This powerfully iconoclastic book reconsiders the influential nativist position toward the mind. Nativists assert that some concepts, beliefs, or capacities are innate or inborn: "native" to the mind rather than acquired. Fiona Cowie argues that this view is mistaken, demonstrating that nativism is an unstable amalgam of two quite different--and probably inconsistent--theses about the mind.
Unlike empiricists, who postulate domain-neutral learning strategies, nativists insist that some learning tasks require special kinds of skills, and that these skills are hard-wired into our brains at birth. This "faculties hypothesis" finds its modern expression in the views of Noam Chomsky. Cowie, marshaling recent empirical evidence from developmental psychology, psycholinguistics, computer science, and linguistics, provides a crisp and timely critique of Chomsky's nativism and defends in its place a moderately nativist approach to language acquisition.
Also in contrast to empiricists, who view the mind as simply another natural phenomenon susceptible of scientific explanation, nativists suspect that the mental is inelectably mysterious. Cowie addresses this second strand in nativist thought, taking on the view articulated by Jerry Fodor and other nativists that learning, particularly concept acquisition, is a fundamentally inexplicable process. Cowie challenges this explanatory pessimism, and argues convincingly that concept acquisition is psychologically explicable. What's Within? is a clear and provocative achievement in the study of the human mind.