The Use of Natural and Linguistic Concepts in Psychological Explanation

  • John Morton


The contemporary discussion of rationalist v. empiricist theories of learning, particularly among linguists, seems to me to suffer from a particular misconception concerning the nature of the alternatives. Empiricist views are characterised as equating human learning with animal learning and the theories of animal learning which are taken as paradigmatic are of a restricted kind. In analysing this position and its consequences I will develop three main themes. The first of these is that changing views about animal learning are leading to more complicated theories of animal behaviour. Secondly I will illustrate the way in which cognitive models of human behaviour are developing and will suggest that the conceptual frameworks so derived are a more appropriate tool than everyday language for discussions of the philosophy of mind. Finally I will consider in some detail certain features of the current debate concerning the nature of language learning and will indicate that the use of a particular set of concepts to define a debate can lead to inappropriate conclusions. What these themes have in common is the stress placed on the types of theory which can be seen as an alternative to the rationalist position.


Language Learning Animal Learning Human Learning Innate Idea Psychological Explanation 
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© Royal Institute of Philosophy 1974

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  • John Morton

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