In this dissertation I consider young children’s developing understanding of their own and other people’s social conduct, an understanding that involves a refined attunement to the social activity of the people with whom they interact. Following a relational approach to development, and integrating the philosophy of G.H. Mead with the philosophy of action inspired by Wittgenstein and Anscombe, I will argue that young children’s reasoning about self and others is social reasoning; viz., reasoning about the circumstances in which people are acting, the typical conduct of people acting in such circumstances, and the antecedent circumstances of individuals involved in a particular situation. I argue against the theory that young children develop a “theory of mind” through which they learn to reason about the minds of self and other. Infants do not possess innate cognitive or neural mechanisms that facilitate access to the inner, unobservable minds of others. Infants and toddlers possess neither innate nor theoretically developed access to the mental causes of human action. Simply put, mental causes do not exist in the understanding of infants and toddlers. I argue for a relational theory of development. A child’s understanding of, and explanation for, the acts of others are socially constituted. Talking or thinking about mind, along with the intentions, desires, likes, and beliefs that occupy our minds, is not a distinct form of talking or thinking that merits a distinct form of psychological analysis and a special role in explaining development. Rather, children learn to anticipate, talk about, and explain a broad, and at times, subtle array of social activities. Children acquire an understanding of what people typically do in particular circumstances and what a particular person typically does in a particular circumstance.
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Thesis advisor: Sugarman, Jeff
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