Arts & Humanities Research Council - Innateness

Year three: Foundations and the future

One question that arises quite naturally out of years one and two of the project is, where next for research in the nativist tradition? The final year of the project (20032004) examined a variety of foundational questions, and looked to the future of nativist theorising. In the last 30 to 40 years, much progress has been made in positive theorising about the mind from a broadly nativist perspective. It is important that we now take stock of what we have accomplished, and ask ourselves what directions nativist research should take in the future. One aspect of this involves looking in greater depth at the interplay between different areas of nativist-inspired research seeking connections, both substantive and methodological. Nativist thought spans a wide variety of disciplines including: linguistics, developmental psychology, ethology and comparative psychology, evolutionary psychology, anthropology, developmental genetics, neuropsychology, and philosophy of mind. In addition to considering the most promising directions for future nativist research in each of these disciplines individually, we also need to ask how these disciplines might be fruitfully brought together, and whether insights in one discipline might be brought to bear productively within others.

Another task for the final year was to look more closely at some foundational questions. Clarifying the nature of nativist arguments (such as arguments to poverty of stimulus, or arguments grounded in the study of twins) may well lead to a deeper understanding of their power and scope. There is also a need for a better understanding of what innateness itself is. Though much scientific progress can be made without full clarification of foundational notions, a certain amount of confusion surrounds the notion of innateness and a variety of related theoretical terms including: 'instinct', 'learning', 'hereditability', 'canalisation', 'universality', 'information', 'genetically coded', 'nature', 'nurture', and 'environment'. Clarifying the nature of these various theoretical terms, and the relations amongst them, is an important and pressing task.

The volume based on year three of the project was published in 2007.