, Volume 29, Issue 1, pp 3-13

First online:

The Innateness Hypothesis and Mathematical Concepts

  • Helen De CruzAffiliated withCentre for Logic and Analytical Philosophy, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven Email author 
  • , Johan De SmedtAffiliated withDepartment of Philosophy and Ethics, Ghent University

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In historical claims for nativism, mathematics is a paradigmatic example of innate knowledge. Claims by contemporary developmental psychologists of elementary mathematical skills in human infants are a legacy of this. However, the connection between these skills and more formal mathematical concepts and methods remains unclear. This paper assesses the current debates surrounding nativism and mathematical knowledge by teasing them apart into two distinct claims. First, in what way does the experimental evidence from infants, nonhuman animals and neuropsychology support the nativist hypothesis? Second, granting that infants have some elementary mathematical skills, does this mean that such skills play an important role in the development of mathematical knowledge?


Innate knowledge Nativism Mathematical knowledge Developmental psychology Arithmetic