I first saw this quote here: Philip Johnson-Laird BA PhD Psychology (UCL), Stuart Professor of Psychology Emeritus at Princeton. How We Reason (1st edn 2008). p. 245. I emboldened.

“Walter de la Mare,” 1963. I think this refers to A Choice Of de la Mare's Verse. Selected with an Introduction by W.H. Auden.

Human beings are blessed with the power to remember; consequently, to grow old means for us not to discard but to accumulate; in every old man there still lives a child, an adolescent, a young man and a middle-aged one. It is commonly believed that children are, by nature, more imaginative than adults, but this is questionable. It is probably the case only in cultures like our own which put a higher social and economic value upon practical and abstract thinking than upon wonder and images; in a culture which put a high value on imagination and a low one on logic, children might well appear to be more rational than adults, for a child is not, by nature, more anything. In all cultures, however, there is one constant difference between children and adults, namely, that, for the former, learning their native tongue is itself one of the most important experiences in their lives, while, for the latter, language has become an instrument for interpreting and communicating experience; to recapture the sense of language as experience, an adult has to visit a foreign country.

  1. What exactly does anything signify here?

  2. If children aren't more anything, then how can they appear more rational?

1 Answer 1


It makes sense.

Auden is comparing two situations. In our society, children appear more imaginative than adults because adults learn rationality during growth. In a society that prizes imagination more than rationality, in which adults would supposedly learn imagination during growth, the children would thus "appear" more rational than adults.

But Auden says that both are wrong, "for a child is not, by nature, more anything."

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