Children Think In Principles

The following is a conversation between a sixty year old adult and a five year old boy.

Adult: We’re definitely not watching it [the football match on TV], if it’s Arsenal!
Child: Yes we are!
Adult: No we’re not. We don’t watch Arsenal in this house.
Child: But why do you watch it when [child 2] and [child 3] are here?

Pause

Adult: Because I’m a nice person.
Child: But you’re not a nice person.
Adult: Yes I am.
Child: No you’re not, you’re not a nice person if you won’t let me watch it.
Adult: silence…

Owned! An adult mind being out-reasoned by a 5 year old mind. This is the truly wonderful reasoning and Socrates-esque questioning that newly minted human minds are capable of. It never ceases to amaze me. Moreover, it’s the kind of direct and incessant demand for rationality from others that is common to most children of this age, but uncommon to adults who in general have learnt to value social acceptance and harmony over reason and rationality much of the time. At this stage in his development the child has moved beyond simply asking “why?” repeatedly and is now actually testing the propositions of truth that adults throw at him against his own reasoning, and against empirical evidence.

Because the child has not yet encountered any reason to believe otherwise of people, he has incorrectly assumed that the adult values reason and rationality as highly as he does. This is what leads to his asking, out of genuine puzzlement and curiosity, “but why do you watch it when [child 2] and [child 3] are here?” – because the evidence contradicts what the adult is claiming to be true. The child believes the adult will answer this question honestly and truthfully, but again this is a mistake, born out of naivety. The adult does not answer the question honestly, but instead fears that his irrational desire for control and to not accommodate the child’s preference is in danger of being exposed, and so he claims that the evidence that the child is using against him is in fact evidence that he is a “nice person”, evidence of his virtue. This is the adult’s fatal error, which arises from his not respecting the value of reason. He thinks he can just dismiss the evidence and change the argument, but the child, like a reason and rationality sniffer-dog, will not let go. He comes back with a direct, confident refutation, goading the adult into responding like-wise, because he knows his next statement will be check-mate. He delivers it and there is no way back for the adult who has been slain on the sword of reason. Magnificent.

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