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07/29/2016

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Chandra Sripada

This is a really interesting paper. Thanks to Kim and Yuan for their terrific work and to you, Josh, for sharing it here.

Let us assume these intuitions are universal. What could explain this? Kim and Yuan distinguish nativist and social explanations (i.e., culture). I lean towards nativism. Here’s why:

There is another aspect of these intuitions that wasn’t highlighted in the paper that is relevant: their remarkable sophistication. These intuitions track very subtle and non-obvious features: the difference between a Gettiered and non-Gettiered agent, probabilistic versus perceptual evidence, means versus foreseen but unintended effects (i.e., side-effects). The processes and principles that produce these intuitions thus reflect a very sophisticated psychological competence. The socio-cultural explanation thus has to propose that there are these highly abstract and sophisticated competences across cultural groups that arose more or less independently but, nonetheless, these competences ended up all being highly similar. To the extent this seems unlikely, this pushes us in the direction of nativism.

There are also Chomsky/John Mikhail-style arguments about learnability, poverty of the stimulus, etc. in the vicinity here. But I will stop here.

Joshua Knobe

Hi Chandra,

For what it's worth, I completely agree. My sense is that this conclusion actually has some interesting implications for questions about the role of knowledge in theory-of-mind. One possible view would be that the core of theory-of-mind is our capacity to attribute beliefs and desires. Then one might think that the capacity to attribute knowledge is just some little extra thing, of considerably less importance. However, if we suppose there is an innate basis even of these quite subtle patterns in knowledge attribution (as you argue here), it seems like we might have some reason to shift toward a view according to which the capacity to attribute knowledge is more central or fundamental to the way theory-of-mind works more broadly.

p.s. I am super impressed that Chandra has already read this whole paper, but please do feel free to write in with comments on the basic idea of this finding even if you haven't read the paper itself.

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