Conceptualizing the world
Babies have a huge challenge in front of them: making sense of a buzzing world crowded with unknown objects. The acquisition of kind concepts (cat, ball etc.) and the use of these concepts to describe objects make the world gradually more predictable —after all, a countless amount of objects in the world can be simply ‘summarized’ through concepts that yield particular expectations (cats should meow, balls should bounce etc.). However, we adults do not only describe objects as members of kinds: for example, my cat is a cat plus other things that makes him relevant as an individual and distinguishes him in essential terms from other cats. In this talk, I will suggest that the ability to ‘build individuality’, conferring an object ‘relevance as a particular’, requires longer conceptual maturation than treating it as an exemplar of a kind —in short, because it arguably requires both a broader set of concepts than what babies have and also the ability of building complex descriptions with it (so that my cat can be ‘a cat plus other things’). I will further argue that we should expect changes in different aspects of infants’ behavior as a result of the development of the ability to ‘build individuality’. In this regard, I will present my recent studies showing that 13-month-olds and even 2-year-olds tend to infer from ambiguous requests that the requester wants a particular kind of object (e.g., a cat over a doll) but not a particular object of a kind (e.g., a particular cat), arguably because the idea that an object can be potentially ‘important in itself’ for the requester is still not ‘intuitive’ for them (an intuition that should become stronger only later in development).