Biology and Philosophy

, Volume 21, Issue 4, pp 559–573

The new nativism: a commentary on Gary Marcus’s The birth of the mind



Gary Marcus (2004) has written a very interesting book about mental development from a nativist perspective. For the general readership at which the book is largely aimed, it will be interesting because of its many informative examples of the development of cognitive structures and because of its illuminating explanations of ways in which genes can contribute to these developmental processes. However, the book is also interesting from a theoretical point of view. Marcus tries to make nativism compatible with the central arguments that anti-nativists use to attack nativism and with many recent discoveries about genetic activity and brain development. In so doing, he reconfigures the nativist position to a considerable extent. Marcus’s theory is certainly more sophisticated than any version of nativism on the market. However, in our view Marcus ends up reconfiguring the nativist position out of existence. While many of the points that Marcus makes are both interesting and correct, we see no compelling reason to classify his considered position with traditional nativism rather than anti-nativism. More generally, we that think his book points to a general moral: the opposition between nativism and anti-nativism does not help us to understand psycho-developmental issues, and should therefore be abandoned.


Mativism Immateness Molecular genetics Developmental neuroscience Learning plasticity 


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Copyright information

© Springer 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.King’s CollegeCambridgeUK
  2. 2.King’s CollegeLondonUK

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