Place, U. T. (1992i). Philosophical fashion and scientific progress in the theory of universals. [Unpublished paper. Presented November 5th 1992, Department of Psychology, University of Wales, Bangor; November 26-28, 1992, Conference of the Linguistic Society of Belgium on Conceptual and Linguistic Representation, Antwerp]
[Abstract]Are universals (kinds) something over and above the things (their instances) of which they are kinds? Does the universe come already packaged into kinds of thing, or are the universals which the human and animal mind distinguishes simply the product of the mind's classificatory activity? Whether universals are mind-independent or mind-dependent, are the concepts human beings and other living organisms have of them innate or are they generated wholly or in part by some kind of learning process. In either case, what assurance do we have that our conceptual scheme does not seriously misrepresent the way things are, as Kant puts it, "in themselves." While the tides of philosophical fashion have flowed backwards and forwards between the poles of this debate ever since the time of Plato and Aristotle, it is argued that there is now some reason to think that the current tide which appears to be moving away from platonism and nativism and back towards conceptualism and empiricism may be taking us towards a permanent scientifically-based resolution of the problem. This solution, if that is what it is, gives due weight to both innate factors and learning at the biological level and to social construction at the level of human linguistic communication. It sees Darwin's principle of variation and natural selection as operating as much in the ontogenetic development of our conceptual scheme as in its phylogeny, and as providing the assurance we need that, in B.F.Skinner's words, it takes "account of the natural lines of fracture along which behavior and environment actually break." (Skinner 1938 p.33).
Keywords: conceptualism, connectionism, universals
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