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Rethinking Human Development and the Shared Intentionality Hypothesis


In his recent book “Becoming Human” Michael Tomasello delivers an updated version of his shared intentionality (SI) account of uniquely human cognition. More so than in earlier writings, the author embraces the idea that SI shapes not just our social cognition but all domains of thought and emotion. In this critical essay, we center on three parts of his theory. The first is that children allegedly have to earn the status of “second persons” through the acquisition of collective intentionality at age 3. We make the case that humans take a second-personal stance toward others even as infants. The second point concerns Tomasello’s claim that 3-year-olds are group-minded and think in terms of “us” vs. “them”. We doubt both that children this young have a clear overview of their in- and out-groups and that they possess the “agonistic spirit” necessary for inter-group competition. Third, due to his focus on collective intentionality and how it might explain 3-year-olds’ difficulties with theory of mind problems, Tomasello appears to pay less attention to the crucial conceptual change that allows 4- to 5-year-olds to master such tasks.

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This research was supported by a grant from the Albert and Elaine Borchard Foundation (Award #011972-00001) given to HM and RN. The authors also thank Justin L. Barrett for helpful discussions.

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Correspondence to Henrike Moll.

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Moll, H., Nichols, R. & Mackey, J.L. Rethinking Human Development and the Shared Intentionality Hypothesis. Rev.Phil.Psych. 12, 453–464 (2021).

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