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DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-W028-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved July 14, 2024, from

Article Summary

Traditional empiricism claims that the mind is initially equipped only with the capacity for experience and the mechanisms that make it possible for us to learn from experience. Nativists have argued that this is not enough, and that our innate endowment must be far richer, including information, ideas, beliefs, perhaps even knowledge.

Empiricism held the advantage until recently, partly because of a misidentification of nativism with rationalism. Rationalists such as Descartes and Leibniz thought nativism would explain how a priori knowledge of necessary truths is possible. However, the fact that something is innate does not establish that it is true, let alone that it is necessary or a priori.

More recently, nativism has been reanimated by Chomsky’s claims that children must have innate language-specific information that mediates acquisition of their native tongue. He argues that, given standard empiricist learning procedures, the linguistic data available to a child underdetermines the grammar on which they converge at a very young age, with relatively little effort or instruction.

The successes in linguistics have led to fruitful research on nativism in other domains of human knowledge: for example, arithmetic, the nature of physical objects, features of persons, and possession of concepts generally.

Citing this article:
Samet, Jerry. Nativism, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-W028-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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