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Institute of Advanced Study

What is it Like to Be a Small Child?


In this paper, I challenge assumptions of continuity in inner experience between infancy and adulthood. I begin by considering some differing views about when it is appropriate to attribute phenomenal consciousness to human infants, drawing on neurodevelopmental evidence and philosophical argument. The paucity of literary depictions of the early years of human life is balanced by some recent attempts at scientifically informed speculation about infants' first-person experience. Although much is now known about the perceptual world of human infants, the inner experience of young children has received less attention. One particular reason for taking an interest in the experience of the young child is that it can inform theorising about the development of psychological capacities proposed to utilise data on one's own inner experience. Carruthers' (in press) recent theory of the development of metacognition (the understanding of one's own mental states) is considered in this respect. I examine three possible reasons why young children's inner experience may not have the necessary qualities to support Carruthers' ‘mindreading is prior' mechanism. Even if young children's inner experience is not impoverished relative to our own, it is likely to be qualitatively different.

Insights Paper