Child development is fascinating in its complexity and for more than 120 years psychologists have applied scientific methods to its examination, but the concept of child development did not receive much attention from philosophers during classical antiquity and the Middle Ages (Oerter & Montada, 2002). Based on his analysis of art work the historian Philippe Ariès (1962) assumed that the concept of childhood did not exist in the medieval period and concluded that children were considered as little adults. In the medieval period, most young people were apprentices, became workers in the fields and normally entered the adult world very early in life (Ariès, 1962). Very important for the emergence of the concept of child development were two opposing philosophical views of human nature from the 17th and 18th century (De- Hart, Sroufe, & Cooper, 2004). On the one hand, the English empiricist John Locke (1632-1704) argued that at birth the mind of a child is tabula rasa, “a totally blank slate to be written on by life’s experience” (DeHart et al., 2004). This blank slate view suggests that differences among children can be explained in terms of differences in their environments (Boyd & Bee, 2009). On the other hand, Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) claimed that all human beings possess innate goodness and seek out experiences that help them grow (Boyd & Bee, 2009). According to Rousseau, child development unfolds naturally in positive ways as long as society allows it to do so (Boyd & Bee, 2009). To this day, these two opposing views of human nature are still reflected in the so-called nature-nurture debate addressing of how heredity and environment influence development.

F.C. Verhulst (Frank) , H.G. Schmidt (Henk)
Erasmus University Rotterdam
RISBO (Erasmus University Rotterdam),FSC Mixed Sources
Department of Psychology

Henrichs, J. (2010, May 19). Prenatal Determinants of Early Behavioral and Cognitive Development: The Generation R Study. Erasmus University Rotterdam. Retrieved from