Place, U. T. (1996n). A selectionist approach to the problem of universals [Conference presentation, presented in the session 'Conceptual and Philosophical Issues in Behavior Analysis' of the 22nd Annual Convention of the Association for Behavior Analysis, San Francisco, May 27th 1996]. Association for Behavior Analysis.
[Abstract]As it is discussed by philosophers, the problem of universals has two aspects: an ontological aspect and an epistemological aspect. Views on the ontological aspect divide between "realism" which holds that universals are abstract objects, distinct from their instances, with which the organism's concepts must line up if it is to survive and reproduce, and "constructivism" which holds that the organism's concepts are the only universals there are. Views on the epistemological issue divide between "nativism" which holds that concepts are innate, and "empiricism" which holds that they are learned. Most realists are nativists. Most constructivists are empiricists. Selectionist considerations suggest a middle position between these extremes: (1) There are no universals in the absence of a classifying organism (constructivism). (2) There is a significant innate contribution to the organism's system of concepts (nativism). (3) The fine tuning which brings the organism's concepts into line with what Skinner (1938) calls "the natural lines of fracture along which environment and behavior actually break" is a matter of contingency-shaped discrimination learning (empiricism). (4) There are objective constraints which ensure that the concepts so formed line up with "real" similarities and differences between objects, events and states of affairs in the organism's interactions with the environment (realism).
Keywords: universals
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Download: 1996n A Selectionist Approach to the Problem of Universals.pdf