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BA (Hons), MPhil, PhD
School of History, Philosophy and Culture
Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences
+44 (0)1865 488557
Mark is a Reader in Philosophy and Programme Lead for Philosophy and Religion. He joined the Philosophy team at Brookes in 2002. Prior to that he held a Leverhulme Special Research Fellowship at the University of Nottingham (2000-2002) and taught at Birkbeck College and King's College London after completing a PhD at The University of St Andrews (1991-1996).
Mark's research interests are in the Philosophy of Cognitive Science, Mind and Language. In particular, he is interested in understanding the process by which humans develop from a state of seeming ignorance at birth to one in which they are able to speak a language and grasp a vast array of concepts only a few years later.
Mark is also interested in how school children can benefit from philosophy. He runs a programme that involves training Brookes Philosophy undergraduates to lead philosophy with children sessions and organises placements for them in local schools.
In this paper I address the issue of the subject matter of linguistics. According to the prominent Chomskyan view, linguistics is the study of the language faculty, a component of the mind-brain, and is therefore a branch of cognitive psychology. In his recent book Ignorance of Language Michael Devitt attacks this psychologistic conception of linguistics. I argue that the prominent Chomskyan objections to Devitt's position are not decisive as they stand. However, Devitt's position should ultimately be rejected as there is nothing outside of the mind of a typical speaker that could serve to fix determinate syntactic rules of her language or constitute the supervenience base of her connection to any such rules.
This chapter focuses on the question of how children acquire mastery of their first language, with particular emphasis on the development of syntactic and semantic knowledge. With respect to the development of syntactic knowledge there has been much heated debate surrounding the respective roles of learning and innate language-specific knowledge. I survey this debate before turning to the issue of how children come to know which words belong to their language and what those words mean. I argue that although learning plays an important role in vocabulary development, such learning is possible only because we have a battery of abstract concepts and an associated metaphysical perspective on the world that is part of our innate endowment.