In the past 30 years we’ve learnt more about babies and young children than in the preceding 2,500 years and that has given us new ideas about human nature itself — about knowledge and imagination, truth and consciousness. Thirty years ago most psychologists and philosophers thought that babies and young children were basically defective adults — irrational and egocentric, unable to think logically, take another person’s perspective or reason causally.
If you just looked cursorily at babies and young children, as generations of philosophers did, you might well conclude that there was not much going on. If you looked carefully, as generations of mothers and the great psychologist Jean Piaget did, you would start to appreciate how philosophically significant, fascinating and profound children are.
It is this sophistication that I hope to reveal in my book, The Philosophical Baby. For those of us who are intrigued but, equally, sometimes frustrated by a baby’s apparent lack of reason or awareness of the outside world, I hope that the latest ground-breaking research will explain just how brilliant a baby’s mind really is. Neither mothers nor even Piaget had the recording tools and experimental techniques that we have now that show babies and young children know much more than we ever believed.
One reaction to this research has been to say that all that knowledge must be built into our genes and that, therefore, experience and learning play only a small part. But studies show that this is not the case. Far from being irrational and illogical, in some ways children are brighter than adults. Even the youngest children turn out to have remarkably sophisticated and powerful learning abilities.