Sunday, November 29, 2009

Is My 3-and-1/2-Year-Old Daughter A Modal Realist?

This morning over breakfast my 3-and-1/2-yr-old daughter told me 'Golden shoes do not exist in this world'. 'Where do they exist then?' I asked. 'In another world' she replied with the tone of someone who is saying something obvious. I always thought modal realism was semantically revisionary but apparently this does not apply to the pre-school crowd! :-) (I still hope she just believes in island universes, though!)


  1. Try this: true story. One of my kids when slightly older said "Santa Claus is real--he's just dead." Why? Nicholas of Myra was a 4th century bisho who we ow call "St. Nicholas" or "Santa Claus." He really existed--he's just dead. Juicy example for discussing causal theories of reference.

  2. 1. I think that when I was growing up, I assumed that the story adults told themselves to justify attributing gifts to St Nicholas was that they were acting in his name, or inspired by his example, or something like that--hence there is a relationship between the man and the gifts. This works better in languages like Polish where Santa Claus is expressly referred to as (Saint) Nicholas. Nonetheless, I thought (as I still do) that this was a sophistical stretch.

    2. My daughter when she was about three or four said that jumps (at least I think that was the example) are not things but are real. On the other hand, my four-year-old son thinks that hugs are things, but things that are given (their esse is to be given, I guess).

  3. There has been some recent psych literature about this, showing that young children keep fictional worlds distinct (e.g. Batman and Santa Claus cannot interact because they inhabit different worlds). A search for "fictional worlds" on PsycINFO shows the relevant citations.