Department of Educational Psychology


Date of this Version



Published in Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology 32 (2011) 44–45



Copyright © 2011 Elsevier. Used by permission.


Review of Alison Gopnik, The philosophical baby: What children's minds tell us about truth, love, and the meaning of life.

In its historic philosophical and psychological formulations, nativism highlighted innateness. Development was deemed nothingmore than a genetically driven process ofmaturation; learning, in turn, was nothing more than the filling in of superficial content. In this determinist view, neither development nor learning could be deemed active, creative, or constructive processes, and nothing genuinely new could result.

The nativists who have increasingly populated the literature of developmental psychology since the 1980s, however, are neonativists. Neonativists fully accept modern views of immature organisms as dynamic, developing systems interacting with complex, everchanging physical, social, and cultural environments. In addition to the traditional nativist focus on the role of genes, neonativism also encompasses a constructivist focus on the active agency of the organism and an empiricist focus on the active role of the environment (see also Bjorklund & Pellegrini, 2002, on “evolutionary developmental psychology”). Thus, in place of a determinist view of development as genetically driven maturation, neonativism is a kinder, gentler nativism that begins with our evolutionary heritage but goes on to incorporate constructivist and empiricist considerations in providing a contemporary developmental account.