Friday, January 23, 2009

The original developmental psychologists (Books: Theories of Development by William Crain)

I always think of philosophers creating theories about fully formed adults, their ideas and the societies they create. That is how I remember learning about John Locke and Jean Jacques Rousseau in college; but William Crain's book Theories of Development reminds us that they were really the original developmental psychologists. Locke thought the human being started out as a tabula rasa, becoming socialized by acquiring knowledge and skills through observation of associations, repetition, imitation and having behaviors reinforced with rewards or discouraged with punishment.

Rousseau felt that although children began life without any knowledge, Nature endowed each child with a particular way of thinking and feeling.

Nature is like a hidden tutor who prompts the child to develop different capacities at different stages of growth.

Rousseau sets out four developmental stages, what a child was capable of acquiring during each one and how. They're reminiscent of Piaget's or Erikson's stages (they are traditionally the ones I think of as developmental psychologists). Both Locke and Rousseau offered their theories of educating children to become "successful" adults. Locke seeing this success defined by the adult's ability to control individual desires - to seek the approval of society so that one might serve it. Whereas Rousseau saw people as driven by primitive urges, fighting being crushed by society. He felt that a successful education permitted the adult to develop independent ideas and morals so as to stand up to society rather than conform to it. We're still playing out this debate today. If any of you are fans of Lost, you will recognize it as one of the themes of the show, hence a character named John Locke.


Lindsay said...

You might be interested in some of the talks given at this conference last September: it's called "Cognitive Disability: A Challenge to Moral Philosophy" and it's an attempt by (mostly) philosophers and ethics to grapple with issues of justice in a way that includes cognitively and developmentally disabled people.

(One by the psychiatrist James Harris might be of particular interest: he talks about the evolution and ontogeny of systems in the brain that he thinks are fundamental to human moral cognition.)

Lindsay said...

an attempt by philosophers and ethics

That should say "ethicists" above. I wish there were an "Edit Your Comment" button ...

Ted said...

That looks very interesting. I will have to check it out. Thanks!