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no two entities can differ with respect to A without also differing with
respect to B.) Those who deny individualism are externalists. In Parts
Two and Three I shall develop several varieties of externalism about
the mind. Individualism about mental states requires, and will there
receive, more detailed articulation. I brie¬‚y note three things about
it here.4
First, individualism is a normative thesis about how one ought to do
psychology: It proscribes certain views of our psychological nature “ those
that are not individualistic. For this reason, I consider individualism in
psychology as a putative constraint on the sciences of cognition.
Second, this constraint itself is claimed to derive either from general
canons governing science and explanation or from entrenched assump-
tions about the nature of mental states themselves. It is not construed as
an a priori constraint on how one does psychology, but one derivative from
existing explanatory practices that have met with considerable success in
the past.5
Third, combining the previous two points, approaches to the cognitive
sciences that are not individualistic are both methodologically and meta-
physically misguided. They go methodologically awry in that the most
perspicuous examples of explanatorily insightful research paradigms for
cognition or for science more generally have been individualistic in
the corresponding sense. Included here are computational approaches
to cognition and the taxonomy of entities in science more generally
by their causal powers. Given the successes that such individualistic ap-
proaches to the mind have had, those rejecting individualism are left in
methodological limbo.
Externalist approaches to the mind go metaphysically awry in two cor-
responding ways: Either they relinquish our only real insight into the
nature of mental causation “ cognition is computational “ or they imply
that the mind is not governed by principles that apply more generally to
the physical world “ such as the supervenience of a thing™s properties on
its intrinsic, causal powers.
The Individual in the Fragile Sciences 11

These three features of individualism in psychology are shared by in-
dividualistic theses in both the biological and social sciences. There are
various forms that individualism can take in the biological sciences. For
now I elaborate on an example that I have already mentioned, that con-
cerning the agents of selection.
In evolutionary biology there has been a sustained and continuing de-
bate over the agents of selection: At what level or levels in the biological
hierarchy “ from the very small, such as cells and their constituents, to
the very large, such as whole species or larger taxonomic units, such as
genera or families “ does the chief force of evolutionary change, natural
selection, operate? Three putative agents of selection have been most
frequently proposed and defended: the individual organism, with indi-
vidual selection being what I have already referred to as the traditional
Darwinian view; the gene, a unit inspired by the rise of population ge-
netics through the evolutionary synthesis, with genic selection associated
most often with George Williams and Richard Dawkins; and the group,
with discussion of the process of group selection experiencing a contem-
porary revival, due largely to the work of David Sloan Wilson and Elliott
Sober. While much of the debate over the agents of selection concerns the
relative strength and thus importance of each of these selective forces “
individual, genic, and group “ there is a strand to the debate that has
concerned the level at which selection operates, and thus, which is less
pluralistic than is suggested by such a construal of that debate. It is this
strand that I want to focus on here.6
In the context of this debate over the agents of selection, individualism
is the view that the organism is the largest unit on which natural selection
operates. Thus, proponents of genic selection who claim that natural
selection can always be adequately represented as operating on genes or
small genetic fragments are individualists about the agents of selection,
as are those who adopt the traditional Darwinian view that allows for only
individual-level selection. Like individualism in psychology, individualism
in evolutionary biology is a putative normative constraint that derives
from existing explanatory practice, and whose violation, according to its
proponents, involves both methodological and metaphysical mistakes.
Let me explain.
Individualism about the agents of selection implies that individual or-
ganisms act as a boundary beyond which evolutionary biologists need not
venture when attempting to theorize in considering the nature of what
it is that competes and is subject to natural selection, and thus evolution-
ary change. By focusing on the individual and what lies within it, one
Disciplining the Individual and the Mind
12

can best understand the dynamics of adaptive change within populations
of organisms, whether it be via population genetic models, through the
deployment of evolutionary game theory, or by means of the discovery
of the forms that individualistic selection takes. This constraint on how
to think about the operation of natural selection builds on the speci¬c
explanatory successes of models of kin selection, reciprocal altruism, and
other processes that articulate strategies that individuals might adopt in
order to maximize their reproductive success.
Finally, those who go beyond the individual in postulating selective
processes that ¬‚out individualism create both methodological and meta-
physical problems that individualistic approaches avoid. Methodologi-
cally, since the full range of observed behaviors can be explained in evo-
lutionary terms by models of evolution that are individualistic about the
agents of selection (for example, via kin selection and reciprocal altru-
ism), those who reject individualism are abandoning real explanatory
achievement. As we saw was the case with the rejection of individual-
ism in psychology, precisely because the constraint of individualism in
evolutionary biology rests on a history of explanatory success, those advo-
cating a nonindividualistic view of the agents of selection are faced (and
not unreasonably) with the question of what their perspective buys that
cannot be purchased with an established currency. The corresponding
metaphysical problem lies in the idea that natural selection “ somehow “
transcends the level of the individual and goes to work directly on groups.
A common response to this sort of nonindividualistic suggestion is either
that the appropriate model of group selection really boils down to a vari-
ant on an existing individualistic model of selection, or that it requires
assumptions that rarely, if ever, hold in the actual world. In the former
case, we don™t, in fact, depart from individualism; in the latter, we are
committed to views about what there is that do not correspond to how
the world actually is.
Consider now the social sciences. In the social sciences, methodolog-
ical individualism is a cluster of views that give some sort of priority to
individuals and their properties, particularly their psychological proper-
ties, in accounting for social phenomena. As with mental phenomena,
although there is a sense in which we have an intuitive grasp of what
social phenomena are, there are questions of how those phenomena ¬t
into the natural order of things, and of how we should go about study-
ing them. Methodological individualism has sometimes been expressed
as the view that all social phenomena must be explained, ultimately, in
terms of the intentional states of individual agents. Like individualism
The Individual in the Fragile Sciences 13

in psychology, it has also sometimes been formulated as a supervenience
thesis, the thesis that social phenomena supervene on the psychology of
individuals.7
These two formulations, what we might think of as the explanatory and
ontological formulations, are usefully seen as linked by viewing method-
ological individualism as a thesis about the taxonomy or individuation of
social phenomena, as I have suggested that individualism in psychology is
most usefully viewed. Methodological individualism is the view that social
phenomena should be taxonomized so as to supervene on the intrin-
sic, physical properties of the individuals who participate in or sustain
those phenomena. Thus, our explanations of social phenomena should
be restricted to positing states and processes that respect this normative,
individualistic constraint. This is what is thought to give the intentional
states of individuals both explanatory and ontological priority over so-
cial phenomena, just as, given individualism in psychology, the intrinsic,
physical states of individuals have explanatory and ontological priority
over mental phenomena.
Fueling the idea that methodological individualism is a constraint on
the social sciences is also a claim about a tradition of explanatory suc-
cesses, although unlike the case of the cognitive and biological sciences,
this claim about an established track record for individualistic approaches
to the social sciences has a signi¬cantly slimmer evidential basis. This is in
large part because relatively uncontroversial explanatory success stories
are rare in the social sciences; it is also because the best-known defenses
of methodological individualism in the social sciences, such as those of
Karl Popper and John Watkins, predate most of those successes that we
can identify. Historically, it is more accurate to see the rise of method-
ological individualism in the social sciences as a gamble, a promissory
note about what approaches to understanding society would prove most
fruitful, though contemporary advocates of methodological individual-
ism do, I think, share the “past success” view of their putative constraint
on the social sciences, listing to their credit, for example, a variety of
applications of rational choice theory in economics and schema theory
in cognitive anthropology.8
The parallel to the third feature of individualism in psychology that
I drew “ the claim that violation of the constraint brings with it related
methodological and metaphysical problems “ is, I think, relatively clear.
Individualists have claimed that approaches to and theories in the social
sciences that are non-individualistic, such as Emile Durkheim™s account
of suicide, or Karl Marx™s theory of capitalism, to take two well-known
Disciplining the Individual and the Mind
14

examples, have proven to be methodological dead ends. As with claims
about individualistic success stories in the biological sciences, these claims
about explanatory failure are contentious. In any case, with respect to the
social sciences more emphasis has been given to the metaphysical pitfalls
of a denial of methodological individualism: social science that is non-
individualistic rei¬es social objects and categories, such as class interest
(sociology), markets (economics), and cultures (anthropology). It posits
an in¬‚ated social ontology of entities that have some type of sui generis
existence, and provides no promise of how to integrate the developing
social sciences with the natural sciences.9
There are questions about these three forms of individualism that
this brief comparative treatment of them leaves open, and we will return
to explore in detail those concerning cognition in Part Two. My main
point here has been to sketch a common framework in terms of which
these distinct individualistic theses can be viewed. The existence of such
a framework suggests that problems, challenges, solutions, and responses
that have arisen with respect to a given debate over individualism may also
exist or be lurking in the background of another debate over individu-
als and their role in explanation in the fragile sciences. This common
framework will thus function like a trampoline for some individualism
hopping across the fragile sciences.
Thus far I have attempted to show that three individualistic theses in
the cognitive, biological, and social sciences that have seldom been dis-
cussed together in fact share an important set of af¬nities. The natural
and further suggestion is that the debates into which an individualis-
tic or externalist position in any of these sciences launch one can be
mutually informative. That in turn presupposes that each of these indi-
vidualistic perspectives has important rami¬cations for central debates
in each of these ¬elds. It is in part by way of supporting this claim that
I turn now to consider innateness hypotheses in the fragile sciences. I
shall propose a two-dimensional analysis of a range of nativist debates
both that shows what they share despite their distinct subject matter, and
that reveals the link between nativism and individualism. I begin with
the cognitive sciences, where nativism has received its most extensive
treatment.


5 inside the thinking individual
Nativists about the mind hold that the mind itself is an important source
of, and imposes a structure on, the nature of human knowledge and
The Individual in the Fragile Sciences 15

human mental representation. As we will see in more detail in Chapter 3
when we discuss nativism about the mind at length, contemporary na-
tivism about cognition in general has been inspired by nativism about
language more speci¬cally. Language acquisition, and cognitive devel-
opment more generally, are viewed as proceeding maturationally, rather
than through some type of environmentally driven process, such as learn-
ing. And these maturational processes are viewed by nativists as requiring
specialized, internal cognitive machinery, rather than general purpose,
one-size-¬ts-all mechanisms.
In the contemporary cognitive sciences, the chief antinativist cluster
of views are empiricist, holding that it is our sensory or perceptual ap-
paratus, not something distinctly cognitive or mental, that structures hu-
man knowledge and mental representation. Both nativists and empiricists
recognize that there is a given, built-in organismic contribution to cog-
nition. But since empiricists locate this contribution within perception,
“upstream” of the mind, what enters the mind proper is a function of
experience in the world. This experience may vary with one™s environ-
ment and shapes an organism™s particular cognitive structures. Cognitive
structures are thus not built into the design of the organism™s mind. In
this sense, its cognitive architecture is not innate but contingent on the
nature of its environment.
There are two distinct dimensions to contemporary debates over na-
tivism about the mind. The ¬rst concerns the nature of an individual™s
internal structure, while the second concerns the causal role that an indi-
vidual™s external environment plays in the acquisition and development
of a given cognitive process. These dimensions can be represented as two
theses about cognition as follows. Letting X stand in for some particular
cognitive ability, phenomenon, or behavior, these theses are:

The Internal Richness Thesis: Structures and processes internal to the individual
that are important to the acquisition and development of X are rich;

and

The External Minimalism Thesis: Structures and processes external to an individual
play at best a secondary causal role in the acquisition and development of X.

A cognitive structure is rich just if it is specialized, localized, internally
complex, and causally powerful. Intuitively, the internal richness thesis
says that there is a wealth of structure built into the individual that ex-
plains why it possesses a particular cognitive ability or manifests some
speci¬c behavior.
Disciplining the Individual and the Mind
16

Consider a strong candidate for an innate human cognitive capac-
ity, such as the capacity to acquire language. Nativists about language
acquisition hold that language learners are equipped with a “language
acquisition device” that is rich in the sense I have speci¬ed. While they
acknowledge environmental input as essential, it clearly plays a secondary
causal role in language acquisition. By contrast, consider the ability to
do calculus, something usually acquired through classroom instruction.
Here whether one acquires the ability to do calculus depends in large
part on the structure of one™s environment, in particular, on whether it
contains a teacher who can transmit the relevant knowledge. Since cal-
culus is a relatively recent human innovation, it is unlikely that the brain
contains structures speci¬cally for calculus.
Paradigmatic nativists in the cognitive sciences, such as Chomsky and
Fodor, accept both the internal richness and the external minimalism
thesis about a range of cognitive capacities. Paradigmatic antinativists,
such as behaviorists and early connectionists, reject both of these theses.
One implication of the two-dimensional view of nativism is that we can un-
derstand such views as diametrically opposed to one another, as Figure 1.1
makes clear: In virtue of accepting both theses about cognition, Fodor
and Chomsky are what I shall call strong nativists about cognition, while
behaviorists and at least early connectionists, by virtue of rejecting both

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