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In short, the continuity thesis minimizes the normative dimension
to the traditional debate between rationalists and empiricists, suggests a
concern with the nature of psychological processes where it does not exist,
and overlooks the signi¬cance of the difference between “psychology” as
conducted within dualist and physicalist frameworks.

8 overlaying the mind
I have been interested in this chapter in identifying some of the abstrac-
tions from what we might think of as full individuality that are made
within particular paradigms of psychology, and have done so via a very
partial treatment of aspects of the early history of psychology. I have fo-
cused on cognitive abilities (rather than, say, on personality traits), and
on abstractions in which an individual™s social, ecological, and physical
“contexts” are thought of as something into which an individual can be
inserted once we complete our characterization of that individual™s psy-
chology. As the subject of psychological states, individuals have often been
Individuals, Psychology, and the Mind 49

construed individualistically in the speci¬c sense that factors outside of
the boundary of the individual organism are bracketed off or treated
in some secondary way. This has meant that features of individuals
that seem intuitively to be important to how those individuals function
psychologically “ such as their location in a particular set of cultural
practices, their thoughts having particular meaning, or their belonging
to groups with speci¬c characteristics “ have been viewed as peripheral
to psychology per se. As the psychologist Jerome Bruner has put it, they
have been viewed as overlays to, rather than constituents of, an individual™s
In drawing attention to this dimension of psychology, I hope at least to
have raised the question of whether psychology need be individualistic in
this sense, and whether some of the ways in which individuals have been
viewed within psychology are as innocuous as they might initially seem.
The externalist psychology developed in Parts Two and Three provides
a way, or a variety of ways, of developing cultural, social, and semantic
aspects to cognition within one™s psychology, rather than laid over on
top of it. This has implications, in turn, for how we conceptualize the
relationship between psychology and some of the disciplines with which
it shares a border zone.

Nativism on My Mind

1 nativist threads
The issue of nativism was used in Chapter 1 to illustrate two points. First,
adopting a shared framework for understanding various individualistic
theses across the cognitive, biological, and social sciences can be mutually
informative. Second, these individualistic perspectives have rami¬cations
for central debates across the fragile sciences. To make these points I
introduced a two-dimensional analysis of a range of nativist debates: about
the mind, biology, and culture. Here I develop and defend that analysis
in more detail with a particular focus on nativism about cognition and
the mind.
I begin in section 2 by tracing the most in¬‚uential nativist lineage in
the cognitive sciences. This lineage begins with the Chomskyan revolu-
tion in linguistics, a revolution that is generalized to other aspects of cog-
nition by philosophers and developmental and cognitive psychologists
and then further extended and given a Darwinian twist by evolutionary
psychologists. I then turn in section 3 to the chief alternative to such
nativist views, often characterized as “empiricist,” and brie¬‚y explain why
behaviorist and connectionist views of cognition are paradigms of such
alternatives. In sections 4“6, the heart of the chapter, I reintroduce, de-
velop, and defend the two-dimensional account of the debate over na-
tivism about the mind. There has been a recent revival of attempts to
analyze nativism about cognition in fewer and in more dimensions than
two, and part of my defense of the two-dimensional analysis will involve
showing its superiority to its contemporary competitors. Finally, in sec-
tions 7“9, I return to issues raised in considering nativism debates across

Nativism on My Mind 51

the fragile sciences: whether we need more than two dimensions in order
to understand some speci¬c nativist views, and how to build on the appli-
cation of the two-dimensional view to the biological sciences sketched in
Chapter 1.1

2 from chomsky to fodor to pinker: a thumbnail
Nativist views of the mind came to prominence with the rise of the cogni-
tive sciences through the revolution in linguistics led by Noam Chomsky.
The phonological and syntactic regularities to be found in spoken and
heard sentences in particular natural languages required explanation, as
did the apparent ease with which those languages were acquired, and the
¬‚exibility of children as language learners. Chomsky pointed to an un-
derlying cognitive complexity, one that arose from the mind itself, rather
than the “stimulus” that led to the acquisition of spoken language, as
lying at the root of a common explanation for these facts about natu-
ral languages. As tragic cases of extreme linguistic deprivation showed,
linguistic stimulation of some kind was necessary for the acquisition of
language. But the “poverty of the stimulus” suggested that the contribu-
tion of the mind to natural language was innate rather than learned or
in some other way a re¬‚ection of complexity in the environment. This
innate contribution, universal or generative grammar, is itself structured,
and encompasses an individual™s phonological, syntactic, and semantic
Many of the aspects to this Chomskyan paradigm for language and
their implications for cognition more generally are expressed succinctly
in the following passage from Chomsky™s work:

[H]uman cognitive systems, when seriously investigated, prove to be no less mar-
velous and intricate than the physical structures that develop in the life of the
organism. Why, then, should we not study the acquisition of a cognitive structure
such as language more or less as we study some complex bodily organ? . . . Even
knowing little of substance about linguistic universals, we can be quite sure that
the possible variety of languages is sharply limited. . . . The language each per-
son acquires is a rich and complex construction hopelessly underdetermined by
the fragmentary evidence available [to the child]. Nevertheless individuals in a
speech community have developed essentially the same language. This fact can be
explained only on the assumption that these individuals employ highly restrictive
principles that guide the construction of grammar.2

As the ¬rst half of this quotation says, the part of the mind responsible
for language should be viewed as complex bodily organs, such as kidneys
Disciplining the Individual and the Mind

or hearts. Yet as suggested by the remainder of the quotation, what the
language organ produces is itself structurally complex. Linguistic com-
plexity is to be explained by an appeal to complexity in the mind of the
organism. Thus, the language organ must have a structure that can be ex-
pressed as a series of principles generating the complexity in the natural
language it produces.
Although Chomsky focuses on language and how facts about its com-
plexity, acquisition, and universality should be explained, as the refer-
ence above to “human cognitive systems” suggests, Chomsky sees his views
about language as having broader implications for how we should study
cognition and behavior more generally. The basic properties of cognitive
systems are innate in the mind, part of the human biological endow-
ment, on a par with whatever determines the speci¬c, internally directed
course of embryological development, or of sexual maturation in later
Jerry Fodor has been foremost in extending a number of aspects of
Chomskyan nativism to the mind more generally. In particular, he has
argued for two views that can be seen in this light. First Fodor has argued
that there is a general language of thought that is innate, a sort of uni-
versal grammar for thinking, whose atomic components (concepts) are
built into the structure of the mind. Second, Fodor views the cognitive
architecture of the mind as including a range of mental organs, each
operating in some particular domain.4
The ¬rst of these claims has been defended as part of Fodor™s com-
putational theory of mind, and includes a radical form of nativism about
concepts. As Fodor says,

such cognitive theories as are currently available presuppose an internal language
in which the computational processes they postulate are carried out. . . . [T]he
same models imply that that language is extremely rich (i.e., that it is capable
of expressing any concept that the organism can learn or entertain) and that its
representational power is, to all intents and purposes, innately determined.5

Fodor is skeptical of all extant accounts of concept acquisition, and he
views virtually all lexical concepts as innate. As Laurence and Margolis
note in a recent discussion, this radical concept nativism has won very
few converts in the cognitive sciences over the almost thirty-year period
during which Fodor has advocated it.6
By contrast, Fodor™s development of the idea of a mental organ has
been enthusiastically endorsed by perceptual, cognitive, and develop-
mental psychologists. Indeed, this modularity thesis has been extended
Nativism on My Mind 53

beyond the bounds that Fodor originally set for it “ sensory perception
plus language “ to distinctly “central processes,” such as reasoning and
inference, an extension that Fodor remains critical of. The most enthusi-
astic application of the modularity thesis has been made by evolutionary
psychologists, who view the mind as composed of thousands of innately
speci¬ed modules that operate across the full range of cognitive domains,
not just those that are perceptual.7
Evolutionary approaches to understanding the mind start with Darwin
and Spencer themselves, but it is only via the notion of modularity that
such approaches have entered into the mainstream of thinking about
cognition. Evolutionary psychologists not only blend an evolutionary per-
spective on cognition together with a strong modular view of the mind,
but do so using the tools of experimental psychology that are central
to the cognitive sciences. Foundational here has been the work of Leda
Cosmides and John Tooby on social reasoning.8
Cosmides sought to understand the varying (and often dismal) perfor-
mance on a standard, experimental reasoning task that involved subjects
deciding which of four double-sided cards to turn over in order to deter-
mine whether a given, simple rule had been adhered to or broken. The
task was initially devised in the 1960s by the psychologist Peter Wason
to explore Karl Popper™s ideas about the role of falsi¬cation in science,
and the literature that this paradigm had generated over a twenty-year
period was vast. Cosmides™s general idea was that we could best make
sense of basic performance on the task, where less than 10% of subjects
succeed, and that on modi¬ed versions of the task, by thinking of reason-
ing not as a general ability but as a domain-speci¬c faculty that evolved to
solve social problems. Cosmides™s speci¬c hypothesis is that the aspect of
this ability drawn on in the Wason tasks and its variants is the detection
of those who break social rules. In short, what happens in such tasks is
that a social reasoning module, equipped with a cheater-detection algo-
rithm, is pressed into service beyond the reasoning domain in which it
The basic metaphor that evolutionary psychologists have used for the
structure of the mind is that of the mind as a Swiss army knife, containing
many specialized pieces. These pieces, mental modules, can be pressed
into service for a range of tasks, but each evolved in the history of the
species (and beyond) to ful¬ll some particular cognitive task within some
speci¬c domain. These tasks were set as evolutionarily signi¬cant prob-
lems, and they were solved through the evolution of speci¬c mental mod-
ules. Amongst the many modules posited by evolutionary psychologists,
Disciplining the Individual and the Mind

apart from those for social reasoning, are those that govern criteria for
mate selection and standards of beauty, eye direction detection and the
theory of mind, and principles of generalization. As Cosmides and Tooby
make clear in their thinking about the adapted mind more generally, and
as the psychologist Steve Pinker has emphasized, evolutionary psychol-
ogy revolutionizes how we should think about the social sciences and the
relationship between the mind and culture.9

3 empiricist alternatives to nativism
Although nativist views of the mind have been in¬‚uential within the cog-
nitive sciences, they are far from having won ubiquitous support. The
chief antinativist views about cognition are empiricist. Nativists and em-
piricists share a commitment to the idea that there is at least some given,
built-in organismic contribution to cognition, but differ on the nature of
this contribution. In general terms, empiricists locate this contribution
in our perceptual or sensory apparatus, not in the mind itself, and hold
that the only genuinely cognitive structures and representations that are
innate are general purpose, of the one-size-¬ts-all variety. What ends up
in the mind, both content and structure, is a function of an organism™s
perceptual and sensory experience of the world. Cognitive structures and
representations are thus not hard wired in the design of the organism
but are contingent in some deep way on the nature of the interactions
between an organism and its environment across the sensory and percep-
tual interface.
In the dialectic between nativism and empiricism in the twentieth cen-
tury study of cognition, behaviorism looms large. Classic behaviorism
dominated psychology from roughly 1920“60, and the cognitive rev-
olution in both linguistics and psychology was very much directed at
overthrowing this paradigm, beginning with Noam Chomsky™s famous
critique of B.F. Skinner™s Verbal Behavior. And critiques of and recent
alternatives to the nativist views sketched in the preceding section are
often characterized as neo-behaviorist. There are many strands that run
through behaviorist views in psychology: the emphasis on observation
and empirical data, the corresponding skepticism about “theoretical”
posits, the priority given to laboratory studies of model organisms and
the putative generalizability of results from such organisms to human be-
ings. However, it is not my intention here to provide a detailed survey of
behaviorism, but both to show the opposition between empiricism and
nativism and to explain why behaviorism is a paradigm of empiricism
about cognition.10
Nativism on My Mind 55

The two aspects of behaviorism most relevant for these purposes are
the primacy it accords perception and sensation and the central role that
learning plays as a mechanism for the acquisition of complex behaviors.
For behaviorists, sensory and perceptual abilities provide the develop-
mental basis for the acquisition of all other psychological and behavioral
capacities, and organisms move from this sensory base to what might
be called cognition proper through one or another process of learning.
Learning involves a change in the capacities of an organism or system
in response to its interactions with the environment, where these capac-
ities are cognitive in some broad and intuitive sense. (Building up your
muscles at the gym satis¬es the chief clause, but not the quali¬cation.)
This process may take various forms, including associative learning, where
two or more presented stimuli become linked together by the organism;
latent learning, where information about an environment (for example,
spatial layout) is gathered at some time but not manifest or deployed
until some subsequent occasion; or skill learning, where what is learned
is a particular skill, such as bicycle riding, reading, or the ability to play
chess. For behaviorists, the most important of these is associative learn-
ing, since it is a general process that, in principle, allows any perceptible
stimuli to be connected by the organism and leads to the modi¬cation
of its behavior. It is the means by which an organism, supposedly begin-


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