Re-Situating Learning

Dissertation, University of Toronto (Canada) (2003)

Karim Dharamsi
St. Mary's University
In this dissertation I examine the Theory-Theory . I argue that T-T represents the orthodox conception of learning in today's psychological literature. T-T theorists hold that human beings come "equipped" with innate representations that are "a theory." Theorists believe that this innate theory guides our relations to the world. If T-T theorists are correct, learning amounts to theory-revision. Hence, T-T brings together two commitments: innate knowledge and theory-revision. In this dissertation, I show that T-T depends on a reading of Plato's Meno to buttress its commitment to innate knowledge. For , T-T depends on aspects of W. V. Quine's philosophy. Theorists think that Quine's naturalised epistemology is central to their position. I show that T-T's dependence on Meno depends on a rough interpretation of the dialogue. Furthermore, I suggest while in some sense Quine's philosophy can accommodate innate knowledge, T-T theorists do not make a sufficient case for such an accommodation. By reconsidering Meno I wish to question T-T's dependence on what may not be in fact a case for innate knowledge. Later I show that no clear case has been made that Quine's philosophy is compatible with the sort of innate knowledge theorists require. I suggest that re-thinking Plato's dialogue cannot save T-T. For T-T theorists must provide a clear case of how innate knowledge is clearly compatible with Quine's philosophy. I argue that too much requires reworking in T-T, and that such a reworking is not necessary because an alternative conception of learning is possible. As an alternative, I argue that learning depends on factors that are not primarily innate but social. In terms of the social aspects of learning, I argue that an important condition of human learning involves being initiated into a set of social practices. Those practices are constitutive of meaningful behaviour that is inherently tied to the histories of those who live and work within these boundaries. Here we can read "history" as "having a tradition." This latter position stands, I suggest, in stark contrast to the view of T-T theorists and is far more plausible in providing an account of learning.
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