Relativizing innateness: innateness as the insensitivity of the appearance of a trait with respect to specified environmental variation
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- O’Neill, E. Biol Philos (2015) 30: 211. doi:10.1007/s10539-014-9465-8
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I object to eliminativism about innateness and André Ariew’s identification of innateness with canalization, and I propose a new treatment of innateness. I first argue that the concept of innateness is serving a valuable function in a diverse set of research contexts, and in these contexts, claims about innateness are best understood as claims about the insensitivity of the appearance of a trait to certain variations in the environment. I then argue that innateness claims, like claims about canalization, should be explicitly relativized to the specific range of environmental variations of interest to the scientist. My account characterizes an important way in which scientists are employing the concept and offers a way for scientists to carry on using the concept in their research while minimizing confusion and miscommunication. There is a fruitful research program, I claim, in which scientists employ the concept of innateness to help distinguish environmental factors of interest that have a causal influence on the appearance of a trait from those that do not.