for translating between the old and new systems, contradicting their claimed incommensurability? Second, can the bootstrapping process properly distinguish meaning change from belief change?
The commentators raised issues relevant to all three important theses of The Origin of Concepts (henceforth TOOC). Some questioned the very existence of innate representational primitives, and others questioned my claims about their richness and whether they should be thought of as concepts. Some questioned the existence of conceptual discontinuity in the course of knowledge acquisition and others argued that discontinuity is much more common than was portrayed in TOOC. Some raised issues with my characterization of Quinian bootstrapping, and others (...) questioned the dual factor theory of concepts motivated by my picture of conceptual development. (shrink)
I make two points in this commentary on Carey (2009). First, it may be too soon to conclude that core cognition is innate. Recent advances in computational cognitive science and developmental psychology suggest possible mechanisms for developing inductive biases. Second, there is another possible answer to Fodor's challenge – if concepts are merely mental tokens, then cognitive scientists should spend their time on developing a theory of belief fixation instead.