Publication 6394

Xu F. (2016) Preliminary thoughts on a rational constructivist approach to cognitive development: Primitives, symbols, learning, and thinking. In: Barner D. & Baron A. (eds.) Core knowledge and conceptual change. Oxford University Press, New York: 11–28. Fulltext at
Excerpt: This chapter considers a newly emerging view of cognitive development: rational constructivism. I will attempt to sketch the view as I see it, in broad strokes. I will draw on arguments and evidence to see if an overall picture will emerge. Two key developmental issues are discussed: how to characterize the initial state, and how to characterize mechanisms of learning and developmental change. I will argue for the following theses: (1) Infants are much smarter and much more sophisticated learners than what William James, Piaget, or Quine had thought; infants’ world is not “a blooming, buzzing confusion.” However, it remains unclear how best to characterize the initial state. Instead of sensorimotor primitives or core knowledge, the initial state may perhaps be best characterized as a set of proto-conceptual primitives. (2) Over the last several decades of research on cognitive development three types of learning mechanisms have been uncovered: language and symbol learning as a vehicle for conceptual development; Bayesian learning as a tool for belief revision; and explanation, analogy, and related processes as ways to organize factual knowledge and generate new hypotheses that drive genuine conceptual change. These mechanisms may be considered both rational and constructive.


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