Nativism and the Theory of Content

ProtoSociology 14:222-239 (2000)
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Externalism is the view that the intentional content of a mental state supervenes on its relations to objects in the extramental world. Nativism is the view that some of the innate states of the mind/brain have intentional content. I consider both “causal” and “nomic” versions of externalism, and argue that both are incompatible with nativism. I consider likely candidates for a compatibilist position – a nativism of “narrow” representational states, and a nativism of the contentless formal “vehicles” of representational states. I argue that “narrow nativism” is either too implausible to appeal to the nativist – because it entails that innate representational states are lost as the mind becomes more experienced, or too costly to appeal to the externalist – because a reasonable version of it requires the analytic-synthetic distinction. Finally, I argue that “syntactic nativism” is indistinguishable from classical anti-nativist empiricism, given the latter’s broad tolerance for innate implementation of psychological principles and mechanisms.

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David Pitt
California State University, Los Angeles


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