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This is a very old paper of mine that I intend on reworking and trying to publish. In a bid to keep me inspired, I’ve decided to place it here, unedited so that I will actually go on and do it. It’s interesting to see just how much my writing style’s changed. Comments, criticism and tomatoes are welcome.
Taking Children Into Account
Children have often been left out of most discussions around philosophy because of the very nature of philosophy, something the Oxford English Dictionary defines as “the study of the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality and existence… the study of the theoretical basis of a branch of knowledge and experience.”  Furthermore, the word originates from the Greek word philosophia which means love of wisdom, and when one thinks of children on a prima facie level, the idea that they would have a love of, or understanding of wisdom seems counter-intuitive. Philosophy has always primarily been concerned with those who have been deemed to have full agency – up until fairly recently that was confined to an adult male (women in Switzerland were granted suffrage as late as 1979). If the adult woman was not seen as fully autonomous or worth being included in the practice of philosophy, then it logically follows that there is no way that a child would.
My suggestion in this paper is that this is incorrect and that children are very capable of engaging in active philosophical thought and are additionally, able to add something valuable to philosophy as they have in their possession something no adult has – the ability and capacity to truly look at and experience the world as though for the first time, for that is what they are doing. We should rethink our approach to children and grant them more autonomy with regards to philosophical thought.
Due to the lack of literature on Philosophy of Childhood, I am largely relying on a paper by Gareth B. Matthews who has also written a book on the topic.
Philosophy of Childhood
There are two ways that one can think of ‘Philosophy of Childhood’, firstly you could apply it to understanding what people have to say about children, the place of children in society and their rights as individuals. This application is analogous to the application of philosophy to science, art, language and the like.
The second way that one can understand ‘Philosophy of Childhood’ is to realize that there are varied, opposing philosophies of the child. In this sense a philosophy of childhood is a fairly consistent idea of what childhood is. This sense then informs our actions and attitudes towards children with regards to their place in society, the community and the family. I find the distinctions that Matthews makes whilst useful, confusing in the sense that they sound remarkably similar. For my purposes I will define ‘Philosophy of Childhood’ as an understanding of what people have to say about children, their place in society, their rights as well as the attitudes that we have towards children. This definition is more useful as it allows for the suggestion of changing our attitudes towards children whilst still taking into account how our current and previous conceptions of children have influenced our attitudes of them today.
II Conceptions of the Child
Ideas and conceptions of what a child is have varied across time and cultures. It is very much a social construct that has varied massively even in Europe over time. The Victorian era saw childhood as a time of innocence and purity whilst the seventeenth century French cleric Pierre de Berulle thought that it was the vilest time in an individual’s life, second only to death. Furthermore, conceptions of what a child is have also varied over time and across cultures. Today, the standard legal definition of a child is anyone under the age of eighteen years old. Before then you are not allowed to vote, get married without the permission of your legal guardian, drive a motor vehicle or drink alcohol legally. In earlier times though, due to shorter lifespan, women would regularly get married at fourteen years and many were expected to start working at a much younger age than today – to illustrate this, my grandmother left school at fourteen and started working, I am 22 and still studying. This is only skipping one generation in a family.
Cross-culturally, in the novel A Thousand Splendid Suns the one protagonist Mariam is fifteen when she is sent off to marry Rasheed, a troubled and bitter man thirty years her senior, with the marriage Mariam is expected to fulfil the role of an adult - looking after her husband in addition to producing children. The reason I have used this example in particular is because the novel is set in a very recent time, but in another country, thus illustrating how conceptions of childhood vary across cultures (this could never have happened in this country due to laws and social constructs)
Thus, this paper will solely be focussing on those under the age of thirteen. I will use this age as, even crossing historical and cultural bounds, this is most widely accepted ceiling of childhood, even in contemporary society where teenagers, though still seen as lacking a certain amount of autonomy, are granted more from this age – the legal age engaging in consensual sexual activities without it being classified as rape being sixteen in South Africa, in the US you are allowed to drive at sixteen which is clearly a granting of rights and privileges gradually to an individual in preparation for full adulthood.
Plato had some interesting views on childhood, a few of which I would like to allude to, as, unlike what I initially thought when I started thinking about children and philosophy; he had a fair amount to say about children. Additionally, he instructed Aristotle, whose ideas still influence Western conceptions of childhood and as such, I will combine the two conceptions of childhood in order to give a broad history of what has led to our current conceptions of childhood.
In Republic II Plato says that the best time to shape any creature is when it is young and thus insists on a revision and supervision of the stories that the young hear from their story makers as they are not able to distinguish between what is a metaphor and what is not, but that whatever they take in will not be able to be changed later on in their lives, thus, he concludes, the stories that the young hear from those in charge of them should be of the kind that will lead to the most virtuous lives being lived by them as adults. Aristotle, in Nicomachean Ethics makes a similar point when he talks about the importance of proper and good habituation of the young in order to live virtuous lives, saying that whatever one is taught or habituated into when you are young is, if not completely unalterable, then very difficult to change as an adult. These two joined conceptions of childhood are widely accepted and taken as a given in contemporary thought with the emphasis on education and schooling as opposed to active philosophical enquiry. It is rather interesting to note, as a side point however, that the moral education that Aristotle and Plato so famously advocated in relation to living a virtuous life is largely left out of education today and left in the ruthless hands of the media and inadequate parenting. That discussion however, is beyond the scope of this paper and I will leave it at that.
I would like to point out finally one more influence that Aristotle had on the common conception of childhood. Aristotle held that there are four stages of causality. One cause is the final Cause of a living being which is the function that the being performs when it reaches maturity, another stage that Aristotle thinks occurs is the formal Cause. This is the form or structure that a being has when it reaches adulthood. Thus, childhood can be seen as the stage in a being’s life where it is in the process of and has the capacity to reach its final and formal cause. This conception ties in with what was earlier said about Aristotle and Plato’s conception that childhood is the period in a being’s life where their beliefs and operational structures are laid down from the nurturing aspect of growth. Whilst I disagree with the over emphasis of nurturing on children – there are many children that have grown up in abusive homes yet have become caring, virtuous adults, it is an important point particularly in the sense that it has informed a lot of the West’s thought and understanding of childhood leading most parents to believe that the duties to a child are mainly that of educating and protecting a child so that she can perform her functions in society properly.
To give a recap of what I have said in this section, Firstly, I outlined how conceptions have varied over space and time, secondly, I argued for the age that childhood ends and have tried to show how my ‘cut-off age’ for lack of better wording is the best one available as it cuts across most cultural and historical bounds, and finally I have shown how Aristotle and Plato’s conceptions of childhood have influenced contemporary thought on what children and the purpose of childhood is.
III – Philosophical Thinking in Children
Matthews disagrees with Aristotle’s conception that childhood’s main purpose is to create beings that are able to perform their final cause or function as a mature being in society fully. He proposes that a properly articulated conception of childhood would be one that views children as ‘little investigators’ using an example of a teacher going through quite a complex story about a mouse that finds a way into the king’s vault and starts stealing jewels, eventually the thief steals the crown jewel which is the most valuable one. Someone else, a goose who is supposed to guard the vault gets accused of the theft and eventually he flies out of the courtroom. The story is supposed to raise ethical issues that the children were meant to discuss. In this case however, they were far more interested in the fact that there was no evidence that the goose had committed the crime and that it was all purely circumstantial. This thereby seems to raise the point that children are able to look beyond what seems to be there and want to find out the truth. Children then can be much more independent thinkers than commonly thought and are also committed to the pursuit of wisdom and truth, albeit in their own way, which, coincidentally, is the purpose of philosophy.
An interesting point that he raises is the fact that child art is far aesthetically appealing than the artworks that most adults produce, furthermore he highlights the similarities between the works of the most prolific modern artists like Picasso and children. His point, from what I understand, is that whilst we are happy to pay millions for an artwork by Picasso, we are reluctant the intrinsic value in the artwork done by children, and that we should regard child art as unqualified for the child, who gains from creating the artwork and the adult, who gains from the asceticism of it.
Finally, Matthews argues that children are far more able to engage with philosophy than many think and we just have to think about some of the questions children ask in order to see how leaving them out of discussions on philosophy and thus not teaching them philosophy at a young age due to the thought that they are not cognitively able to comprehend and deal with such issues is mistaken.
I agree with what Matthews says about how children actively engage with philosophical thought. One just has to think about the questions that children ask. Some, like ‘why is the oven hot when the light’s on?’ can easily be explained, but others like the many that Matthews cites, are questions that relate to philosophy. The example of the class of children after hearing the story about the goose being wrongly accused of a crime, throughout the rest of the year asking whether there was evidence for something that they were taught is simply asking for the premises of the conclusion of an argument. Another example that Matthews uses is that of his grand daughter, Pearl (5) and another three and a half year old, Jodi, asking their parents how they could tell the difference between being awake and dreaming. His grand daughter’s answer was simply “You see me, don’t you” which he accepts is about as good as pinching yourself, but like Descartes pointed out centuries ago, that, and the coherence of our waking life is all that we can truly rely on. Another example comes from my own childhood and wondering what happens when you die. Whilst this is far cruder than the examples that Matthews gives, the question of life after death is a philosophical one that has bugged people and led to them to come up with all sorts of answers since the beginning of time.
I have given a definition of the Philosophy of Childhood that combines both looking at in a similar manner that one understands branches of philosophy like Philosophy of Science, Literature and Art and Matthews’ understanding of Philosophy of Children which takes into account the varied views of childhood and the attitudes that one has because of each view. I then explained how the concept of a child has varied over time and space and argued that a child should be seen as someone under the age of thirteen as this is the ‘cut-off age’ that cuts across most of these boundaries. I then explained the influence of Plato and Aristotle on contemporary concepts of childhood and its’ purpose. Finally the paper examined some of the work of Matthews who disagrees with Aristotle’s conception of childhood, and by using various examples, he argues that children should be given more scope to engage with philosophy as they do it more naturally than we think on a prima facie level.
I agree with Matthews that the idea that children are ‘too young’ or ‘not ready mentally’ to think about the world philosophically is wrong. The pursuit of wisdom starts with asking why? Or why not? And I can not think of any group collective that does this more and more consistently than children. They are there to remind us that the world is wide and big and that is what they have the potential to add to philosophy, a continuous reminder to ask ‘why’? Additionally, and I think Matthews would agree, I do not think that we should simply disregard Aristotle and Plato’s conception of childhood as it is important that as adults, we do look after and properly educate children and without society would most certainly collapse.
SomePoints that came out:
How ‘the child’ is a relatively new social construct – literature again
Distinguishing between their thought patterns and the idea or concept of a child
A ‘starting age’ for childhood (the idea being that infancy is too young)
 Concise Oxford English Dictionary 11th Ed.
 Fill in some arb reference here
 Matthews, G. B. 2006. A Philosophy of Childhood. Indiana University. Bloomington
 Hosseini, K. 2007. A Thousand Splendid Suns. Bloomsbury Publishing Plc: London
 I am aware that some would ask me why I haven’t made the age that childhood ends then, at 16, and I think that the rite of passage that occurs when one becomes a teenager is an important stage in relation to cognitive development. Furthermore, if I raised the age it would fail to take note of the fact that as previously mentioned, in earlier times and other cultures women as young as 14 get married.
 Republic II 377b
 Nicomachean Ethics – insert correct numbering here
 Matthews, G. B. 2006. A Philosophy of Childhood. Indiana University. Bloomington
 Matthews, G.B. 2006. pg. 13-14
 Ibid 10-11
Judge Lex Mpati
Following an extensive process of nominations and deliberations, and with the approval of the University Council, it is a great pleasure to announce the Honourable Justice Lex Mpati as the new Chancellor of Rhodes University.
Judge Mpati is President of the Supreme Court of Appeal, a post he has held since 2008 when he became the first Rhodes Law alumnus to be so appointed. As such, he is the third most senior judicial person in South Africa (after the Chief Justice and Deputy Chief Justice of the Constitutional Court). He was elevated to the Bench in 1997, and has been a Judge of Appeal since 2000.
Judge Mpati has deep roots in Grahamstown and the Eastern Cape province. He was born in Durban in 1949 but his schooling was in the Eastern Cape – first at St Joseph’s Catholic School in Fort Beaufort and then at Mary Waters High School in Grahamstown, from which he matriculated in 1967.
Following school and until 1980 he worked as a petrol attendant, works clerk, furniture salesman and barman. It was his experiences of injustice as a petrol attendant that motivated him to study law in an effort to make a difference in the oppressive and divided apartheid society in which he grew up.
Judge Mpati enrolled at Rhodes in 1979, under a special permit (required by black students), and graduated in 1982 with a BA degree in Legal Theory and isiXhosa. He graduated with an LLB in 1984. He was only the second black student to graduate with an LLB from Rhodes.
Following graduation he worked as an attorney in Grahamstown and served as the Secretary of the Grahamstown Side-Bar Association between 1985 and 1987. He was extensively involved in human rights issues throughout the Eastern Cape.
In 1989 he became an Advocate and a member of the Eastern Cape Society of Advocates until 1997. Between 1993 and 1996, he served as the in-house Counsel of the Legal Resources Centre. He was a member of the National Association of Democratic Lawyers, and a member of the panel of arbitrators of IMSSA (Independent Mediation Service of South Africa).
Judge Mpati has served as a member of the Board of Trustees of All Saints College in King Williamstown, and in 1994 was Co-chairperson of the Grahamstown Local Government Negotiating Forum and a member of the Electoral Tribunal.
In late 1994 he spent two weeks in Chile as a member of a task team sent by the first post-1994 Minister of Justice to interview various interested parties and individuals on the Chilean Truth Commission. In 1995, he served on the Commission of Enquiry into the finalisation of the boundaries between KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape Province.
He was appointed Senior Counsel in April 1996, Acting Judge of the Eastern Cape Division of the High Court during 1996-1997, and Judge of the High Court of the Eastern Cape Division between 1997 and 2000.
He was Acting Judge of Appeal during 1999-2000, became Judge of Appeal in December 2000, Deputy President of the Supreme Court of Appeal in 2003, and finally President of the Supreme Court of Appeal in August 2008. He is also a member of the Judicial Services Commission.
Judge Mpati has been involved in legal education and training in various ways. He has acted as an external examiner in the Rhodes Law Faculty and moderator of the National Bar Examination. He was a member of the Judicial Education Planning Committee, a sub-committee of the Judicial Service Commission, and an Extraordinary Professor at the University of Free State in the Department of Constitutional Law and Philosophy of Law.
He is a longstanding trustee of the Legal Resources Centre, and served on the Rhodes University Council from 1996 to 2008. In 2004, on the 100th anniversary of Rhodes, he was awarded an honorary LLD degree by the University; another honorary degree followed from Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University.
Judge Mpati has a great passion for rugby. He played rugby for and captained Old Collegians Rugby Football Club in Grahamstown, and represented South Eastern Districts Rugby Union at provincial level. He served as General Secretary and President of the South Eastern Districts Rugby Union, and was Assistant Secretary of the South African Rugby Union between 1986 and 1992. Thereafter, he served on the National Executive Committee of the South African Rugby Football Union (SARFU), and became a member of the National Judicial Committee of SARFU, serving as its chairperson for a period.
He was appointed by the International Rugby Board as Judicial Officer for the 2003 Rugby World Cup in Australia and is currently a member of South Africa/New Zealand/Australian Rugby (SANZAR).
Judge Mpati has retained a close association with his alma mater. He is an inspirational figure for law students who he exhorts to use their knowledge, expertise and skills to promote justice and human rights in whatever field they may work in.
A humble man of great intellect and wonderful integrity, who personifies the Rhodes motto ofStrength, Virtue, Truth and the Rhodes slogan Where Leaders Learn, Judge Mpati is a superb role model for Rhodes students.
Rhodes University looks forward to Judge Mpati’s tenure as Chancellor, during which time he will preside over the University graduation ceremonies, award degrees, diplomas and certificates to graduating students, grace special occasions and events and provide wise counsel when required.
Dr Saleem Badat