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Innateness and Science

Northcott, Robert (2008) Innateness and Science. In: [2008] Biological Explanations of Behavior: Philosophical Perspectives (Hannover, Germany; 12-15 June, 2008).

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    Although a huge range of definitions has accumulated in the philosophy, biology and psychology literatures, no consensus has been reached on exactly what innateness amounts to. This has helped fuel an increasing skepticism, one that views the concept as anachronistic and actually harmful to science. Yet it remains central to many life sciences, and to several public policy issues too. So it is correspondingly urgent that its philosophical underpinnings be properly cleaned up. In this paper, I present a new approach that endorses a role in science for innateness while also accommodating many of the skeptical concerns. The key to squaring the circle is to import influential recent work on causal explanation. My thesis is that ascriptions of innateness are best seen as explanatory claims. The account that results has three main original features: 1) Innateness is a pragmatic, relational concept. Every trait may be either innate or non-innate, depending on explanatory context. 2) There is an important distinction between innate traits and innate dispositions. 3) Innateness is useful to science as a higher-level predicate that licenses interventions. It is thereby also clarified what ascriptions of innateness do not tell us.

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    Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (UNSPECIFIED)
    Keywords: innateness
    Subjects: Specific Sciences > Biology > Evolutionary Theory
    Specific Sciences > Psychology/Psychiatry
    Specific Sciences > Biology > Molecular Biology/Genetics
    Specific Sciences > Biology
    General Issues > Causation
    General Issues > Explanation
    Specific Sciences > Cognitive Science
    Specific Sciences > Biology > Developmental Biology
    Specific Sciences > Biology > Evolutionary Psychology
    Conferences and Volumes: [2008] Biological Explanations of Behavior: Philosophical Perspectives (Hannover, Germany; 12-15 June, 2008)
    Depositing User: Robert Northcott
    Date Deposited: 10 Mar 2008
    Last Modified: 07 Oct 2010 11:16
    Item ID: 3934

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