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Articulating the WorldConceptual Understanding and the Scientific Image$
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Joseph Rouse

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780226293677

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: May 2016

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226293707.001.0001

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Conceptual Understanding in Light of Evolution

Conceptual Understanding in Light of Evolution

(p.86) Three Conceptual Understanding in Light of Evolution
Articulating the World

Joseph Rouse

University of Chicago Press

Naturalistic accounts of language and conceptual capacities more generally have heretofore been guided by the neo-Darwinian evolutionary synthesis. Niche construction and other aspects of an “extended” evolutionary synthesis suggest a different approach. This chapter develops a naturalistic account of the co-evolution of human organisms with language and other capacities for conceptual understanding, as forms of behavioral niche construction. Discursive practice is part of the normal developmental environment for human beings, which leads to its reproduction in subsequent generations; this environmental inheritance has changed the selection pressures on the human lineage. Grasp of a language is then a practical-perceptual skill in responding and contributing to a public discursive practice, rather than symbolic representation processing. Despite the rudimentary linguistic development of the bonobo Kanzi, which shows that capacities for linguistic acquisition are ancestral, a niche-constructionist approach shows why the evolutionary continuity between human and other animal minds led to discontinuous conceptual capacities in the human lineage. Other animals’ sensitive, flexible practical-perceptual responsiveness to their environments are a barrier to symbolic displacement and discursive understanding. This approach then highlights the challenge, taken up in subsequent chapters, of accounting for the rational normativity of conceptual understanding in its terms.

Keywords:   niche construction, evolutionary synthesis, language evolution, conceptual understanding, discursive practice, symbolic representation, practical-perceptual skill, Kanzi, animal minds

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