Innate Knowledge

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

4 Scopus citations


At the heart of cognitive science lie two problems: the nature of our knowledge and how it emerges. For many centuries, these issues were the province of philosophers only. Nativists such as René Descartes argued that much of our knowledge was innate, driven by the character of the human mind and only indirectly by the nature of the particular events we might experience. By contrast, empiricists such as John Locke argued that very little of our knowledge was innate; rather, he argued that knowledge was acquired through a lengthy process of learning in which the putative primitive elements of thought - the sensations - came to be associated with each other, yielding higher-level concepts. While no longer the sole province of philosophy, the nativist and empiricist frameworks have come to organize some of the most important issues in cognitive science today: How can we characterize human knowledge? How does it emerge? What are the relative contributions of innate structure and learning through experience?

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationA Companion to Cognitive Science
Number of pages14
ISBN (Electronic)9781405164535
ISBN (Print)9780631218517
StatePublished - Feb 26 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • Conditions of learning
  • Learner
  • Novel

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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