4 - Nativism
from Part II
What is nativism?
Nativism – sometimes called “psychological nativism” – is the doctrine that we have innate capacities, ideas or beliefs. Historically, nativism has been closely related to rationalism. Many rationalists have also been nativists. Plato thinks that our understanding of the forms is, to a large extent, innate; Descartes thinks that we have a great many innate ideas, as do Spinoza and Leibniz. These philosophers all use innateness to help explain how we have a priori knowledge. The sense in which innate ideas or beliefs are independent of experience is quite clear. We do not need to learn them either from experience or from anything else. But, as we shall see, the epistemological status of innate beliefs is rather complicated.
One problem with nativism is that, on some characterizations, every philosopher would seem to be a nativist. Almost every philosopher thinks that we have innate capacities of some kind or other. Hume, who is usually thought to be an enemy of nativism, thinks that we have the innate tendency to form beliefs by the association of ideas. We expect, for example, that a thing will fall if we see its being released because we have formed a habit after seeing this combination many times in the past.
One way of narrowing the class of nativists is to characterize them as holding that we not only have innate general reasoning abilities, such as the disposition to do induction, but we also have domain-specific innate ideas, beliefs or capacities.
- A Priori , pp. 54 - 65Publisher: Acumen PublishingPrint publication year: 2011