Jump to content
Objectivism Online Forum

Linguistic Argument vs. Tabula Rasa

Rate this topic


Recommended Posts

I was speaking with a man who was clearly influenced by Chomsky or Fodor or both. He made an argument that interested me, although I do not know what evidence there is in support of some of its premises. What do you make of this argument:

Infants learn several hundred words a day during certain periods of their infancy. People do not point to the referents of the words they are using very often, and they certainly do not do so several hundred times a day. It follows that infants learn the referents of some words in a way that does not include someone speaking the word, then pointing to the word's referent. More broadly, if we apply the same general line of argument to each candidate mechanism, we will see that there is no plausible mechanism by which a child with a tabula rasa mind could learn words that quickly. It follows that we are not born tabula rasa. We must come equipped with a set of concepts, and an innate ability to map words which have the "correct sort of sound" onto those concepts. (Of course, we do not have to learn the meanings of all words this way for the argument to hold.)
Edited by softwareNerd
Added Quote-box around quoted argument
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I was speaking with a man who was clearly influenced by Chomsky or Fodor or both. He made an argument that interested me, although I do not know what evidence there is in support of some of its premises. What do you make of this argument:

Infants learn several hundred words a day during certain periods of their infancy. People do not point to the referents of the words they are using very often, and they certainly do not do so several hundred times a day. It follows that infants learn the referents of some words in a way that does not include someone speaking the word, then pointing to the word's referent. More broadly, if we apply the same general line of argument to each candidate mechanism, we will see that there is no plausible mechanism by which a child with a tabula rasa mind could learn words that quickly. It follows that we are not born tabula rasa. We must come equipped with a set of concepts, and an innate ability to map words which have the "correct sort of sound" onto those concepts. (Of course, we do not have to learn the meanings of all words this way for the argument to hold.)

I understand the view you hold, as well as this view you've related, a view held by a man you were speaking with. I also understand that "choice" is an illusion in your view. So I accept that you cannot help but to express this view.

Your "thoughts" are interesting.

Edited by Trebor
Link to comment
Share on other sites

If we are pre-equipped to process language how does he explain the fact that feral children are often unable to learn to speak once they have passed a certain age in that condition? If his postulation was correct we would expect such a child to develop some sort of language independently in order to satisfy the "innate ability" of human beings to conceptualize using certain sounds.

Although we may not be exposed to direct examples that often in the process of learning to speak, we are completely immersed in the task from day one, and we are, by virtue of our intellect and our capacity to reason, able to conceptualize.

He's saying we are born with these concepts but it is the capacity of the human brain that we are born with. Who said our brains can not learn words that fast anyway? Where is his proof of that being impossible?

I imagine learning language is like building a complex picture puzzle. The first couple of pieces are almost nonsensical, but you are able to figure out where they go by referring to the picture on the outside of the box a lot (external clues, references). Once you get going you are able to look at the picture less and less and it takes less and less time to figure out where every piece goes. You still try to put the wrong ones in the wrong holes sometimes but you get them right more often than not.

Edited by Zip
Link to comment
Share on other sites

as well as this view you've related,

I'd like to see how Objectivists answer that argument. What?

a view held by a man you were speaking with.

I do ask people who disagree with me why they disagree with me.

"choice" is an illusion in your view. So I accept that you cannot help but to express this view.

I made no such claim.

Edited by ctrl y
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I think the argument in question could be clarified by the story of Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan. If language was innate, then Keller's story would not exist. The deaf and blind Keller would have had no notable problems learning language. Tell the guy to go watch the movie "The Miracle Worker."

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I made no such claim.

I apologize. My mistake. I confused you with "crizon" in the topic, "On the existence of free will"

You did say, however, in part: "I have refuted the Objectivist concept of free will."

Your claim, therefore, that you never claimed that choice is an illusion, is perhaps splitting hairs, don't you think?

Else, how do you validate free will?

(Of course, your reply, and my question, is off topic, so a pointer to the relevant topic and your validation would be helpful and appreciated. Perhaps "Peikoff versus Determinism: A Critique" would be best?)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Infants learn several hundred words a day during certain periods of their infancy.
This is factually false. I'm not just nit-picking, I'm pointing out that there are real scientific issues at stake, and that making stuff up is bad. Let's say that the actual number is 3 (I will edit that in below) and see whether that affects the argument.
People do not point to the referents of the words they are using very often, and they certainly do not do so <3> times a day.
Pointing with the finger is not required. What is required is that the child be able to infer what thing the word refers to. This is easily doable in the period (below 6) that your spokesperson is apparently referring to.
It follows that infants learn the referents of some words in a way that does not include someone speaking the word, then pointing to the word's referent.
Irrelevant given that the child only needs evidence to indicate the referent, and not actual finger pointing. Furthermore, this equivocates over "learn a word". There is a distinction between "acquire a new sound string that have some meaning" and "learning a word", hinging exactly on the acquisition of reference. Children mislearn lots of words and take their sweet time figuring out the referents. Child X misused the word "daddy" for almost a year, not understanding that it doesn't mean "frequently seen adult (male)", the sex thing being optional. Similarly, Child X used the word "dog" to refer equally to cats and dogs. Children are notorious for not getting the meanings of words, sometimes until graduate school.
More broadly, if we apply the same general line of argument to each candidate mechanism, we will see that there is no plausible mechanism by which a child with a tabula rasa mind could learn words that quickly.
No, that's simple argument by assertion. It's a version of the argument -- which is valid -- used against the behaviorist stimulus-response model, that equates babies and pigeons. A model that assumes that which Objectivism does indeed assume, namely a faculty of reason which is unique to man, does explain why language can be acquired.
We must come equipped with a set of concepts, and an innate ability to map words which have the "correct sort of sound" onto those concepts.
This is false in the sense that it's not limited to sound: we have the ability to map mental abstractions of existents to a symbol (not just a sound). The foregoing gives no evidence that we are equipped with a set of concepts. Note that the ability to form concepts (which includes making symbol-referent associations) is something that Objectivism claims exists (read ITOE).

So the argument does not go through, even a little. Even from a nativist perspective, that isn't a competent argument. A better argument would be based on the problem of inducing a system of grammatical rules base on actual speech. However, the proponent of this argument would have to get a grip on the tabula rasa claim of Objectivism, and not mistakenly fall back on a Pinker approach, which fails to correctly distinguish "innate knowledge" and "faculty of reason".

Link to comment
Share on other sites

This argument does not address any of the fatal objections to innate ideas, it merely assumes the theory as an arbitrary default.

"No plausible mechanism"? What about the great plasticity of a young brain?

In addition to what Zip said I would point out that there is a difference between learning a word and learning a concept. Concepts need words, but words don't require explicitly defined concepts. It can take years to actually learn the meanings of the words we all use every day. Haven't you ever stumped someone by challenging them to define the word "of"? Mimicry can go a long way.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

A closer examination of the first post in that thread will show that, while the phrase you quote appears in my post, I did not indicate that I agreed with it. In fact, I explained that I would value having a critique of the sentiment it expresses.

Edited by ctrl y
Link to comment
Share on other sites

A closer examination of the first post in that thread will show that, while the phrase you quote appears in my post, I did not indicate that I agreed with it. In fact, I explained that I would value having a critique of the sentiment it expresses.

Ah, then I owe you another apology. Thank you for the clarification.

Edited by Trebor
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Ah, then I owe you another apology. Thank you for the clarification.

You would owe him an apology even if he had defended the notion. It's inappropriate to go chasing someone around the forum in various threads for what they said in a particular thread (although some here would continue to do it). Especially if the two issues are unrelated and someone has yet to show that the issue from the other thread is somehow clouding his thinking on this topic. We have many poeple who sometimes question volition. That doesn't mean you chase them around the forum not allowing them to ask any other question until they've conceded on volition.

If you deem ctrl y of no value to debate based upon something he said in another thread, then don't debate him at all. If you want to continue debating the issue he raised in the other thread, then do it in that thread.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

You would owe him an apology even if he had defended the notion. It's inappropriate to go chasing someone around the forum in various threads for what they said in a particular thread (although some here would continue to do it). Especially if the two issues are unrelated and someone has yet to show that the issue from the other thread is somehow clouding his thinking on this topic. We have many poeple who sometimes question volition. That doesn't mean you chase them around the forum not allowing them to ask any other question until they've conceded on volition.

If you deem ctrl y of no value to debate based upon something he said in another thread, then don't debate him at all. If you want to continue debating the issue he raised in the other thread, then do it in that thread.

I'll make a point of not "chasing someone around the forum in various threads for what they said in a particular thread..."

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Loading...
 Share

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.
×
×
  • Create New...