- In "McDowell (John) - Mind and World", John McDowell concludes that human beings "are born mere animals, and they are transformed into thinkers and intentional agents", principally by their initiation into language. Such "transformational views" of human development embrace a model of learning by initiation that represents language acquisition as a movement from a non-rationally secured conformity with correct practice, through increasing understanding of correct practice, to a state of rational mastery of correct practice. As such, they tend to represent initiate learning as beginning with something like what Wittgenstein calls "training" (parallel ideas are found in Vygotsky2).
- This paper considers the cogency of this picture of learning and development. I argue that although the idea of training (as developed, say, by Meredith Williams) can be defended from the usual objections, it is susceptible to criticisms brought recently by Sebastian Rödl, who argues that it is unfaithful to the reality of infancy and the nature of child-parent interaction. Rödl's criticisms draw attention to the pre-linguistic child's motivation to be "one of us", to find mutual recognition as one of a kind. A being whose life activity manifests this form of consciousness, he maintains, is not an object of training, but a subject of education.
- I argue that Rödl's arguments, combined with Michael Tomasello's3 compelling empirical work on language acquisition, force us to revise the transformational view, but do not refute it outright as Rödl believes.
For the YouTube podcast – Royal Institute of Philosophy, 07/03/2014 – see Link.
Footnote 2: See "Vygotsky (Lev), Hanfman (Eugenia), Vakar (Gertrude) - Thought and Language".
- This is the YouTube abstract; there’s another – slightly different – abstract in the book.
- This abstract points out that the paper ends with an application to “Derek Parfit’s claim that persons are not human beings”. It will be interesting to see any contrast with the analysis in "Olson (Eric) - On Parfit's View That We Are Not Human Beings".
- The paper has interesting things to say about nativism, but doesn’t seem to mention Chomsky.
Footnote 3: See Michael Tomasello.
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