Becoming Human: A Theory of Ontogeny

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Harvard University Press, Jan 7, 2019 - Psychology - 400 pages
Winner of the William James Book Award

“Magisterial...Makes an impressive argument that most distinctly human traits are established early in childhood and that the general chronology in which these traits appear can at least—and at last—be identified.”
Wall Street Journal

“Theoretically daring and experimentally ingenious, Becoming Human squarely tackles the abiding question of what makes us human.”
—Susan Gelman, University of Michigan

Virtually all theories of how humans have become such a distinctive species focus on evolution. Becoming Human proposes a complementary theory of human uniqueness, focused on development. Building on the seminal ideas of Vygotsky, it explains how those things that make us most human are constructed during the first years of a child’s life.

In this groundbreaking work, Michael Tomasello draws from three decades of experimental research with chimpanzees, bonobos, and children to propose a new framework for psychological growth between birth and seven years of age. He identifies eight pathways that differentiate humans from their primate relatives: social cognition, communication, cultural learning, cooperative thinking, collaboration, prosociality, social norms, and moral identity. In each of these, great apes possess rudimentary abilities, but the maturation of humans’ evolved capacities for shared intentionality transform these abilities into uniquely human cognition and sociality.
 

Contents

BACKGROUND
1
THE ONTOGENY OF UNIQUELY HUMAN COGNITION
43
THE ONTOGENY OF UNIQUELY HUMAN SOCIALITY
189
CONCLUSION
295

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About the author (2019)

Michael Tomasello is Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at Duke University. From 1998 to 2018 he was Co-Director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, and in 2017 he was elected to the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. His scientific work has been recognized by institutions around the world, including the Guggenheim Foundation, the British Academy, the Royal Academy of Netherlands, and the German National Academy of Sciences.

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