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  • Language and Learning The Debate between Jean Piaget

    and Noam Chomsky

    Edited by M A S S I M O P I A T T E L L I - P A L M A R I N I

    R O U T L E D G E & K E G A N P A U L London, Melbourne and Henley


    PREFACE Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini xiii

    FOREWORD Howard Gardner xix

    I N T R O D U C T I O N 1 Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini: How Hard Is the "Hard Core" of a Scientific Program*

    PART I The Debate

    1. OPENING THE DEBATE 23 Jean Piaget The Psychogenesis of Knowledge and Its Epistemological Significance

    Noam Chomsky On Cognitive Structures and Their Development: A Reply to Piaget


    Jean Piaget Introductory Remarks Discussion by Frangois Jacob, Jean Piaget, Jean-Pierre Changeux, Stephen Toulmin, Noam Chomsky, Anthony Wilden

    Guy Cellerier Cognitive Strategies in Problem Solving

    Discussion by Noam Chomsky, Massimo Piattelli- Palmarini, Gregory Bateson, Antoine Danchin, Jerry Fodor, Dan Sperber, Guy Cellerier, Jean Piaget, Frangois Jacob, Scott Atran

    Guy Celterier Some Clarifications on Innatism and Constructivism


    Seymour Papert The Role of Artificial Intelligence in Psychology

    Discussion by Noam Chomsky, Seymour Papert, Scott Atran


  • χ / Contents

    4. INITIAL STATES A N D STEADY STATES 107 Noam Chomsky The Linguistic Approach

    Discussion by Anthony Wilden, Noam Chomsky, Seymour Papert, Dieter Dütting, David Premack, Dan Sperber


    Bärbel Inhelder Language and Knowledge in a Constructivist Framework

    Discussion by Noam Chomsky, Seymour Papert, Jerry Fodor, Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini, Bärbel Inhelder, Jacques Monod


    Jerry Fodor Fixation of Belief and Concept Acquisition

    Discussion by Seymour Papert, Jerry Fodor, Jean Piaget, Anthony Wilden, Dieter Dütting, Jacques Monod, Noam Chomsky, Scott Atran

    7. LANGUAGE W I T H I N COGNITION 163 Jean Piaget Schemes of Action and Language Learning

    Discussion by Noam Chomsky, Jean Piaget, Bärbel Inhelder, Jerry Fodor, Seymour Papert, Dan Sperber, David Premack, Jacques Monod, Stephen Toulmin

    8. PROPERTIES OF THE NEURONAL NETWORK 184 Jean-Pierre Changeux Genetic Determinism and Epigenesis of the Neuronal Network: Is There a Biological Compromise between Chomsky and PiageU

    Discussion by Jean Piaget, Dieter Dütting, Jean-Pierre Changeux, Jacques Monod, Noam Chomsky


    David Premack Representational Capacity and Accessibility of Knowledge: The Case of Chimpanzees

    Discussion by Gregory Bateson, David Premack, Maurice Godelier, Seymour Papert, Scott Atran, Norbert Bischof, Anthony Wilden

  • Contents I x i

    10. PHYLOGENESIS A N D COGNITION 231 Norbert Bischof Remarks on Lorenz and Piaget: How Can "Working Hypotheses" Be "Necessary"*

    Comments by Jean Piaget

    11. COGNITION A N D THE SEMIOTIC FUNCTION 244 Dan Sperber Remarks on the Lack of Positive Contributions from Anthropologists to the Problem of Innateness

    Discussion by Seymour Papert, Dan Sperber, Noam Chomsky, David Premack, Jerry Fodor

    12. THE INDUCTIVIST FALLACY 255 Noam Chomsky and Jerry Fodor Statement of the Paradox

    Discussion by Thomas de Zengotita, Noam Chomsky, Gregory Bateson, David Premack, Seymour Papert, Jerry Fodor

    13. AFTERTHOUGHTS A N D CLARIFICATIONS 276 Stephen Toulmin Steering a Way between Constructivism and Innatism Jean Piaget Afterthoughts

    PART I I Comments on the Debate

    14. Hilary Putnam What Is Innate and Why: Comments on the Debate 287

    15. Noam Chomsky Discussion of Putnam's Comments 310

    16. Jerry Fodor Reply to Putnam 325 17. Hilary Putnam Comments on Chomsky's

    and Fodofs Replies 335 18. Jacques Mehler Psychology and Psycholinguistics:

    The Impact of Chomsky and Piaget 341

    APPENDIX A 355 Antoine Danchin A Critical Note on the Use of the Term "Phenocopy"

    APPENDIX Β 361 Rene Thorn The Genesis of Representational Space according to Piaget Jean Piaget Reply to Thorn

  • x i i / Contents

    APPENDIX C 371 Jean Petitot Localist Hypothesis and Theory of Catastrophes: Note on the Debate

    NOTES 380

    INDEX 399

  • Remarks on Lorenz and Piaget: How Can "Working Hypotheses" Be "Necessary"? Norbert Bischof

    In his paper, Piaget argues against the viewpoint of Konrad Lorenz, who holds that the categories of thinking have de­ veloped i n the process of phylogenetic adaptation of the human species to its environment. Logically enough, Lorenz calls these categories "innate working hypotheses'' of the human cognitive system. Piaget, on his side, feels that the contingent and provi- sionary status of a "working hypothesis," born out of the hap­ hazard guesswork of mutation, contradicts the "necessary" char­ acter of our cognitive structures.

    I would like to argue i n favor of the Lorenzian view. In par­ ticular, I intend to point out that the notions of "working hy­ pothesis" and "necessity," as used by Lorenz and Piaget, re­ spectively, are not at all contradictory.


    Lorenz proceeds from an epistemological viewpoint which is shared by most other ethologists (and also, for instance, by Gestalt psychologists and logical empiricists such as Feigl) and which has been labeled "critical realism."* The basic assump­ tions of critical realism are the following:

    1. There is a structured reality, the so-called "objective world," the structure of which remains the same whether or not there are organisms who perceive i t correctly, or perceive i t at all.

    2. Organisms form a special subset of this "objective world." They are characterized by the fact that their behavior can be interpreted as "adaptive" i n the sense of optimizing their chances of survival.

    3. This adaptiveness defines a mapping relation: for every possible behavior of an organism, a set of environmental situa­ tions in which this behavior would be optimally adaptive can be

    * Editor's note: The debate between Putnam, Chomsky, and Fodor in Part II brings further clarification of the issue of "critical realism." Putnam is considered to be one of the most authoritative exponents of this school of thought.


  • 234 / Language and Learning

    assumed to exist. Thus i t can be stated that the behavior of an organism contains "information" about the features of the en­ vironment. This information refers to the intersection of all pos­ sible situations i n which the given behavior would be optimally adaptive.

    4. The concept of information is, i n this context, not con­ fined to the mere syntactic meaning that i t has i n information theory. Rather, i t can be interpreted semantically: we can speak of "true" or "false" information depending on whether a be­ havior is in fact adapted to the existing situation or not. This should be elucidated by a brief example. There is a set of in­ voluntary eye movements that are controlled by the vestibular organ, so-called "vestibular eye reflexes." Among other possibil­ ities, the human eye may, i n a given situation, perform a steady rotation i n the horizontal plane; i n other situations, the eyeballs may be tilted to a given angle around their sagittal axes. If a human organism is subject to a lateral linear acceleration, the eyes w i l l perform a reactive movement. However, this move­ ment does not consist of a lateral drift, which would allow the person to keep track of the environment passing by, but rather consists of a steady t i l t around the optical axis. This response would only be adaptive i n the context of a lateral body t i l t ; in this case i t would help to maintain the stability of the retinal image. Thus we can describe the situation i n terms of the or­ ganism having "misinterpreted" the lateral linear movement as a steady body t i l t (actually, the lateral acceleration has inter­ fered with the pull of gravity to yield a deflection of the otoliths that is equivalent to and indistinguishable from a lateral body tilt) . In this case, the "information" contained in the eye move­ ment about the spatial situation of the body is false: to be adap­ tive, the behavior would require a situation that does not exist in reality.

    5. The subject of the experiment just described is not aware of his (involuntary) eye movements. But if he is asked about his subjective experience, he w i l l indeed report the sensation of being laterally tilted. In other words, subjective experience cor­ responds to the "information" that the external observer assigns to the responses of the organism. Critical realism, now, gen­ erally postulates that our subjective experience (or our "phe­ nomenal world") can be understood as the "information" con­ tained in the totality of our behavioral states of readiness; that is, every subject's phenomenal world stands i n a mapping rela­ tion to objective reality, corresponding to i t more or less exactly, but by no means identical wi th i t .

  • Phylogenesis and Cognition I 235

    In everyday life, we do not make this distinction. To my naive understanding, there is no other mysterious wo