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Ethics in Light of Childhood

John Wall

Publication Year: 2010

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 responsib

Published by: Georgetown University Press


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p. vii-vii

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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...


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1. Three Enduring Models

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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...


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2. What Is Human Being?

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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...

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3. What Is the Ethical Aim?

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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...

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4. What Is Owed Each Other?

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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...


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5. Human Rights in Light of Childhood

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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...

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6. The Generative Family

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pp. 139-165

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...

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7. The Art of Ethical Thinking

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pp. 167-177

THE PHILOSOPHER Gareth Matthews has demonstrated that children are complex philosophical, spiritual, and ethical thinkers. Here is one example he gives [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...

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pp. 179-181

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...


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pp. 183-194


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pp. 195-204

E-ISBN-13: 9781589016248
E-ISBN-10: 1589016246
Print-ISBN-13: 9781589016927
Print-ISBN-10: 1589016920

Page Count: 216
Illustrations: 5
Publication Year: 2010

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Moral development.
  • Child welfare -- Moral and ethical aspects.
  • Ethics.
  • Children.
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