<<

. 5
( 62 .)



>>

theses, are strong antinativists. As Figure 1.1 makes clear, these strong po-
sitions do not exhaust the range of options in the debate over nativism
about the mind, a point to which I shall return in Chapter 3.

External Minimalism Thesis
YES NO



Y
Chomsky
E
Fodor Internal
S
Richness

Behaviorists Thesis
N
Early Connectionism
O
¬gure 1.1. Nativism and Cognition
The Individual in the Fragile Sciences 17

Nativist views, particularly what I have been calling strong nativism, pro-
vide at least prima facie support for individualistic views of the mind. Con-
sider the external minimalism thesis. If the environment plays a secondary
role in the acquisition and development of a given cognitive ability “
and in the extreme case is best viewed as little more than a trigger for
that ability “ then there is a clear sense in which the environment can
be bracketed out when we formulate taxonomies and explanations for
mental phenomena. This strand to strong nativism suggests a “method-
ologically solipsistic” research strategy in psychology. And if one accepts
the internal richness thesis, then there is a sense in which cognitive struc-
tures for speci¬c tasks are programmed within the organism, and so again
it would seem that bracketing out the environment for the purposes of
psychological taxonomy and explanation would be appropriate. In short,
if our innate cognitive machinery is rich in structure, and our psycho-
logical taxonomies aim to carve mental reality at its joints, then those
taxonomies should be individualistic.
There is more to be said not only about nativism about the mind, but
also about these putative relationships between nativism and individual-
ism, and we will return to such issues in due course. This introduction of
the two-dimensional view of nativism is, however, intended primarily to
exemplify the trampoline hopping across the fragile sciences that I men-
tioned at the end of the previous section. Let™s hop, then, from cognition
to biology.


6 the beast within
Debates over nativism also have a well-worn history within the biolog-
ical sciences. The two-dimensional view of the contemporary debate
over nativism within the cognitive sciences helps to illuminate these
debates.
One such debate concerns the role and conception of inheritance
and organismic development. How should we understand inheritance
and organismic development? Gross bodily traits in human beings, such
as number of arms and legs, eye color, and position of the mouth, are
typically considered to be innate, and this ascription of innateness ¬ts
with the two-dimensional analysis of nativism. The environment plays a
secondary causal role in the development of such traits, with the pri-
mary role being played by rich structures internal to the organism. By
contrast, for traits that are typically viewed as acquired, such as height
or number of scars borne by age ¬ve, neither the external minimalism
Disciplining the Individual and the Mind
18

nor the internal richness thesis is true. As in the cognitive case, the
two-dimensional view provides a way of demarcating paradigmatically
innate from paradigmatically acquired bodily traits.
The parallel with nativism about the mind runs deeper, however, in
that the two-dimensional view also speci¬es strong nativist and strong
antinativist views of inheritance and development. Within classical and
molecular genetics the prevalent view of the inheritance and develop-
ment of phenotypic traits gives genes a preeminent role to play, hold-
ing that genes both code for and direct organismic development. Here
genes play much the role that modules do in nativist accounts of cognitive
development: They are internally rich structures that play the principal
role in guiding development. Thus, while an organism™s environment
plays a necessary role in inheritance and development, it is not the pri-
mary causal agent in those processes. This view of the nature and role of
genes in inheritance and development represents a strong nativist view
within the biological sciences.
Corresponding to the strong empiricist views about cognition is a
strong antinativist view of inheritance and development associated most
directly with Richard Lewontin, sometimes referred to as interactionism
or constructivism about development. To be clear, no one denies the ex-
istence of intracellular units, genes that play an important role in inher-
itance. What has been questioned, however, is (a) whether genes play
either a unique, universal, or asymmetrical role in the processes of inher-
itance and development with respect to other cellular (and extracellular)
components; and (b) whether the concept of a gene, and the roles that
it plays in our theories of inheritance and development, can be under-
stood in an environment-independent way. To call (a) into question is to
imply that genes are not internally rich structures in the sense that I have
speci¬ed; to call (b) into question is to challenge the external minimalist
strand to strong nativism.10
Figure 1.2 shows both the opposition between these “strong” views and
the open space that is represented by less radical positions about nativism
and biology. As with nativism about the mind, here a strong nativist posi-
tion, particularly acceptance of the external minimalism thesis, makes an
individualistic position in biology attractive. Even if claims about genes
as “master molecules” directing hereditary and developmental traf¬c are
relaxed in favor of a more encompassing view of the nature of those pro-
cesses, so long as we remain within the organism, the environment of
that organism can, in effect, be bracketed off from our taxonomic and
explanatory practices.
The Individual in the Fragile Sciences 19

External Minimalism Thesis
YES NO



Y
Classical and Molecular
E
Genetics Internal
S
Richness

Interactionism or Thesis
N
Constructivism
O
¬gure 1.2. Nativism and Inheritance and Development

I shall say more about this characterization of nativism in biology in
Chapter 3. As we will see there has been some recent skepticism within bi-
ology over whether the notion of innateness has outlived its usefulness.11


7 culture, nature, and the individual
In the social sciences, perhaps the most hotly contested arena in which
the nativism debate has been played out concerns culture, particularly
within anthropology. In the ¬rst half of the twentieth century the concept
of culture came to de¬ne the core domain that anthropologists studied,
just as biologists studied the domain of the living and psychologists the
domain of the mind. The anthropologist Adam Kuper has provided an
elegant history of the conception of culture within anthropology and
beyond it (within “cultural studies,” for example). It is only one strand
to the recent part of that history that is my concern here. Paralleling the
cases of cognition and biology, we can capture two opposed views of the
relationship between culture and what individuals are innately endowed
with by using the two-dimensional view of nativism.12
The prevalent view of culture within anthropology is strongly anti-
nativist in rejecting both the external minimalism and internal richness
theses about culture. Culture is not a monolithic structure that all humans
share, but something that varies across different groups of people, who
socially construct their cultures through particular traditions, rituals, and
customs. Cultures, in all their rich detail, rather than some abstraction,
Disciplining the Individual and the Mind
20

“culture,” are what shape up individual patterns of behavior and what
anthropologists study. Individuals come to acquire the ways of thinking
and behaving particular to their culture through various forms of social
transmission, and the particular structure to their environments deter-
mines what cultural traits they come to possess. While a certain internal
complexity, particularly mental complexity, is needed for groups of or-
ganisms to develop a culture, there are no built-in, specialized, mental
structures necessary for culture.
This view of culture and its acquisition by individuals has been chal-
lenged by recent evolutionarily inspired views, typi¬ed by John Tooby
and Leda Cosmides. Sociobiologists such as Edward O. Wilson had ear-
lier argued for the in-principle extension of the ethologists™ treatment of
behaviors as part of an organism™s phenotype to the full range of human
social behaviors. Tooby and Cosmides have advocated a similar view of hu-
man cultures, emphasizing the particular cognitive adaptations that, they
claim, generate human cultures. On their view, there are a variety of cul-
tural universals that derive from internally rich cognitive programs that
are built into our minds. The structures of an individual™s environment
explain only the particular cultural variants that he or she acquires, not
what lies at the heart of culture. This is a view of human cultures that par-
allels the linguistic nativist™s view of natural languages. Indeed, this strong
nativist view of culture derives from strong nativist views of language and
the mind. The cognitive scientist Steven Pinker has popularized these
views and the connections between them in a series of books.13
Clearly then, part of what is at issue in this debate over culture and
“what™s within” is the conception of the place of the mind within an-
thropology. Few (if any) strong antinativists would deny that the mind is
entirely irrelevant to culture. Rather, they propose that we understand the
mind through culture. The most in¬‚uential expression of this view is the
anthropologist Clifford Geertz™s interpretationism, which holds that cul-
ture lies in the actions and artifacts of agents in the observable, physical
world rather than in any inner theater of the mind. The task of a cultural
anthropology is to interpret these actions and artifacts where this involves
uncovering their meaning, what they symbolize, and how they function
in a given society. In “Thick description,” the opening essay to Geertz™s
The Interpretation of Cultures, having said that “[c]ulture is public because
meaning is,” Geertz continues:

The generalized attack on privacy theories of meaning is, since early Husserl
and late Wittgenstein, so much a part of modern thought that it need not be
The Individual in the Fragile Sciences 21

developed once more here. What is necessary is to see to it that the news of it
reaches anthropology; and in particular that it is made clear that to say that culture
consists of socially established structures of meaning in terms of which people do
such things as signal conspiracies and join them or perceive insults and answer
them, is no more to say that it is a psychological phenomenon, a characteristic
of someone™s mind, personality, cognitive structure, or whatever than to say that
Tantrism, genetics, the progressive form of the verb, the classi¬cation of wines,
the Common Law, or the notion of a ˜conditional curse™ . . . is.14

“Socially established structures of meaning” are the meeting point of
mind and culture, the trading zone in which psychology and anthropol-
ogy exchange their goods.
The fragment of the broader debate over culture and the mind that
I have recounted as one between strong nativists and antinativists about
culture (see Figure 1.3) suggests three points. The ¬rst is that views about
the nature of culture in anthropology are intimately entwined with views
about the nature of the mind. The second is that the two-dimensional
analysis of this debate here implies that, as in the cognitive and biological
sciences, there are positions that depart from both strong nativism and
strong antinativism that are worth exploring. The third is the possibility
that “taking culture seriously” may require thinking beyond the boundary
of the individual not only in how we think of culture itself, but also in
how we think of the mind.
In the cases of nativism about cognition and biology, I have suggested
that strong nativist views promote a corresponding form of individualism

External Minimalism Thesis
YES NO



Y
View of Culture from
E
Evolutionary Psychology Internal
S
Richness

Thesis
Interpretationism N
O
¬gure 1.3. Culture and the Individual Mind
Disciplining the Individual and the Mind
22

in leading one to focus exclusively on what lies within the boundary of the
individual organism in investigating psychological or developmental pro-
cesses. Perhaps unsurprisingly, none of the general views about culture
that I have demarcated are individualistic in this sense: It is not in dispute
that one must look beyond the head of individuals in order to describe
and explain culture. But those who have accepted strong nativist views
of culture have, I think, come close to expressing a methodologically in-
dividualistic view of culture as either reducible or explainable in terms,
ultimately, of the thoughts and actions of individuals. In traditional socio-
biology, culture is simply the sum of individual behaviors; in evolutionary
psychology, it is sometimes construed as the sum of individual cognitive
programs. Thus again, strong nativist views of culture ¬t naturally with
the corresponding form of individualism, in this case methodological
individualism.


8 the metaphysical picture: smallism
I have thus far outlined the general framework shared by individualists
across the fragile sciences, tried to show the af¬nities that exist between
a cluster of nativist views in those sciences, and connected these nativist
views to corresponding forms of individualism. I want to round out this in-
troductory chapter by suggesting that there is a metaphysical picture that
makes individualism and nativism and the methodologies they both invite
seem quite compelling. The metaphysics here is a twentieth-century gen-
eralization of seventeenth-century corpuscularianism, a view that played
a central role in the scienti¬c views of some of the leading scientists of
that period, including Robert Boyle and Sir Isaac Newton.
This modern day generalization of corpuscularianism constitutes, in
my view, a form of metaphysical discrimination that has left its mark
on a range of sciences. In keeping with these politically correct times,

<<

. 5
( 62 .)



>>