Pub. Date:
Harvard University Press
Three Seductive Ideas

Three Seductive Ideas

by Jerome KaganJerome Kagan


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Do the first two years of life really determine a child's future development? Are human beings, like other primates, only motivated by pleasure? And do people actually have stable traits, like intelligence, fear, anxiety, and temperament? This book, the product of a lifetime of research by one of the founders of developmental psychology, takes on the powerful assumptions behind these questions—and proves them mistaken. Ranging with impressive ease from cultural history to philosophy to psychological research literature, Jerome Kagan weaves an argument that will rock the social sciences and the foundations of public policy.

Scientists, as well as lay people, tend to think of abstract processes—like intelligence or fear—as measurable entities, of which someone might have more or less. This approach, in Kagan's analysis, shows a blindness to the power of context and to the great variability within any individual subject to different emotions and circumstances. "Infant determinism" is another widespread and dearly held conviction that Kagan contests. This theory—with its claim that early relationships determine lifelong patterns—underestimates human resiliency and adaptiveness, both emotional and cognitive (and, of course, fails to account for the happy products of miserable childhoods and vice versa). The last of Kagan's targets is the vastly overrated pleasure principle, which, he argues, can hardly make sense of unselfish behavior impelled by the desire for virtue and self-respect—the wish to do the right thing.

Written in a lively style that uses fables and fairy tales, history and science to make philosophical points, this book challenges some of our most cherished notions about human nature.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780674001978
Publisher: Harvard University Press
Publication date: 01/01/1998
Edition description: Revised ed.
Pages: 240
Product dimensions: 6.14(w) x 9.21(h) x 0.48(d)
Lexile: 1490L (what's this?)

About the Author

Jerome Kagan is Daniel and Amy Starch Professor of Psychology at Harvard University.

Table of Contents


A Passion for Abstraction

The Allure of Infant Determinism

The Pleasure Principle





What People are Saying About This

This wry, wise, and provocative book reminds us that all too often, social science is influenced by prevailing philosophical and political values. Kagan's insightful deconstruction of three popular psychological premises is fascinating, sobering, and persuasive.

Anne Fernald

This wry, wise, and provocative book reminds us that all too often, social science is influenced by prevailing philosophical and political values. Kagan's insightful deconstruction of three popular psychological premises is fascinating, sobering, and persuasive.
Anne Fernald, Stanford University

Sandra Scarr

Academic social scientists and non-academics alike tend to assume that human behavior can be explained by personality and intelligence, that early experience shapes our lifelong character, and that most people are motivated more by pleasure-seeking than by morality. Kagan challenges these comfortable ideas about human nature, in a book that is entertaining, scholarly, and disquieting to the status quo. For this reason--and because it's a delight to read!--this book should be on everyone's reading list.
Sandra Scarr, University of Virginia

Edward Zigler

When confronted by a complex phenomenon like a human being, it is not too surprising that those of us charged with investigating behavior might seek occasional refuge in enticing ideas that seem to make our research go more smoothly and our intuitions satisfyingly correct. Kagan, a world-rank developmental psychologist, incisively debunks some of popular (and even) professional psychology's most treasured fallacies and leaves us not bereft, but the wiser for it.
Edward Zigler, Yale University

Antonio R. Damasio

The downside to the exciting reports of new discoveries in cognitive science and neuroscience is that we are left almost no chance to think carefully about what it all means. Jerome Kagan's Three Seductive Ideas is thus a refreshing pause as well as a practical contribution to our scientific sanity. If you enjoy reflecting on science--how it is made, how it is presented, what it solves--and if you really like philosophy in the true and best sense of the word, you should read this delightful book.
Antonio R. Damasio, University of Iowa

John T. Bruer

Neuroscientific and psychological research findings have too often been hyped into a social-developmental theory of everything. In this passionately argued book, Jerry Kagan demolishes inflated claims for the irreversible effects of very early experience, or the inability of people to change. Three Seductive Ideas addresses fundamental questions for anyone interested in child development, or in psychology's claim to be a science. It could not be more timely.
John T. Bruer, President, James S. McDonnell Foundation

Frank J. Sulloway

In the field of psychology, Jerome Kagan stands out as a distinguished and eloquent champion of conceptual pluralism. His newest book, Three Seductive Ideas, provides an insightful unmasking of some of the most influential psychological myths and misconceptions by which we live. Kagan's compelling conclusions constitute an indispensable road map for all who seek to understand the story of human development.
Frank J. Sulloway, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Nathan Fox

Three Seductive Ideas has all the sweep and grandeur of a symphony. Kagan, being the grand conductor he is, brings together ideas from philosophy, anthropology, evolutionary biology, and neuroscience, to provide this reader with an important and persuasive critique.
Nathan Fox, University of Maryland at College Park

Robert Cairns

It takes a mature scientist to recognize the truly basic problems in his science, and to offer inspiring solutions. Jerome Kagan's accomplishment of these difficult tasks is masterful. Controversial as his arguments will be, they are indisputably on target. Three Seductive Ideas brings a fresh vision not just to psychology but to all the social sciences.
Robert Cairns, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Alison Clarke-Stewart

Jerome Kagan's gem of a book exposes the oversimplification of psychological theory that permeates professional and popular writing. Its romp through neurophysiology, philosophy, physics, history, anthropology, and literature turns up nuggets to enrich discussion of the psychological questions everyone cares most about--intelligence, attachment, memory, morality. Provocative reading for anyone, and an inspiration for the next generation of psychologists.
Alison Clarke-Stewart, University of California--Irvine

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