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2014-15 I semestre: Origins of Mind: Philosophical Issues in Cognitive Development  

Corsi Dottorato I semestre 2014-15


Origins of Mind: Philosophical Issues in Cognitive Development



How do humans first come to know about things like objects, causes, words, numbers, colours, actions  and minds? This question goes back to Plato or earlier and remains unanswered. Two recent scientific breakthroughs appear to bring us closer to an answer,  and to show that the question is even less straightforward than previously assumed. The first breakthrough concerns social interaction; it is the discovery that preverbal infants enjoy surprisingly rich social abilities.  These abilities enable infants to engage  in some forms of social interaction.  This may well facilitate the subsequent  acquisition  of linguistic abilities and enable the emergence of knowledge  (e.g. Csibra and Gergely 2009; Meltzoff 2007; Tomasello et al. 2005). A second breakthrough involves  the use  of increasingly sensitive—and sometimes  controversial— methods to detect expectations without relying  on subjects’  abilities to talk or act. These methods have revealed  sophisticated expectations about causal interactions,  numerosity, actions, mental states  and more besides in prever- bal infants (e.g. Spelke 1990; Baillargeon  et al. 2010). These expectations or the representations and processes underpinning them arguably also enable the emergence of knowledge.  This course aims to introduce readers  to new philosophical  issues  raised by these findings and to explain their relevance to longstanding  philosophical  questions about the mind.

Outline of Lectures

The course will be organised  by domains of knowledge,  so that one session concerns knowledge of objects, another knowledge of causes, and so on. See table 1 on the following page for a provisional  schedule.  The schedule may change depending on group discussion  and research interests.

Table 1: Provisional  schedule

  1. sept 23 - Objects: Reading: Spelke (1998); Moore and Meltzoff (2008)
  2. sept 23 - Causes: Reading: Spelke and Van de Walle (1993); Hood et al. (2000)
  3. sept 23 - Colours: Reading: Franklin et al. (2005); Kowalski and Zimiles (2006)
  4. sept 24 - Languages: Reading: Lidz et al. (2003); Lidz and Waxman (2004)
  5. sept 24 - Communication: Reading: Tomasello et al. (2007); Baldwin (2000)
  6. sept 24 - Minds: Reading: Baillargeon  et al. (2010)
  7. sept 25 am - Actions: Reading: Csibra (2003)


Preparatory Reading

It would be useful to read these items before the course, ideally in addition to the papers in table 1.

• Moll, H. and Tomasello, M. (2007). Cooperation and human cognition: the vygotskian intelligence hypothesis.  Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society  B, 362(1480):639–648

• Robbins, P. (2010).  Modularity of mind.  In Zalta, E. N., editor, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Summer 2010 edition

• Spelke, E. and Kinzler, K. D. (2007). Core knowledge.   Developmental Science, 10(1):89–96



Baillargeon,  R., Scott, R. M., and He, Z. (2010). False-belief understanding  in infants.  Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 14(3):110–118.

Baldwin, D. (2000). Interpersonal understanding fuels knowledge  acquisi- tion. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 9(2):40–5.

Csibra, G. (2003).  Teleological  and referential understanding  of action in infancy. Philosophical Transactions: Biological Sciences, 358(1431):447–458.

Csibra, G. and Gergely,  G. (2009). Natural pedagogy.   Trends in Cognitive Sciences,  13(4):148–153.

Davidson, D. (1999). The emergence of thought. Erkenntnis, 51:7–17.

Franklin, A., Clifford, A., Williamson, E., and Davies, I. (2005). Color term knowledge does not affect categorical perception of color in toddlers. Journal of Experimental  Child Psychology, 90(2):114–141.

Hood, B., Carey, S., and Prasada, S. (2000). Predicting the outcomes of physical events:  Two-year-olds fail to reveal knowledge of solidity and support. Child Development,  71(6):1540–1554.

Kowalski, K. and Zimiles, H. (2006). The relation between children’s conceptual functioning with color and color term acquisition.  Journal of Experi- mental Child Psychology, 94:301–321.

Lidz, J. and Waxman, S. (2004). Reaffirming the poverty  of the stimulus argument: a reply to the replies.  Cognition, 93(2):157–165.

Lidz, J., Waxman, S., and Freedman, J. (2003). What infants know about syntax but couldn’t have learned: experimental evidence  for syntactic  struc- ture at 18 months. Cognition, 89(3):295–303.

Meltzoff, A. (2007). ‘like me’: a foundation for social cognition. Developmental Science, 10(1):126–134.

Moll, H. and Tomasello, M. (2007). Cooperation and human cognition:  the vygotskian intelligence hypothesis. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society  B, 362(1480):639–648.

Moore, M. K. and Meltzoff, A. N. (2008). Factors affecting  infants’  manual search  for occluded objects and the genesis  of object permanence.  Infant Behavior and Development,  31(2):168–180.

Robbins, P. (2010). Modularity of mind. In Zalta, E. N., editor, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Summer 2010 edition.

Spelke, E. (1990). Principles of object perception. Cognitive Science, 14:29–56. Spelke, E. (1998). Nativism, empiricism, and the origins of knowledge. Infant Behavior and Development,  21(2):181–200.

Spelke, E. and Kinzler, K. D. (2007). Core knowledge.  Developmental Science, 10(1):89–96.

Spelke, E. and Van de Walle, G. (1993). Perceiving  and reasoning about objects.  In Eilan, N., McCarthy, R., and Brewer, B., editors, Spatial representation: problems  in philosophy and psychology. Oxford University  Press, Oxford.

Tomasello, M., Carpenter, M., Call, J., Behne, T., and Moll, H. (2005). Under- standing and sharing intentions: The origins of cultural cognition. Behavioral and Brain Sciences,  28:675–735.

Tomasello, M., Carpenter, M., and Liszkowski, U. (2007). A new look at infant pointing. Child Development, 78(3):705–722.

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