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.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price includes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Aboud, F.E. 2003. The formation of in-group favoritism and out-group prejudice in young children: Are they distinct attitudes? Developmental Psychology 39 (1): 48–60. https://doi.org/10.1037/0012-1618.104.22.168.
Brazelton, T.B., E. Tronick, L. Adamson, H. Als, and S. Wise. 2008. Early mother-infant reciprocity. In Novartis Foundation Symposia, ed. R. Porter and M. O’Connor, 137–154. https://doi.org/10.1002/9780470720158.ch9.
Buber, M. (1970). I and Thou. W. Kaufman, trans. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Buttelmann, D., N. Zmyj, M. Daum, and M. Carpenter. 2013. Selective imitation of in-group over out-group members in 14-month-old infants. Child Development 84 (2): 422–428. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-8624.2012.01860.x.
Carpenter, M., and K. Liebal. 2011. Joint attention, communication, and knowing together in infancy. In Joint attention: New developments in psychology, philosophy, and social neuroscience, ed. A. Seemann, 159–181. Cambridge: MIT Press.
Darwall, S.L. 2006. The second-person standpoint: Morality, respect, and accountability. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.
Doherty, M., and J. Perner. in press. Mental files: Developmental integration of dual naming and theory of mind. Developmental Review.
Garnham, W.A., and J. Perner. 2001. Actions really do speak louder than words-but only implicitly: Young children’s understanding of false belief in action. British Journal of Developmental Psychology 19 (3): 413–432. https://doi.org/10.1348/026151001166182.
Harris, P. L. (2012). Trusting what you’re told: How children learn from others. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Helming, K.A., B. Strickland, and P. Jacob. 2014. Making sense of early false-belief understanding. Trends in Cognitive Sciences 18 (4): 167–170. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tics.2014.01.005.
Henrich, J., S.J. Heine, and A. Norenzayan. 2010. The weirdest people in the world? Behavioral and Brain Sciences 33 (2–3): 61–83. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0140525X0999152X.
Kern, A., and H. Moll. 2017. On the transformative character of collective intentionality and the uniqueness of the human. Philosophical Psychology 30 (3): 319–337. https://doi.org/10.1080/09515089.2017.1295648.
MacMurray, J. 1999. Persons in relation. Amherst: Humanity Books.
Moll, H. (2020). How young children learn from others. Journal of Philosophy of Education. Advance online publication.
Moll, H. and Kern, A. (2020). Learning from another. Inquiry. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1080/0020174X.2020.1731593.
Moll, H., A.N. Meltzoff, K. Merzsch, and M. Tomasello. 2013. Taking versus confronting visual perspectives in preschool children. Developmental Psychology 49 (4): 646–654. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0028633.
Moll, H., S. Kane, and L. McGowan. 2016. Three-year-olds express suspense when an agent approaches a scene with a false belief. Developmental Science 19 (2): 208–220.
Nesdale, D. 1999. Social identity and ethnic prejudice in children. In Psychology and society, ed. P. Martin and W. Noble, 92–110. Brisbane: Australian Academic Press.
Nesdale. 2004. Social identity processes and children’s ethnic prejudice. In The development of the social self, ed. M. Bennett and F. Sani, 219–245. New York: Psychology Press.
Nesdale, D., and D. Flesser. 2001. Social identity and the development of children’s group attitudes. Child Development 72 (2): 508–517.
Nesdale, D., K. Durkin, A. Maass, and J. Griffiths. 2005. Threat, group identification, and children’s ethnic prejudice. Social Development 14: 189–205.
Over, H. 2018. The influence of group membership on young children’s prosocial behavior. Current Opinion in Psychology 20: 17–20.
Over, H., A. Eggleston, J. Bell, and Y. Dunham. 2018. Young children seek out biased information about social groups. Developmental Science 21 (3): e12580. https://doi.org/10.1111/desc.12580.
Perner, J., and Roessler, J. 2012. From infants’ to children’s appreciation of belief. Trends in Cognitive Sciences 16 (10) :519–525.
Perner, J., J. Brandl, and W. Garnham. 2003. What is a perspective problem? Developmental issues in belief ascription and dual identity. Facta Philosophica 5: 335–578.
Priewasser, B., and J. Perner. 2017. Revealing human nature through early competition. Scientia 7.
Priewasser, B., J. Roessler, and J. Perner. 2013. Competition as rational action: Why young children cannot appreciate competitive games. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology 116 (2): 545–559. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jecp.2012.10.008.
Reddy, V. 2008. Experiencing others: A second-person approach to other-awareness. In Social life and social knowledge: Toward a process account of development, ed. U. Mueller, J. Carpendale, N. Budwig, and B. Sokol, 123–144. New York: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Strawson, P.F. 2008. Freedom and resentment. In Freedom and resentment and other essays, ed. P.F. Strawson, 1–28. New York: Routledge.
Tomasello, M. (1999). The cultural origins of human cognition (4. Print). Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press.
Tomasello, M. 2018. How children come to understand false beliefs: A shared intentionality account. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 115 (34): 8491–8498. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1804761115.
Tomasello, M. 2019a. Becoming human: A theory of ontogeny. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.
Tomasello, M. 2019b. The role of roles in uniquely human cognition and sociality. Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour 50: 2–19. https://doi.org/10.1111/jtsb.12223.
Trevarthen, C. 1993. The self born in intersubjectivity: The psychology of an infant communicating. In Emory symposia in cognition, 5. The perceived self: Ecological and interpersonal sources of self-knowledge, ed. U. Neisser, 121–173. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
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.
Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
About this article
Cite this article
Moll, H., Nichols, R. & Mackey, J.L. Rethinking Human Development and the Shared Intentionality Hypothesis. Rev.Phil.Psych. 12, 453–464 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13164-020-00489-3