Foundations Of Cognitive Science

Terminal Meta-Postulate

The terminal meta-postulate is an argument proposed by Bever, Fodor, and Garrett (1968) to prove that associative theories have formal limitations, and that these limitations are such that associationism is not powerful enough to account for human cognition.  The terminal meta-postulate gets its name from the claim that an associative theory must define its rules in terms of “terminal vocabulary of a theory, i.e. over the vocabulary in which behavior is described” (p. 583).  Bever, Fodor, and Garrett then proceed to prove that these principles are such that an associative theory is not powerful enough to accept or reject languages that have recursive clausal structure.  This is similar to the argument that finite state machines cannot handle such grammars (Chomsky, 1957).  A modern variant of this argument is the claim that connectionist networks are neither componential nor systematic (Fodor & Pylyshyn, 1988), a critique against the adequacy of connectionist models of cognition that has led to considerable debate (Hadley, 1997).


  1. Bever, T. G., Fodor, J. A., & Garrett, M. (1968). A formal limitation of associationism. In T. R. Dixon & D. L. Horton (Eds.), Verbal Behavior And General Behavior Theory (pp. 582-585). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
  2. Chomsky, N. (1957). Syntactic Structures (2nd ed.). Berlin ; New York: Mouton de Gruyter.
  3. Fodor, J. A., & Pylyshyn, Z. W. (1988). Connectionism and cognitive architecture. Cognition, 28, 3-71.
  4. Hadley, R. F. (1997). Cognition, systematicity, and nomic necessity. Mind And Language, 12, 137-153.

(Added November 2010)