I was listening to some young children in my family the other day talking to each other. The one Nephew told the one Niece. Only boys play with cars to which the she replies well then my sister is a boy because she also likes playing with cars. I was left thinking well that is a good reply. You may even say that she was following the statement to its logical conclusion.

So I was left wondering if there has been any investigations into whether we are born with some innate sense of critical thinking or is this simply the product of an education?

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    It's interesting, but is this a philosophical question?
    – Drux
    Sep 19 '14 at 7:35
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    It looks like a developmental psychology question to me. According to Piaget logical reasoning does not develop before 6 years of age. "Preoperational Stage occurs from 2 years - 6 years. During this stage, children are able to represent the world with words and images, but they're still not able to use true logical reasoning." alleydog.com/topics/child-psychology.php
    – Conifold
    Sep 19 '14 at 17:22
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    @Conifold - If you read Piaget and then watch children, you will be endlessly surprised. I do not recommend Piaget for anything beyond entertainment these days. He played an important historical role, but modern child psychology is more on target.
    – Rex Kerr
    Sep 19 '14 at 19:28
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    Rex is basically correct in that Piaget is like the Freud of child development psychology — we tip our hats in respect to his work but we have to take care in how we apply his observations and theories today. But to answer the question, obviously we have to be born with some critical thinking skills, otherwise we couldn't form conclusions about things. I couldn't even conclude that a strange shape before me is a person speaking to me rather than a rock. The question is how much are we born with, and we don't have an answer for that. This is a question psychology is trying to figure out.
    – stoicfury
    Sep 19 '14 at 23:31
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    @stoicfury, it is an interdisciplinary question. So I think it remains on-topic. Plus many philosophers have discussed this question in their works.
    – infatuated
    Sep 20 '14 at 4:27

Chomsky defended his notion of a universal grammar in the human subject on two grounds; first that linguistic analysis tends to show structural affinities across widely separated languages; secondly that children learnt language from a minute number of fragmentary sentences (think of the massive case training by typical neural networks for natural language learning.

This theory of an inate potentia of language in a subject attacked the then prevalent theory by Skinner, which was an aspect of his behaviouralist paradigm (he denied the subject in the human subject), and determined language acquisition purely environmentally.

In Platos Meno, Socrates expounds on his theory of anamnesis:

He suggests that the soul is immortal, and repeatedly incarnated; knowledge is actually in the soul from eternity (86b), but each time the soul is incarnated its knowledge is forgotten in the trauma of birth. What one perceives to be learning, then, is actually the recovery of what one has forgotten.

This is illustrated by:

Socrates asking a slave boy questions about geometry. At first the boy gives the wrong answer; when this is pointed out to him, he is puzzled, but by asking questions Socrates is able to help him to reach the true answer. This is intended to show that, as the boy wasn't told the answer, he could only have reached the truth by recollecting what he had already known but forgotten.

Using Aristotles terminology - in this picture we already know language in potentia (or dunamis) but only becomes language in actualite (or energia) when expressed in the world, and by the world (the world as a midwife).

Finally thinking of grammar as a kind of formal logic; the same is likely for logic; and then the same for critical thinking.

  • Even assuming grammar=logic isn't Chomsky's "genetic grammar" incosistent with patterns in existing languages and relationships among their families?
    – Conifold
    Sep 19 '14 at 23:17
  • @Conifold: In what way, what patterns are you referring to? Given that languages form just a few language families; one need only establish a linguistic analysis across the grammar of certain proto-languages; and I suppose thats the task of transformative grammars; but the point ought to be plausible from poetics; where one can see that atypical constructions such as inverting S-V-O are still easily understood. Sep 19 '14 at 23:59
  • Linguistic commonalities that universal grammar predicts are not present across different families, and some individual languages do not manifest recursive patterns it predicts either. Or under more generous reading, the evidence does not support their presence. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Universal_grammar#Criticisms
    – Conifold
    Sep 20 '14 at 0:25
  • @Conifold: Lets take software languages as an example - C, Java, Haskell; one wouldn't use a turing machine to predict the characteristics of each language; even though each can be reduced to one; not that I'm directly comparing natural languages to constructed ones... Sep 20 '14 at 18:52

No, we are not born with any sense of critical thinking. We are born only with our material sense perceptions. However, upon recurring sensual perceptions, and as a result, subsequent conception of the first abstract thoughts in human mind, the ability to think and reason emerges.

'Unity' (or 'identity' or 'sameness') and 'difference' are the very first two abstract thoughts that the human young forms. They emerge after recognition of differences or similarities among sensory data that we absorb. Comparison between these sensory data allow us to categorize their differences under new abstract thoughts such as 'size', 'color', 'shape' from which we differentiate concepts like 'length', 'depth', 'width', 'long', 'short', 'big' ,'small', 'red', 'blue' etc. Or 'weight', 'heavy', 'light', 'soft', 'rough', 'stinky', delicious', 'sweet' etc as thoughts inferred from data absorbed by sense of touch, smell, and a subsequent recognition of their distinct qualities.

It is these emergent abstract concepts that make us capable of rational thinking (e,g reasoning, analysis, negation, etc). Because all rational thinking requires these or other abstract concepts. Besides comparison, association is among the most primitive thinking process that humans develop. A new born baby soon establishes relations between the warmth of his/her mother's arms and feelings such as sense of security and hunger satisfaction. But upon negation of these perceived relations, he/she discovers new relations between phenomena such as certainty or uncertainty, hope or frustration, achievement or non-achievement etc. However these new concepts are usually permanently established after adequate recurrence of their underlying experiences.

The toddler will soon have the ability to reason that "Mom's arms sometimes mean milk" therefore "Not all mom's hugs mean milk; they may sometimes mean kiss." This is how a kid gradually develops ability for logical/critical thinking.

  • can you provide some references or are these your own ideas?
    – nir
    Sep 19 '14 at 9:04
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    @nir, My main source of inspiration for this was The Principles of Philosophy and the Method of Realism, a voluminous Persian treatise on the Islamic tradition of Peripatetic-Neoplatonic philosophy by the highly renowned theist Persian philosopher Muhammad Hussein Tabataba'e. However I'm not sure if the book has been ever translated in full to English.
    – infatuated
    Sep 19 '14 at 10:03
  • But as for the ideas I laid out here, they are mostly easy to verify through introspection.
    – infatuated
    Sep 19 '14 at 10:04
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    "we are not born with any sense of critical thinking"... how do you know that? That's a scientific (testable), psychological statement, not a philosophical one. Introspection is great motivation but it is not a justification. Your introspection may be faulty and the rest of us do have not access to it.
    – Mitch
    Sep 19 '14 at 12:06
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    @mitch: 'infatuated' isn't just relying on introspection; but also on a text by Tabataba'e; which as he points out is peripatetic & neo-platonic. Sep 19 '14 at 23:03

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