Genetic Representation Explains the Cluster of Innateness-Related Properties


  • The author would like to thank Tim Bayne, David Chalmers, Marian Dawkins, Cecelia Heyes, Russell Powell, Lizzie Schechter and Tobias Uller for discussion and comments on earlier drafts; audiences in Oxford and at the University of Nottingham for helpful discussion; and two anonymous referees for comments on a previous draft. This work was supported by: the Wellcome Trust (grant number 086041), the Oxford Martin School and the John Fell OUP Research Fund.

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The concept of innateness is used to make inferences between various better-understood properties, like developmental canalization, evolutionary adaptation, heritability, species-typicality, and so on (‘innateness-related properties’). This article uses a recently-developed account of the representational content carried by inheritance systems like the genome to explain why innateness-related properties cluster together, especially in non-human organisms. Although inferences between innateness-related properties are deductively invalid, and lead to false conclusions in many actual cases, where some aspect of a phenotypic trait develops in reliance on a genetic representation it will tend, better than chance, to have many of the innateness-related properties. The account also shows why inferences between innateness-related properties sometimes fail and argues that such inferences are especially misleading when applied to human psychology and behaviour because human psychological development is especially reliant on non-genetic inherited representations.