Philosopher Babies

There’s an ancient debate about the right age to study philosophy.  Plato thought that you could only make a start at the age of 30 (after studying almost everything else first, in preparation).  You need to have lived a life and racked up some experience before you could have a claim to wisdom.  However, being Plato, he does consider another view.  This from Callicles to Socrates in Gorgias:  ‘It is a good thing to engage in philosophy just so far as it is an aid to education, and no disgrace for a youth to study it, but when a man who is now growing older studies it he becomes ridiculous…when I see an older man studying philosophy and not deserting it, that man, Socrates, is actually asking for a whipping….’

Think what you like about that, but the waters have been recently muddied by the newish thought that babies are philosophical in some sense.  Here’s an article by Alison Gopnik:  ‘From butterfly to caterpillar:  How children grow up.’ The thought is that human children have adults to do the protecting and feeding and heavy-lifting while they do a lifetime’s worth of mental R & D.  They think and explore and wonder and play — they have the mental freedom, the open minds for original, even genuinely philosophical reflection on what exists, what’s true and good and beautiful.  Their minds, unlike ours, are not made up.  When they grow up, though, the window closes forever, their brains settle down, neural connections solidify, ruts sink in, and the little philosophers become crusty, dogmatic sentinels like the rest of us.  I can’t help thinking it’s not a happy ending, but it does explain why adult philosophers can almost never talk each other into anything.

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