Ethan Remmel in American Scientist:
Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be a baby, or how a young child’s perceptions and introspections might differ from those of an adult? Reading Alison Gopnik’s new book, The Philosophical Baby, is probably the closest you will ever come to knowing.
Gopnik is a leading developmental psychologist, an expert on philosophy of mind and an excellent writer. What distinguishes this book from others on children’s cognition is the author’s emphasis on philosophical issues such as consciousness, identity and morality. She argues that the psychological study of children provides a rich source of insight into these issues, one that philosophers have traditionally overlooked.
Within developmental psychology, Gopnik is perhaps best known for promoting (with Henry Wellman, Andrew Meltzoff and others) the “theory theory”—the idea that children construct implicit causal models of the world (theories) using the same psychological mechanisms that scientists use to construct explicit scientific theories. In other words, children are like little scientists—or, as Gopnik prefers to put it, scientists are like big children. The focus in this book is broader. Gopnik argues that although young children’s thinking may seem illogical and their play functionless, their imagination and exploration actually reflect the operation of the same powerful causal learning mechanisms that enable our uniquely human achievements in areas such as science or art.
As a philosopher, Gopnik is not afraid to entertain odd ideas…