On the development of geometric cognition: Beyond nature vs. nurture

Philosophical Psychology 35 (4):595-616 (2022)
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How is knowledge of geometry developed and acquired? This central question in the philosophy of mathematics has received very different answers. Spelke and colleagues argue for a “core cognitivist”, nativist, view according to which geometric cognition is in an important way shaped by genetically determined abilities for shape recognition and orientation. Against the nativist position, Ferreirós and García-Pérez have argued for a “culturalist” account that takes geometric cognition to be fundamentally a culturally developed phenomenon. In this paper, I argue that when understood as moderate versions supported by the state-of-the-art research, the nativist and culturalist views are in fact possible to reconcile. While Ferreirós and García-Pérez present the work of Spelke and colleagues as implying that geometric cognition is genetically determined, I argue that they fail to appreciate the role that Spelke and colleagues see for cultural factors. On this basis, I provide theoretical and terminological clarifications and show that moderate versions of the nativist and culturalist view are in fact consistent with each other. I then propose a unifying theoretical framework for future study that can integrate the two accounts in ontogeny by moving beyond the crude nature (nativism) vs. nurture (culturalism) dichotomy.

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Markus Pantsar
Aachen University of Technology


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