Words, Thoughts, and Theories
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Words, Thoughts, and Theories articulates and defends the "theory theory" of cognitive and semantic development, the idea that infants and young children, like scientists, learn about the world by forming and revising theories, a view of the origins of knowledge and meaning that has broad implications for cognitive science.

Gopnik and Meltzoff interweave philosophical arguments and empirical data from their own and other's research. Both the philosophy and the psychology, the arguments and the data, address the same fundamental epistemological question: How do we come to understand the world around us?

Recently, the theory theory has led to much interesting research. However, this is the first book to look at the theory in extensive detail and to systematically contrast it with other theories. It is also the first to apply the theory to infancy and early childhood, to use the theory to provide a framework for understanding semantic development, and to demonstrate that language acquisition influences theory change in children.The authors show that children just beginning to talk are engaged in profound restructurings of several domains of knowledge. These restructurings are similar to theory changes in science, and they influence children's early semantic development, since children's cognitive concerns shape and motivate their use of very early words. But, in addition, children pay attention to the language they hear around them and this too reshapes their cognition, and causes them to reorganize their theories.


Out of Print ISBN: 9780262071758 350 pp. | 9 in x 6 in


$25.00 X ISBN: 9780262571265 350 pp. | 9 in x 6 in


  • Words, Thoughts, and Theories is a big, powerful book, argued with enormous vigour and lucidity. There has so far been no general statement of the 'theory theory' appraoch, no attempt to show that there is a single picture of development that can be applied in many areas. This book provides exactly what is needed. It will be compulsory reading for developmental psychologists, but ought to be of interest to cognitive psychologists generally, and to the increasing number of philosophers with an interest in developmental psychology, as well as providing some quite new questions for philosophers of science. The lucid style and clarity of organization should make it widely accessible. It is a genuinely seminal work.

    John Campbell

    New College

  • This is an important and ambitious book that provides a compelling theoretical framework for understanding cognitive development. The claims are striking and turn upside-down some of our most cherished assumptions about children's thinking. It is written in a most delightful style: witty, accessible, even fun.

    Susan Gelman

    University of Michigan

  • This is one of the ablest, most persuasive expositions of the 'theory theory' appraoch to cognitive development the field has yet seen. The authors' strong background in philosophy, developmental theory, and psychological research with both infants and young children equip them admirably to write such a book. they make a convincing case that this theory can both account for many existing developmental facts and also guide the search for new ones.

    John H. Flavell

    Professor of Psychology, Stanford University

  • This is an important and exciting book. Gopnik and Meltzoff argue that cognitive development should be thought of as theory change. While this claim has been advanced before, solid data to support the claim across different aspects of cognitive development have not been offered. In this book, Gopnik and Meltzoff offer a carefully reasoned, balanced, argument for their position that the early development of children's theories of object permanence/appearance, action, and kinds follows a path analygous to that of the development of scientific theories. Words, Thoughts, and Theories should be mandatory reading for anyone interested in cognitive development or cognitive change.

    Carolyn B. Mervis

    Professor of Psychology, Emory University

  • Beyond the good science that they contribute to their own idea... it is surprising and wonderful how Gopnik and Meltzoff transcend their own field to demonstratethe relevance of their research to other disciplines.

    Shaun Gallagher

    Journal of Consciousness Studie

  • The book is astonishing in its scope and clarity. It successfully integrates philosophy, cognitive development, and cognitive science in away that has rarely if ever been done. The idea that childrendevelop theories which evolve and reorganize into newer and more powerful theories, like mini-scientists, is of course not new; but in Gopnik and Meltzoff's hands it received a thorough treatment, across such a wide rangeof domains.

    Simon Baron-Cohen

    Lecturer in Psychopathology, Departments of Experimental Psychology and Psychiatry, University of Cambridge