Have philosophers neglected the mind of the child? Yes they have, if we are to believe psychologist, Alison Gopnik. In her latest book The Philosophical Baby, she presents a raft of examples aimed to show that babies’ minds are more sophisticated than has (she says) been supposed.
One contemporary philosopher who has been attacked on just this basis is John McDowell. He has put forward the thesis that animals and young infants do not perceive or indeed think….at least, not in the sense that mature, enculturated humans do. Is he then one of those empirically uninformed philosophers that Gopnik targets? I suspect equivocation in any affirmative answer to that question (‘perception’ in what sense?). Even so, it would be wrong to dismiss disagreements over the relevance of psychological findings to the philosophy of mind as always born of misunderstanding. Differences in the assumptions we are willing to make about the mental properties of infants have consequences for the acceptability of philosophical theses about the adult mind.
To read Gopnik summarising her ideas go here. To read a somewhat more critical view go here.
By Josefa Toribio , University of Edinburgh
(Vol. 2, March 2007)
Naturalisms in Philosophy of Mind
By Steven Horst , Wesleyan University
(Vol. 3, December 2008)