What is a Child?

Sunday, November 19, 2006

What is it

Back in the middle ages, people thought of children simply as little adults. Modern psychology has destroyed that theory.  But then, what is a child?  How are their minds different?  And what are the moral implications of these differences for how we should treat them?  Join John and Ken as they reflect on the nature of childhood.

Listening Notes

At first the nature of children seems obvious, and their philosophical importance seems negligible, but John and Ken point out that throughout history the status and definition of children have evolved. Ken points out that there are two main ways to consider children--in terms of the differences between children and adults from a developmental perspective, and questions concerning the moral status of children compared to adults. John uses the example of a teenager wanting a nosering to illustrate the blurry line between childhood and adulthood, while Ken points out that a few hundred years ago teenagers were raising families, working in fields, and fighting in wars.John and Ken discuss why society groups newborns to sixteen year olds together under the single banner of "child".

John and Ken introduce Tamar Schapiro, ethical philosopher and author of a relevant article entitled "What is a Child?". John begins by asking what she sees as the key philosophical concepts that come up when discussing children. Tamar Schapiro believes that one of the most important topics is paternalism, and how parents can acknowledge that their children have wills but still override them. Ken discusses how the relationship between parent and child must evolve as the child ages, and how any theory of parental authority must take that into account.

Ken discusses the old view that children are essentially the property of their parents, and this ownership relationship is the ultimate justification for parental authority. Tamar thinks that few contemporary philosophers would hold that view, but points out that there is this strange relationship of "belonging" to others that children possess which adults do not. John and Ken discuss the moral relevance of this relationship and its development over time. Tamar Schapiro points out the differences between handicapped or blind people and their relationship to society and the connection between children and their parents.

John, Ken, and Tamar discuss child rearing and the responsibility of parents and how that relates to the moral status of children, with callers presenting their own stories and ideas concerning this important and universal part of human life.

  • Roving Philosophical Report (Seek to 4:49): Polly Stryker discusses her upcoming transformation into a mother as she prepares to give birth to her first child. She discusses parental obligations in the past and the present.
  • 60-Second Philosopher (Seek to 49:54): Ian Shoales speeds through the book "Centuries of Childhood" and the evolution of our modern view of childhood, our misconceptions about what people in the Middle Ages thought of children, and infanticide in the ancient world.
 
 

Tamar Schapiro, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Stanford University

 
 
 

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