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Connectionism and Three Levels of Nativism

William Ramsey and Stephen Stich
Synthese
Vol. 82, No. 2, Epistemology and Cognition, Part I (Feb., 1990), pp. 177-205
Published by: Springer
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/20116746
Page Count: 29
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Connectionism and Three Levels of Nativism
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Abstract

Along with the increasing popularity of connectionist language models has come a number of provocative suggestions about the challenge these models present to Chomsky's arguments for nativism. The aim of this paper is to assess these claims. We begin by reconstructing Chomsky's "argument from the poverty of the stimulus" and arguing that it is best understood as three related arguments, with increasingly strong conclusions. Next, we provide a brief introduction to connectionism and give a quick survey of recent efforts to develop networks that model various aspects of human linguistic behavior. Finally, we explore the implications of this research for Chomsky's arguments. Our claim is that the relation between connectionism and Chomsky's views on innate knowledge is more complicated than many have assumed, and that even if these models enjoy considerable success the threat they pose for linguistic nativism is small.

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