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Re: [xmca] moral life of babies

dear XMCA,

i'm really fascinated by this discussion and am by no means an expert
here, but I thought I'd weigh in anyway.  I'm certainly not as well
armed, conceptually, as the rest of you are, but here are the
questions this news article, and the corresponding video, raised for

I couldn't escape the significance of the structure of the experiment
itself.  A baby is placed in front of a theatre, watches an
"interaction" of sorts between two puppets where (in case one, a
puppet helps another puppet reach its goal; in case two, a puppet is
an obstacle to the goals of another puppet), and then, in the words of
the researcher, "is asked to make a choice" between the help-puppet
and the obstacle-puppet.

My own view is that morality-as-choice, in the sense that morality is
reducible to choice, is a fairly important framing of morality.  What
I saw when I watched the video of the experiment was different: the
researcher was *offering* both puppets to the baby and the baby was
choosing which to *accept* from the researcher.  In other words, I was
tempted to view this important moment of the experiment as one of
giving-receiving (as in a gift) vs. choosing.

What did the baby do with the puppet after they had selected it?  This
is what I would like to know.  Did the baby offer the puppet they
selected to someone else?  Did they play with it? Does the kid
interact with the puppet as if it were another person?

What I'm getting as is made clearer in the experiment described at the
very beginning of the article: three puppets on stage, the middle
puppet has a ball, passes to the puppet on its left, who promptly
returns the ball.  Then the center puppet passes the ball to the
puppet on its right, who promptly disappears with the ball.  In the
first case, there is reciprocity, in the second there is none.

Last year, Tomasello came to UCSD and presented the results of a
series of comparative studies between chimps and children on their
moral life and the origins of coordination.  Many of the experiments
used physical structures where chimps or young children (i forget the
age, but they were old enough to speak and know names) had to
cooperate to reach a price -- typically food or treats.  What
Tomasello invariably found was that children *divided* the winnings
whereas chimps did not.  In fact, if one child did not share the prize
the other would say, "hey, share with me!"

Tomasello's argument, if I remember correctly, was basically that
while chimps only have some kind of self-interest and cannot recognize
a "shared goal" between themselves and conspecifics, children are able
to fold their self-interest into the interests of others and recognize
that they have a "shared goal." This was an extremely economical
reading of the moral life of young children and chimps.  It largely
turned, again, on isolating actions as moral choices.  But for me, the
question here was not of self-interest, but of reciprocity.  The
children are coordinating not only (simply) because they fold their
self-interest into the interests of others when they share the same
goal, but because they are *acting for others at the same time they
are acting for themselves.*  It was precisely a norm of reciprocity
which was violated when one kid chose to hoard the treats that cause
the other kid to intervene and say, "hey, some of that is mine, let's
share it evenly."

To return to the NYT article.  My extremely unlearned view is that
reciprocity precedes and conditions moral life.  Perhaps we need to
think here of "pre-linguistic" concepts, or proto-concepts.  But in my
view this is again to isolate the child from a social situation of
interaction and reciprocity.  My unit of analysis would be larger: not
the choice itself "as moral," but the fact that the kid is being
offered a *gift* (if I may so say) and that this gift is from another
human being (the researcher).  What is at stake in accepting this gift
from the other is another very huge conversation ... but in my view
that is where i would begin thinking about the moral life of babies...


On Fri, May 7, 2010 at 10:26 AM, mike cole <lchcmike@gmail.com> wrote:
> Jay raiises your question in another, Andy. Plenty of uncertainty to go
> around.
> Is sublate a particular kind of transformative relationship?
> If we are going to get keep into this, the work of Jean Mandler seems to
> require some kind of consideration. She quite explicitly critiques the
> "sensori-motor first"
> idea in Piaget's version of it which seems a least similar to Jay's
> formuation.
> mike
> On Thu, May 6, 2010 at 6:23 PM, Andy Blunden <ablunden@mira.net> wrote:
>> Sorry for my unclarity, Mike. The 3 options I had in mind are (1) that the
>> so-called "infant morality" remains in its independent form albeit overlaid
>> by social acquisitions, (2) by sublate I mean it is taken up into a more
>> complex form of  behaviour such that it no longer exists as an independent
>> mode of behaviour, and this I called "sublated" and (3) it just disappears.
>> So yes, I guess (2) sublated is "transformed".
>> I don't know what here would be a "proto-concept" though. Personally I
>> think LSV can call syncretism a concept only on the basis that it is an
>> early stage in the development of what later becomes concept-use; the same
>> sense in which crawling is a form of walking. In that case, what we see is
>> by definition a proto-concept, I suppose.
>> Andy
>> mike cole wrote:
>>> Larry and Andy (and Martin and David I guess).
>>> I would rather withhold judgment on some to the categorization going on in
>>> this discussion. Andy wrote:
>>> "To me, it does raise the question, as Jay commented in his belated
>>> commentary on the infant communication discussion, how much is retained or
>>> built on, how much is sublated into more complex neoformations and how much
>>> actually just fades away to be replaced by other neoformations?"
>>> Is sublation not a transformation?
>>> Are you sure that what the baby arrives with are not proto-concepts?
>>> Everyone understand (e.g., can specify new examples in an unambiguous way)
>>> what counts as a neoformation?
>>> I feel quite uncertain about these issues.
>>> mike
>> --
>> ------------------------------------------------------------------------
>> Andy Blunden http://home.mira.net/~andy/ +61 3 9380 9435 Skype
>> andy.blunden
>> An Interdisciplinary Theory of Activity: http://www.brill.nl/scss
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