Prolongation of Human Infancy

Prolongation of Human Infancy.—-Nevertheless, as Professor Butler has recently pointed out, the doctrine of the prolongation of human infancy, which Professor John Fiske has so ably shown to be part of the theory of evolution, was anticipated by Anaximander of Miletus, who flourished about 565 b.c. Professor Butler’s discovery, however, was itself anticipated by Burnet in his Early Greek Philosophy (95, p. 74) by a couple of years. Burnet, after quoting the Theophrastean account of the speculations of Anaximander concerning the origin of man,—‘Further, he says that in the beginning man was born from animals of a different species’ [was like a fish in the beginning]. ‘His reason is, that, while other animals quickly find food for themselves, man alone requires a prolonged period of suckling. Hence, had he been originally such as he is now, he could never have survived,’—observes ‘ the reference to the long period of nursing required by the offspring of the human race really contains a very acute piece of scientific reasoning.’

But the credit of the scientific interpretation of the prolongation of human infancy is still due to Professor John Fiske, who, in his Outlines of Cosmic Philosophy, which was published in 1874, was the first to indicate its true significance in the evolution of humanity. Darwin, with overwhelming evidence, had shown how man’s physical organism had evolved from the creatures beneath him, the anthropoid apes being his nearest congeners; Wallace had shown how the next fact to exhibit the operation of natural selection in the development of man was his intelligence, whose variations now began to be of more importance and utility than mere variations of bodily structure. Instead of brute force, mental acuteness enabled man to survive, and his intelligence spent itself in the invention of devices (clothing, implements and weapons, food preparation, etc.), which became his salvation to a greater extent than had been hairy covering, strong limb, or fleetness of foot : he was learning how to live by his wits. Naturally enough, as his intelligence continued to augment, the skilful hand and the new-born mind interacting, the size and complexity of the brain of man increased also, and the more perfect organisation of the thinking part in adult age had, as a necessity, to be preceded by a very much less definite organisation at birth. Hence, argued Mr Fiske, the phenomenon of human infancy, so strikingly different from that of tlie rest of the animal world.


Rousseau, as Groos notes (253, p. 15 1), had not a little appreciation of the real significance of childhood and youth, for in his Emile (Bk. I.) he observes that ‘ if man came into the world grown uii, he would be a perfect imbecile, an automaton, an immovable and almost insensible statue,’ and, again, ‘ we pity the state of infancy ; we do not perceive that the human race would have jjerishcd if man had not begun by being a child.’ It has survived through his knowing by childeducation how to become a man. Out of the development of his own faculties, which has arisen through his weakness, has come at last his strength, tlie limit of his genius, the depth of his wisdom.

The lengthening of the period of intra-uterine life and the prolongation of human infancy, the period of plasticity and educability, have been in reality the making of man. Professor Butler does not exaggerate when he says (100, p. 10): ‘ The factor in history that has changed the human being from a gregarious animal to a man living in a monogamous family, is, if anthropology and psychology teach us anything, unquestionably the child.’ In a sense man has not lived for the child, but the child has lived for man. By reason of his childhood man is enabled to advance beyond the condition of his fathers. The existence of human childhood has made possible human civilisation.


Folksonomies: education pediatrics juvenilia

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 The Child: A Study in the Evolution of Man (Classic Reprint)
Books, Brochures, and Chapters>Book:  Chamberlain, Alexander Francis (201411), The Child: A Study in the Evolution of Man (Classic Reprint), Retrieved on 2018-07-27
Folksonomies: education pedagogy psychology pediatrics