Paul Bloom reviews Alison Gopnik

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[Posted by BR]

The Philosophical Baby: What Children's Minds Tell Us About Truth, Love, and the Meaning of Life

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For me (as I know is the case for many others), one of the most appealing aspects of Wittgenstein’s later writings is his deep interest in childhood, the child’s adventure of learning, and the rather miraculous (yet at the same time, wholly ordinary) process of cognitive and social development. For this reason, I’ve always been intrigued by the connections between Wittgenstein’s later philosophy and developmental psychology, and I’ve done my best over the years to keep abreast of current findings in the latter field (I half suspect I chose to write about the human face in my dissertation simply to have an excuse to spend time reading around in the scientific psychology literature). Alison Gopnik (Psychology, U.C. Berkeley), one of the most important researchers in developmental psychology today, has recently published a new book aimed at a general audience, entitled The Philosophical Baby, which has just been reviewed in Slate by another very distinguished developmental psychologist, Paul Bloom (Psychology, Yale University, and author of How Children Learn the Meaning of Words and Descartes’ Baby). In case any of you share my interest in developmental psychology (whether connected to an interest in Wittgenstein or not), I wanted to draw this book to your attention. I don’t always agree with the conclusions psychologists like Gopnik and Bloom draw from the child behaviors they observe — for example, I’ve come to doubt the notion, held by many developmental psychologists, that our understanding of other minds is made possible by a “theory of mind” — but their studies are always chock full of fascinating observations about human behavior that I find unfailingly interesting and often deeply philosophically suggestive.

(By the way, while Gopnik is on my mind, let me recommend the work of Victoria McGeer, a philosopher who spent two years in Gopnik’s developmental psychology lab at Berkeley: she has written excellent essays on autism, self-knowledge, and on the concept of hope which I think are as good as they are partly because of the experience she had working in Gopnik’s lab; to access her essay on “The Art of Good Hope,” click here; to access her essay “Is ‘Self-Knowledge’ an Empirical Problem? Renegotiating the Space of Philosophical Explanation,” please click here).

To read Bloom’s review of Gopnik’s new book, click here. And here is a brief promotional video for Gopnik’s book I stumbled upon while tracking down links for this post:

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