Ethics in Light of Childhood

Ethics in Light of Childhood

John Wall
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 216
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  • Book Info
    Ethics in Light of Childhood
    Book Description:

    Childhood faces humanity with its own deepest and most perplexing questions. An ethics that truly includes the world's childhoods would transcend pre-modern traditional communities and modern rational autonomy with a postmodern aim of growing responsibility. It would understand human relations in a poetic rather than universalistic sense as openly and interdependently creative. As a consequence, it would produce new understandings of moral being, time, and otherness, as well as of religion, rights, narrative, families, obligation, and power. Ethics in Light of Childhood fundamentally reimagines ethical thought and practice in light of the experiences of the third of humanity who are children. Much like humanism, feminism, womanism, and environmentalism, Wall argues, a new childism is required that transforms moral thinking, relations, and societies in fundamental ways. Wall explores childhood's varied impacts on ethical thinking throughout history, advances the emerging interdisciplinary field of childhood studies, and reexamines basic assumptions in contemporary moral theory and practice. In the process, he does not just apply ethics to childhood but applies childhood to ethics-in order to imagine a more expansive humanity.

    eISBN: 978-1-58901-624-8
    Subjects: Philosophy, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    CHILDHOOD FACES HUMANITY with its own deepest and most perplexing questions. What does it mean to be human? What should relations and societies strive for? What is ultimately owed to one another?

    Children are a third of all humanity. Yet all too often children are considered merely undeveloped adults, passive recipients of care, occupying a separate innocence, or, perhaps, in need of being civilized. Across diverse societies and cultures, and throughout history and today, serious questions of human being, purposes, and responsibilities have usually been considered chiefly from the point of view of adulthood. Childhood has had to borrow its...

    • Chapter 1 Three Enduring Models
      (pp. 13-32)

      HUMAN BEINGS are historical creatures. We not only live within time, like all things, but we also construct the meaning of time through stories, rituals, traditions, and cultures. Present experience aims toward anticipated futures and is interpreted through the lenses of understandings and beliefs from the past. Children demonstrate this historicity of human life acutely. No child chooses the inherited languages and mores that already shape the structures of their lives and thinking from birth. But every child interprets these conditions in new ways for themselves and in relation to their own open and unfolding futures. However diverse human histories...

    • Chapter 2 What Is Human Being?
      (pp. 35-58)

      IT MAY SEEM OBVIOUS to say that children are full human beings. But as the history sketched in the previous chapter shows, it is not easy to explain what exactly this means. Leading thinkers’ efforts to describe children’s full humanity have resulted in one or another form of oversimplification. Of course, such is the case for any person or group. It is to some extent inevitable that talk about humanity is dehumanizing. But for children in particular, the problem is complicated by the fact that they cannot, on the whole—nor should they—be held as responsible as adults for...

    • Chapter 3 What Is the Ethical Aim?
      (pp. 59-86)

      SO FAR, we have only considered the abstract question of the nature of human being. Childhood has a surprising amount to teach on this score. However, ethics is not just about being but also about doing, especially by and for children.

      This chapter takes up the second question posed in the introduction of what, in light of childhood, selves and societies should strive toward. This is different from the question addressed in the next chapter of what obligations are owed to each other regardless of outcome. First it is necessary to ask what is technically known as a question of...

    • Chapter 4 What Is Owed Each Other?
      (pp. 87-110)

      THE QUESTION OF ETHICAL aims finally gives way to a third question of ethical obligations. At a certain point, others are not just parts of my own or anyone else’s story, but also irreducible human beings in and of themselves. What might be desired or hoped for runs up against what is owed to others—including oneself as an other to oneself—regardless of narrative outcomes. A child can always have better health, but some basic level of health care is morally required. Persons and societies owe others a certain dignity and respect as others in their own right.


    • Chapter 5 Human Rights in Light of Childhood
      (pp. 113-138)

      THE IDEAS OF THE previous three chapters have implications for any area of moral life. In the following three chapters I offer but three examples. The application of theory to practice is not a one-way street: theory sheds light on action just as understanding action changes theory—in a hermeneutical circle, as it were. However, if the ethics of childhood calls for anything, it calls for addressing moral relations not only abstractly but also in their practical concreteness.

      I start in this chapter with the practice of human rights. I do so because despite being intended to unite humanity, “human”...

    • Chapter 6 The Generative Family
      (pp. 139-166)

      A SECOND WAY TO consider some of the practical implications of childism is to think about the ethical dimensions of life in families. Of course, discussion of children has historically included families centrally. From the point of view of childhood, it is clearly important for human beings to take part in close kin networks. The birth of each new person in the world is, in a way, the rebirth of family: a bodily bond to a mother and father, an emotional and economic bond to a household, a genetic bond to a larger ancestry, and a cultural bond to a...

    • Chapter 7 The Art of Ethical Thinking
      (pp. 167-178)

      THE PHILOSOPHER Gareth Matthews has demonstrated that children are complex philosophical, spiritual, and ethical thinkers. Here is one example he gives of an infant, Michael Brown, fifteen months old:

      [Michael] was struggling with his friend, Paul, over a toy. Paul started to cry. Michael appeared concerned and let go of the toy so that Paul would have it, but Paul kept crying. Michael paused, then gave his teddy bear to Paul, but the crying continued. Michael paused again, then ran into the next room, returned with Paul’s security blanket, and offered it to Paul, who then stopped crying.¹

      Matthews’s argument...

  7. Conclusion
    (pp. 179-182)

    THIS BOOK HAS BEEN exploring how the consideration of childhood should transform fundamental ethical understanding. More than just applying ethics to children, it has applied the experiences and perspectives of children to ethics. Since children are fully a third of all humanity, and since they are not morally reducible to adults, this transformation is no small matter. Reimagining ethics in light of childhood—and not just in light of adulthood—is challenging and often surprising. Philosophers and theologians throughout the ages have attempted this task from different angles, but the results of history show that much more work needs to...

  8. Notes
    (pp. 183-194)
  9. Index
    (pp. 195-204)