Rationality in children

the first steps


  • Andrew Woodfield




The roots of rationality, conceptual categorization, perceptual representations, mental models, cognitive maps, common-sense psychology, cognitive capacities, representation of absent objects


Not all categorization is conceptual. Many of the experimental findings concerning infant and animal categorization invite the hypothesis that the subjects form abstract perceptual representations, mental models or cognitive maps that are not composed of concepts. The paper is a reflection upon the idea that conceptual categorization involves the ability to make categorical judgements under the guidance of norms of rationality. These include a norm of truth-seeking and a norm of good evidence. Acceptance of these norms implies willingness to defer to cognitive authorities, unwillingness to commit oneself to contradictions, and knowledge of how to reorganize one's representational system upon discovering that one has made a mistake. It is proposed that the cognitive architecture required for basic rationality is similar to that which underlies pretend-play. The representational system must be able to make room for separate 'mental spaces' in which alternatives to the actual world are entertained. The same feature underlies the ability to understand modalities, time, the appearance-reality distinction, other minds, and ethics. Each area of understanding admits of degrees, and mastery (up to normal adult level) takes years. But rational concept-management, at least in its most rudimentary form, does not require a capacity to form second-order representations. It requires knowledge of how to operate upon, and compare, the contents of different mental spaces.


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Como Citar

Woodfield, A. (1991). Rationality in children: the first steps. TRANS/FORM/AÇÃO: Revista De Filosofia, 14, 53–72. https://doi.org/10.1590/S0101-31731991000100003



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