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Re: [xmca] moral life of babies

hi Larry,

yes -- exactly.  The pattern of giving-accepting-receiving and
possibly reciprocating must be seen as a single activity.  To be
honest, since I am at best causal thinker in child-development and
even cultural-historical activity theory, I can only speculate about
what is meant by proto-concept or pre-linguistic.  Perhaps others can
enlighten me.

My own view, however, is that by and large in the case of these babies
there is nothing conceptual or linguistic (or proto-conceptual or
pre-linguistic) going on.  It's that actions themselves, and the
pattern of those actions, which constitute the plan of activity and
moral intelligibility.  I think to ask if babies "have a concept of
right and wrong" is already to mislead the experimental question.
"Right" and "wrong" are themselves terms we use to break up patterns
of moral life and render them tractable for a whole series of other
purposes -- deciding who was right and who was wrong, punishing,
discipline, evaluating, etc.

Again, for me what is important here is, as Larry says, to give a
different language to the pattern of activity itself.  That's why I
turned to the language of "gift" which, as Marcel Mauss taught many
years ago, exists on a different plane of social meaning than
language, representation, or concept.... and which manages the moral
life of many societies.


On Fri, May 7, 2010 at 12:27 PM, Larry Purss <lpurss@shaw.ca> wrote:
> Hi Etienne
> Your differentiating the constructs "choice" and "giving-receiving" speaks
> directly to the notions I'm trying to articulate on this topic.
> "Giving/receiving as a SINGLE ACTIVITY that is a dialogical unit of analysis
> rather than giving and then receiving recognizes the primavy of the "other"
> in our notions of THEORY of MIND constructs.  Choice as a concept is one
> particular way to index this pattern of activity.  Giving/receiving [similar
> to teaching/learning as a single unit of analysis] is another way to label
> and index this particular pattern of activity.
> Giving/receiving I think is a better DESCRIPTION [I'm not sure if I can use
> the term explanation] of the RELATIONAL quality of this intersubjective
> activity.
> Larry
> ----- Original Message -----
> From: Etienne Pelaprat <pelaprat@gmail.com>
> Date: Friday, May 7, 2010 7:56 am
> Subject: Re: [xmca] moral life of babies
> To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <xmca@weber.ucsd.edu>
>> 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
>> me.
>> 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
>> experimentsused 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
>> largelyturned, 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
>> reciprocitywhich 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...
>> etienne
>> 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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