Jump to content
Objectivism Online Forum
NIJamesHughes

What is the validation of "tabula rasa"?

Rate this topic

Recommended Posts

What is the proof of the concept "tabula rasa?" Is it discussed at length by an Objectivist intellectual? When arguing and this point comes up i usually get the objection: "well babies hold their breath when put under water, and that means they have innate knowledge."

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
What is the proof of the concept "tabula rasa?" Is it discussed at length by an Objectivist intellectual? When arguing and this point comes up i usually get the  objection: "well babies hold their breath when put under water, and that means they have innate knowledge."

Blank slate, I believe, means the mind does not have innate concepts. Urges, reflexes, any other involuntary muscle movements, primitive emotions (fear, hunger, pain, etc...) are not concepts. That a baby can breathe, grasp, eat, crawl, cry and even walk before ever pronouncing the first word (i.e., concept) it learns is no disproof of tabula rasa.

I think the whole problem lies around your defintion of "knowledge"--which seems to imply that a lion certain "knows" how to hunt, a fish "knows" how to swim, and an eagle "knows" how to fly.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
What is the proof of the concept "tabula rasa?" Is it discussed at length by an Objectivist intellectual? When arguing and this point comes up i usually get the  objection: "well babies hold their breath when put under water, and that means they have innate knowledge."

Physical mechanisms are not knowledge (if you want an even more obvious bit of what children don't have to learn, consider breathing). There are no innate concepts or ideas. The burden of proof lies on someone who wants to claim there are innate ideas, and the refutation of any such example is the counterexample (i.e. a person whose does not have the concept X). You have to be cautious with that because self-evident concepts such as "existence" are universally present (because existence is). However, since there are virtually no plausible candidates for innate ideas, it's easy to argue that the concept existence is derived from experience.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
What is the proof of the concept "tabula rasa?"

Philosophy preceeds science. It explains the basis of knowledge observable at every level of scientific discovery. If you are using scientific sources to validate this claim, then, I believe, you are missing the point.

Tabula Rasa is in reference to concepts, and it is negating the view held by Kant of "a priori" concepts (concepts before experience). My take on it is that it is a negative concept. Because of the way that man learns concepts from his perceptual data a non-Tabula Rosa child would have other non-experienced knowledge. Reflexes and autonomic processes are not included in "a priori". I believe the only analytic concepts are. As to your example, a quick internet search will show much more information on babies holding their breath by reflex. http://www.swimwithus.co.uk/Articles/Swimm...h-baby-swim.htm

"Once the baby uses those lungs, their ability to automatically hold their breaths while submerged begins to disappear. Because of that, the American Academy of Paediatrics discourages teaching infants to swim by forcibly dunking them or submerging them in water."

If babies do have an "instinct" for underwater breathing, its only to keep them alive until they can breath and is not properly knowledge in even a perceptual sense. Other arguments against Tabula Rasa include arguments of personality being implanted at birth, but this is an attempt by determinists to explain volition in youngsters.

For further discussion in the philosophic basis of this issue, I suggest reading ITOE chapter 2 which explains how man learns concepts and by implication that he does not need any to start. And also read "The Analytic-Synthetic Dichotomy" also in ITOE for the philosophy argument against Tabula Rasa.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Philosophy precedes science. It explains the basis of knowledge observable at every level of scientific discovery. If you are using scientific sources to validate this claim, then, I believe, you are missing the point.

A dangerous formulation, and definitely not an Objectivist one.

Like any other field of knowledge, philosophy is based on observation. In fact, it is based on more observations than any particular natural science. It includes observations about History, Economics, and the rest.

To take one example, Ayn Rand said (can someone provide a reference) that she knowledge of the "Industrial Revolution" contributed to her ability to formulate a philosophy.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
A dangerous formulation, and definitely not an Objectivist one.

Like any other field of knowledge, philosophy is based on observation. In fact, it is based on more observations than any particular natural science. It includes observations about History, Economics, and the rest.

To take one example, Ayn Rand said (can someone provide a reference) that she knowledge of the "Industrial Revolution" contributed to her ability to formulate a philosophy.

Moerbeke is right, philosophy necessarily precedes science. However, I believe you both are coming at this from two different vantage points. Historically, yes, science existed long before Objectivism, and indeed contributed to its fruition. However, in a personal sense, one must practice science within the cognitive framework of their philosophy.

To clarify: using science to validate a philosophical concept would be akin to reversing cause-and-effect.

Now, whether you folks decide this matter to be philosophical or scientific nature is your call. I just wanted to try to mediate a bit here :D

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
A dangerous formulation, and definitely not an Objectivist one.

I did not orginate the idea that philosophy preceeds science. I believe that I first heard this in Peikoff's "Advanced Lectures of OPAR" under the topic of "should we define man as a rational primate?". However, I think that the points brought up were valid and require further explination.

I did not mean to imply that the spiral theory of knowledge did not apply to philosophy. My knowledge of how the Industrial Revolution influenced Ayn Rand (which I believe I got from the "Unity In Epistemology and Ethics lectures") is that the Industrial Revolution was a huge example of how abstract ideas were of practical value to man's life. It helped her induce that reason is man's basic means of survival (or something similiar). An example is the use of abstract physics in the creation of new devices such as the steam engine.

The point that I intended to argue was that you do not need to study the Industrial Revolution in order to prove the validity of rationality as man's highest value. Nor, by the same token, do you need a clinical analysis of a child's brain functions to validate Tabula Rasa. In both cases, the examples serves nicely for induction or clarity, but are not necessary for philosophic validation (that is you can use any example of any period in history). To contrast, this is not the same with molecular biology; you cannot study it without having chemistry first.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I did not orginate the idea that philosophy precedes science. 

I understand. That is why I did not say you were wrong. I only said that this was a dangerous way to formulate the idea.

Some epistemologists claim that certain ideas are with us "ab initio". Even in a derived field like Economics, Ludwig von Mises propounds such an idea. So, one should be careful that "philosophy precedes science" is not misinterpreted to mean "philosophy precedes observation".

Consider that Dr. Peikoff is studying the history of Physics to understand the process of induction.

Edited by softwareNerd

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I was reading some Rand the other day, specificaly her West Point address (http://gos.sbc.edu/r/rand.html).

She took particular issue in that address with philosopher Immanuel Kant (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Immanuel_Kant).

It reminded me of an issue that I had noticed before but never really explore: the Objectivist affinity for the tabula rasa model of human intellect. Indeed, there is a knot of issues around this point of debate.

What is most interesting is that recent science has turned sharply away from the tabla rasa model. See for example Steven Pinker's _The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature_ (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0670031518).

Questions:

How much does Objectivism rely upon the tabula rasa model? What if that model is contradicted by science?

What if Kant was right in bringing innate forms and concepts to the definition of human experience and knowledge?

Why was Rand so hostile to Kant? (Other than the obvious nefariousness of Kant's deciples.)

Edited by softwareNerd

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I was reading some Rand the other day, specificaly her West Point address (http://gos.sbc.edu/r/rand.html).

She took particular issue in that address with philosopher Immanuel Kant (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Immanuel_Kant).

It reminded me of an issue that I had noticed before but never really explore: the Objectivist affinity for the tabla rasa model of human intellect. Indeed, there is a knot of issues around this point of debate.

What is most interesting is that recent science has turned sharply away from the tabla rasa model. See for example Steven Pinker's _The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature_ (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0670031518).

Questions:

How much does Objectivism rely upon the tabla rasa model? What if that model is contradicted by science?

What if Kant was right in bringing innate forms and concepts to the definition of human experience and knowledge?

Why was Rand so hostile to Kant? (Other than the obvious nefariousness of Kant's deciples.)

Just as an aside, the correct latin phrase is tabula rasa.

When Ayn Rand talks about tabula rasa, it is my understanding that she means by that that the human mind has no innate ideas. Man is not born with any innate conceptual knowledge. I know of no scientist that has provided evidence to refute this. If you have knowledge of evidence of innate conceptual knowledge please present it -- I'm sure we would all like to hear the details.

Rand was hostile to Kant because she took ideas seriously and argued that Kant's ideas were horrendous on every important issue. Kant started the subjectivist school in philosophy by arguing that rather than attempt to make our knowledge conform to reality (thus objective), we need to have reality conform to our knowledge (our innate structures -- subjective). He denied the possibility of a real metaphysics since, following Hume, he argued that we could never have knowledge of reality-in-itself and converted objectivity into intersubjectivity, since collective agreement became the new standard. In ethics he argued for duty and severed virtue from value.

If you are new to Ayn Rand's ideas there's quite a bit more you might want to consider reading to understand where she's coming from. A reasonable source is the Ayn Rand Reader edited by Gary Hull, which has selections from both her fiction and nonfiction or you could dive in with any of a number of other books such as "Philosophy: Who Needs it," whose title essay you seem to have read or The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged which are her most important fictional works.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thanks, this was a very helpful reply. (And pardon my Latin, mea culpa, but too late to fix the title.)

There is probably an interesting line of discussion around what is conceptual and what is innate with the usual boundary problems but I like this general line of argument. It does seem to rescue Rand's arguments without denying scientific advances in human cognition. I'll look again at the science with distinction in mind.

Your distinction also has the virtue of allowing for individual differences (e.g. I like chocolate, you prefer vanilla and that might be an innate preference, de gustibus non est disputandum) without surrendering the big issues to subjectivism as Kant et alia were want to do.

It's likely however that some larger conceptual arguments have roots in personal preferences. For example, some people are less comfortable with conflict than others and that profoundly affects their philosophy. Your distinction remains intact but the compartmentalization might be impure. And if innate preferences influence moral choices then it obviously deserves attention.

I'm famliar with the general Randian books but has anyone focused on this issue in particular?

Just as an aside, the correct latin phrase is tabula rasa.

When Ayn Rand talks about tabula rasa, it is my understanding that she means by that that the human mind has no innate ideas. Man is not born with any innate conceptual knowledge. I know of no scientist that has provided evidence to refute this. If you have knowledge of evidence of innate conceptual knowledge please present it -- I'm sure we would all like to hear the details.

Rand was hostile to Kant because she took ideas seriously and argued that Kant's ideas were horrendous on every important issue. Kant started the subjectivist school in philosophy by arguing that rather than attempt to make our knowledge conform to reality (thus objective), we need to have reality conform to our knowledge (our innate structures -- subjective). He denied the possibility of a real metaphysics since, following Hume, he argued that we could never have knowledge of reality-in-itself and converted objectivity into intersubjectivity, since collective agreement became the new standard. In ethics he argued for duty and severed virtue from value.

If you are new to Ayn Rand's ideas there's quite a bit more you might want to consider reading to understand where she's coming from. A reasonable source is the Ayn Rand Reader edited by Gary Hull, which has selections from both her fiction and nonfiction or you could dive in with any of a number of other books such as "Philosophy: Who Needs it,"  whose title essay you seem to have read or The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged which are her most important fictional works.

Edited by hernan

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Just as an aside, the correct latin phrase is tabula rasa.

When Ayn Rand talks about tabula rasa, it is my understanding that she means by that that the human mind has no innate ideas. Man is not born with any innate conceptual knowledge. I know of no scientist that has provided evidence to refute this. If you have knowledge of evidence of innate conceptual knowledge please present it -- I'm sure we would all like to hear the details.

In the "Objectivist Ethics," Rand does state that man has "no innate ideas," but she also says in a more general way that man has "no automatic knowledge." She goes on to say that both man's cognitve mechanism and his emotional mechanism are tabula rasa.

However, I would suggest that there are forms of knowledge and cognition that, while falling short of the status of ideas, are innate. Research in syntax formation strongly suggests inherent linguistic structures. Also a number of studies have noted the ability of infants to discriminate phonemes virtually at birth. As researcher Roger Brown observed, “There is in short a large biological component that shapes our human languages.”

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Yes, this is exactly what has me scratching my head. What are the implications to Objectivism?

Edited by hernan

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Using the Amazon link you provided, I looked at the first few pages of the book. The author defines tabula rasa as:

The idea that the human mind has no inherent structure...

This is opposed to Ayn Rand's formulation of the mind having no innate ideas.

The human mind does have a specific a nature... a specific identity.

So, if the author ends up proving that the human mind can only do certain things and not others, then -- at that abstract level -- it does not contradict Objectivism.

To continue the metaphor of a "blank slate", I would put it thus:

You can write anything on a blank slate, but you cannot do anything with a blank slate. The nature of the slate could even determine what kind of writing is possible: e.g. black chalk won't work on a black slate.

If you want to check for Objectivist material on this, take a look at Dr. Binswanger's books and tapes at the Ayn Rand Bookstore. I do not know if any of them addesses the topics, but that would be a good starting point.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

hernan, it's not generally necessary to quote the entire post just above yours. :D

There are no implications to Objectivism. First off I'd like to see this research on syntax before I could make any judgements. Language is based on man's nature and the vocal sounds we are capable of producing. (Not all languages even use the full range of vocalizations; some languages use vocalizations that Americans would be hard pressed to make!) I know for a FACT that for every "syntactical" or other kind of language "rule" there IS an exception. Languages tend to diverge over time, becoming mutually incomprehensible. The spread of a particular language as a kind of Lingua Franca is accomplished ONLY by great civilizations.

However, I've heard that newborns can recognize their mother's voice from the moment they're born because they are used to hearing it from inside the womb. That doesn't count as "innate" . . . it was just present from the first moment that they were able to hear. Perhaps this recognition of phoenemes is similar; you hear the cadance of your mother's speech from the first moments you're able to sense vibrations.

These "ideas" are also along the level of percepts. They are not even approaching the conceptual level yet. Even percepts, though, are not innate.

In order for an idea to count as "innate" it would have to be provably present BEFORE it was possible to detect sensory information that would enable a baby to generate the idea. Anything I've ever heard described as "instinctive" I have seen disproven by actual evidence.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
In the "Objectivist Ethics," Rand does state that man has "no innate ideas," but she also says in a more general way that man has "no automatic knowledge."  She goes on to say that both man's cognitve mechanism and his emotional mechanism are tabula rasa.
Would you provide an exact quote? I only know of a couple places where spe speaks of "tabula rasa", and without further context, I can't imagine her saying that man's cognitve mechanism is "tabula rasa", since that is tantamount to saying that he is both with no nature, and magically acquires one.
However, I would suggest that there are forms of knowledge and cognition that, while falling short of the status of ideas, are innate. Research in syntax formation strongly suggests inherent linguistic structures.  Also a number of studies have noted the ability of infants to discriminate phonemes virtually at birth.  As researcher Roger Brown observed, “There is in short a large biological component that shapes our human languages.”
Interestingly, Chomsky (who has been the font of the very strong nativist approach to syntax that permeated contemporary linguistics) has largely backed off from his earlier position in the past decade. The one point that does seem to be tenable is that man has an innate faculty of reason -- this is what Objectivists have been saying for decades. There is precious little evidence for any universal pre-existing language structures, other than a basic "nature of the beast" capacity having to do with recursion -- which really has to do with the ability to conceptualize and abstract. As for the child phoneme claim, I guess a nice way to put it would be to say "that's just mistaken". Unfortunately, Pinker is stuck in a particular mode, and we don't expect to dig himself out ever.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
hernan, it's not generally necessary to quote the entire post just above yours. :)

There are no implications to Objectivism.  First off I'd like to see this research on syntax before I could make any judgements.  Language is based on man's nature and the vocal sounds we are capable of producing.  (Not all languages even use the full range of vocalizations; some languages use vocalizations that Americans would be hard pressed to make!)  I know for a FACT that for every "syntactical" or other kind of language "rule" there IS an exception.  Languages tend to diverge over time, becoming mutually incomprehensible.  The spread of a particular language as a kind of Lingua Franca is accomplished ONLY by great civilizations.

Yet for all their differences there remain certain structural unities among the world’s languages. In Syntactic Structures Noam Chomsky showed that there was a complex but finite set of rules governing all languages and proposed that the ease with which infants master these rules suggested an innate "Language Acquisition Device."

However, I've heard that newborns can recognize their mother's voice from the moment they're born because they are used to hearing it from inside the womb.  That doesn't count as "innate" . . . it was just present from the first moment that they were able to hear.  Perhaps this recognition of phoenemes is similar; you hear the cadance of your mother's speech from the first moments you're able to sense vibrations.

Yet there is no evidence that the children of non-speaking mothers or children raised by parents who speak a different language than the birth mother have any greater difficulty mastering these phonemes. Furthermore, Chomsky showed that children use language in ways that do not imitate what they hear from adults. A child might say “Mommy sock” a word combination that meaningfully suggests his mother’s sock, but a combination that the child has never heard before. Similarly, a child will say “I taked the apple,” a sentence that is meaningful but which has never been heard by the child before.

As Christopher A. Thurber said, “First, a sentence can be grammatical without having any meaning. (So humans must not learn grammar based on what words mean.) Second, we can tell the difference between a grammatical sentence and an ungrammatical one without ever having heard [either] sentence before. (So humans must not learn grammar based on past experiences with specific sentences.) Third, we can produce and understand brand new sentences that no one has ever said before. (So humans must not learn language based solely on imitation.)”

These "ideas" are also along the level of percepts.  They are not even approaching the conceptual level yet.  Even percepts, though, are not innate.

In order for an idea to count as "innate" it would have to be provably present BEFORE it was possible to detect sensory information that would enable a baby to generate the idea.  Anything I've ever heard described as "instinctive" I have seen disproven by actual evidence.

The problem is that a purely behavioral theory of language, i.e. that the mind is cognitively blank prior to language acquisition, simply cannot account for the ease with which children create new sentences.

To Dave Odden: The Rand quote in full is "Since man has no automatic knowledge, he can have no automatic values; since he has no innate ideas. he can have no innate value judgments. Man is born with an emotional mechanism, just as he is born with a cognitive mechanism; but, at birth, both are 'tabula rasa.'" (VOS, p. 28.)

As for Chomsky backing off, in his last book on the subject, Language and Mind, 1998, the author was still talking about a universal grammar and deep structure.

Edited by Eric Mathis

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

A quick note about Chomsky's writing. Language and mind was written in 1968 and reflected his old views. Of course it is constantly being reprinted, so that would explain the apparent publication data. His most recent "real" book is The Minimalist Program (MIT press 1998), and he has related articles such as "Minimalist Inquiries: The Framework" (2000). This "universal grammar" thing will probably not go away with him; deep structure, on the other hand, has nothing at all to do with his nativism. His Minimalist Program has substantially (but not entirely) repudiated his earlier unmotivated nativism.

Syntactic Structures did not "show" that there was a set of rules that governed all languages -- it simply asserted the conclusion, without any empirical argumentation. If you can point to some particular evidence in Syntactic Structures that you think is particularly probative, it would be appropriate to mention it. The existence of structural unities among the world’s languages is explicable in terms of the fact that man is a conceptual being, and that we share a perceptual apparatus. Those unities are few and far between, and extremely abstract to the point that they can easily be explained as historical coincidences. The ability of children to hear sounds used in language is a function of a more general ability -- to hear. If you want to get into concrete details of claims about infants "hearing phonemes", that's cool, but as I say, it just is not so.

Furthermore, Chomsky showed that children use language in ways that do not imitate what they hear from adults.
This is true, but irrelevant to the nativist hypothesis. The existence of an abstract mental grammar that children learn is entirely consistent with Objectivist epistemological principles, and does not require any assumption of "innate knowledge". Imitation is not the issue: the question is whether the abstract patterns of a language can be learned by exposure to the basic data that you hear in speech; or, do there have to be auxiliary hypotheses about "built-in knowledge". The so-call "behavioral" theory of language that these guys are talking abut is a totally dead theory, behaviorism. I don't know who found Skinner's ideas more ridiculous, Chomsky or Rand, and it really doesn't matter when they are both right.

Pinker seems to be caught in a strange time warp, since he still hears these behaviorist ghosts of the past. The alternative to nativism is not behaviorism, it is simply the idea that humans have a conceptual faculty and an ability to learn which enables them to acquire communicative systems just by observing raw data.

The Rand quote in full is "Since man has no automatic knowledge, he can have no automatic values; since he has no innate ideas. he can have no innate value judgments.  Man is born with an emotional mechanism, just as he is born with a cognitive mechanism; but, at birth, both are 'tabula rasa.'" (VOS, p. 28.)
Thanks. And just to provide the rest of the quote, she says "It is man's cognitive faculty, his mind, that determines the content of both. Man's emotional mechanism is like an electronic computer, which his mind has to program—and the programming consists of the values his mind chooses." This really emphasises the point that the conceptual faculty (ability) exists, but has no prespecified content.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Pinker seems to be caught in a strange time warp, since he still hears these behaviorist ghosts of the past.

Be careful that you are not taking potshots at the messenger. Pinker is just a pop science writer, one who brings scientific research to the layman level. He's mostly relying on the scientific work of others.

In fact, he does spend the opening chapters distinguishing the new theories of instinct from the old. As on many issues there is an occilation of extremes around a consistent center. In this case, most of the popular tabula rasa arguments are arguments against hundred year old theories and do not reflect recent scientific discoveries. (Remember, tabula rasa was the intellectual foundation for communism's promise to remake man.)

Beyond looking at the science, I also think one should think about the terms of discussion. For example, greich made a very useful distinction between conceptual and non-conceptual ideas. This does in fact track well with what Pinker presents.

It seems self-evident that there is some inherent structure to the brain and, indeed, to the body in general which affects the brain and thereby thinking and reasoning. To call the innate structure and the learned conceptual is useful but merely a tautological definition.

The real question is what does it say about concepts of interest to us. Or, to put it another way, what's relative (to innate differences between man and other animals or among men and women) and what's absolute (invariant)?

The more influence the innate structure has, the more Kant must be given his due.

Edited by hernan

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
As Christopher A. Thurber said, “First, a sentence can be grammatical without having any meaning. (So humans must not learn grammar based on what words mean.)

I challenge you to provide an example of a sentence that is grammatical without having ANY meaning, since grammar is a method of organizing individual words into a context so that they have meaning. Perhaps you (and apparently he) have different ideas of what the definitions of "sentence", "grammatical" and "meaning" are.

Second, we can tell the difference between a grammatical sentence and an ungrammatical one without ever having heard [either] sentence before. (So humans must not learn grammar based on past experiences with specific sentences.)

No one can tell the difference between a grammatical sentence and an ungrammatical one until they have learned enough of a language to be able to form an abstraction of the rules of grammar. They can then apply this abstract knowledge to a new sentence that they have never heard before. It is the human ability to apply abstract principles to new concretes that this statement addresses. If I listen to someone speaking Chinese I cannot tell whether they are speaking grammatically or ungrammatically or spouting total gibberesh; it's all the same to me.

Third, we can produce and understand brand new sentences that no one has ever said before. (So humans must not learn language based solely on imitation.)

No, we learn language through a process of abstraction based on the results of the imitations we make as very small children. As above: this simply refers to the fact that all humans have a conceptual faculty; that we are capable of making abstractions. This does not mean that we have already implanted abstractions when we are born, simply that we are capable of manufacturing them.

The problem is that a purely behavioral theory of language, i.e. that the mind is cognitively blank prior to language acquisition, simply cannot account for the ease with which children create new sentences.

Objectivism rejects any kind of behaviorism whatsoever, behaviorism being a kind of determinism (the "nurture" kind), so this conclusion is utterly without any sort of connection. The mind is "cognitively blank" (what does that mean, exactly? Cognition = awareness, not conceptualization) prior to collection of sensory data. From the moment a child begins to acquire sensory information (which happens the moment the brain and nervous system have developed to the point where they are able to send impulses, I would suppose) the mind is no longer cognitively "blank". Perceptually the child's mind is blank until that child's brain and perceptual faculties have developed to the point where it is able to integrate sensations into percepts. A child's mind remains conceptually blank until that child begins to make abstractions via a process of differentiation and integration. Learning language is part of the process of making abstractions.

I really suggest you read OPAR before you start arguing that Objectivists support behaviorism.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I really suggest you read OPAR before you start arguing that Objectivists support behaviorism.
Another reference is the following...

Ayn Rand presents her criticism of behaviorism in a two-part article: "Ayn Rand Letter, 1972 : Issue of Feb 14th and of Feb 28th".

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Be careful that you are not taking potshots at the messenger. Pinker is just a pop science writer, one who brings scientific research to the layman level. He's mostly relying on the scientific work of others.
The main potshot I want to take at him is basically that: he harvests sound bites from research and presents them as though they were solid fact. There's an elaborate argument for universal grammar in The language Instinct which was founded on a really weak set of assumptions about X-bar structure, which were abandoned about the time the book actually came out. Feh.

I do find his discussion of instinct to be interesting, but it all smacks of redefinism. Chomsky similarly extend the idea of "knowledge" beyond what the word really means.

Beyond looking at the science, I also think one should think about the terms of discussion. For example, greich made a very useful distinction between conceptual and non-conceptual ideas. This does in fact track well with what Pinker presents.
I don't read his post that way: perhaps you can say more exactly what you mean. For instance, I see him saying that there are no innate ideas, and that man has no innate conceptual knowledge (which refer to the same thing).

To call the innate structure and the learned conceptual is useful but merely a tautological definition.
No, I think you misunderstand the term "conceptual".

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I would say that a commitment to tabula rasa is just a decision to always assign the value of 'false' to statements of the form 'X knows p without experience' regardless of context.

There are lots of things which could be classed as instances of innate knowledge without doing violence to the language (for example a beaver's "knowledge" of how to build a dam, an infant's "knowledge" of how to breath, the faculty for language learning in post-chomskian linguistics, a person's "knowledge" of the Kantian categories, a baby's "knowledge" of body language, and so on), but we make a fairly ad hoc decision not to label these things as genuine instances of knowledge. The word knowledge has essentially been (re)defined to mean 'things learnt by experience', which makes claims of tabula rasa trivially true. Anything that can be shown to be innate will be discounted as knowledge automatically, as has happened on several occassions.

I'm not critisising this; I would agree that having the concept of knowledge restricted to experiential learning is a useful distinction to make, and I would oppose any attempt to blur the boundaries here. But I think it should be understood that 'tabula rasa' is more a claim about the English language (our use of the term 'knowledge') than about any deep aspect of reality. It goes without saying that this is my viewpoint rather than the Objectivist one, which I suspect would be in direct opposition here.

Edited by Hal

Share this post


Link to post
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...

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

×
×
  • Create New...