Richard Moore (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin): Overexuberant Adaptationism: The Case of Natural Pedagogy

Csibra and Gergely argue that, as part of an adaptation for ‘natural pedagogy’, infants are prewired to recognise ‘ostensive signals’ as indicating that a speaker is acting with communicative intent (Grice’s property of ‘non-natural meaning’). I raise a series of objections to their account. First, I argue that the signals Csibra and Gergely identify are too loosely correlated with communicative intent to function as they claim. Without the introduction of a more careful specification of how the mechanisms supporting the NPH work, this would make natural pedagogy maladaptive. This leads to a dilemma for Csibra and Gergely’s adaptationist approach. It has three horns, none of which are attractive. (1) One could posit an adaptation that tracks a property that we cannot specify, and that may turn out not to exist (leaving the proposed mechanism inadequately specified). (2) One could propose a stepwise series of adaptations, the first developmental stages of which seem maladaptive (making its initially undergoing selection implausible). (3) One could posit a single adaptation that that is in itself maladaptive (and so implausible) but the functioning of which is refined by lots of individual learning (thereby making the explanatory value of positing an initial adaptation mysterious). I conclude that given such a dilemma, we should not posit any adaptive specialisation, and I finish with a discussion of when adaptationism should be an acceptable default strategy.

Date & time

Thu 19 Apr 2018, 3:30pm to 5:30pm


Seminar Room A, Coombs Building, ANU, 9 Fellows Road, Acton ACT 2601

Event series



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