Jerome Kagan

Three Seductive Ideas Translated from the English (United States) by Thierry Loisel. Publication date : October 1, 2000

Do the first two years of a child’s life really determine his or her future development? Are human beings, like other primates, solely motivated by the pursuit of pleasure? What can be concluded today about the notion of temperament? Is it stable and unchanging throughout life? This book is the culmination of a lifetime of research. Jerome Kagan, one of the founders of modern development psychology, is known the world over for the precision and originality of his work, as well as for his overall examination of the methods and meaning of psychology.
He questions several clichés including the notion that we are determined by our childhood. According to Kagan, we are not the product of our biological and genetic “nature”, any more than we are the result of our early interaction with our families. The numerous followers of the determinist argument are criticised here for denying the large variety of individual reactions to biological and personal circumstances. Above all, the determinists ignore our capacity to adapt and change. Three Seductive Ideas is not only an important contribution to the traditional nature/culture debate. It is also an in-depth questioning of the behavioural goals of human beings. If it is true, as many anthropologists and psychoanalysts believe, that humans are essentially pleasure seekers, how can altruistic goals and a concern with ethics be explained? If psychology is to answer these crucial questions, it must first become a full-fledged science, using precise and concrete studies based on the experimental method. This book is both an in-depth analysis of human nature and an appeal for a truly scientific approach to psychology.

“Kagan is psychology’s champion of theoretical pluralism. His new book questions some of the myths that most influence us. It should help us to better understand human development.”
Frank J. Sulloway, author of Born to Rebel.

“This is a most salutary scientific work. If you like to ponder about science and you also like philosophy, then you are sure to enjoy this book.”
Antonio Damasio, author of Descartes’ Error and The Feeling of What Happens.

Jerome Kagan teaches at Harvard University. He is the author of several works on psychology that are regarded as classics.