What Is Childhood?

I find that our greatest vices take shape from our earliest childhood... There are fathers stupid enough to take it as a good omen when they see a son unjustly striking a lackey who is not defending himself, and as a charming prank when they see him trick his playmate by a bit of malicious dishonesty and deceit. Nevertheless these are the true seeds and roots of cruelty, tyranny, and treason; they sprout there, and afterward shoot up lustily, and flourish mightily in the hands of habit... Children must be carefully taught to hate vices for their own sake, and taught the natural deformity of vices, so that they will shun them not only in their actions but above all in their heart, so that the very thought of them may be odious, whatever mask they wear.

- Michel de Montaigne, Essays, I, 23, Of Custom

Podcast of the Day

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss childhood. The 20th Century was proclaimed the Century of the Child. It has been much else but in the western world the position, the possibilities, the meaning and the story of childhood have been changed, for many, monumentally. Children join the workforce much later, they are born into smaller, usually more affluent families than a hundred years ago, they tend to spend their parents’ money rather than contributing to the family coffers, they are handed over to the school for what used to be called the best years of their lives. Children have been involved in a spectacular journey in the last hundred years. St Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: But when I became a man, I put away childish things”. But is it really as simple as that, can one always make such a clear distinction between childhood and being an adult, and is such a division even desirable? For most of this century - in the Western World - childhood has been another country with different laws and separate truths, it is something we either feel we missed or somewhere to which we long to return. Has it always been such a cherished state and do our endless machinations to keep childhood special actually help the individual?

Listen to the In Our Time episode on Childhood

Video of the Day

Short Article of the Day

Most of us don't remember our first two or three years of life — but our earliest experiences may stick with us for years and continue to influence us well into adulthood.

Just how they influence us and how much is a question that researchers are still trying to answer. Two studies look at how parents' behavior in those first years affects life decades later, and how differences in children's temperament play a role...

Continue reading Maanvi Singh's article: Some Early Childhood Experiences Shape Adult Life, But Which Ones?

Further Reading

...The philosophy of childhood takes up philosophically interesting questions about childhood, changing conceptions over time about childhood and attitudes toward children; theories of cognitive and moral development; children's interests and children's rights, the goods of childhood; children and autonomy; the moral status of children and the place of children in society. As an academic subject, the philosophy of childhood has sometimes been included within the philosophy of education (e.g., Siegel, 2009). Recently, however, philosophers have begun to offer college and university courses specifically in the philosophy of childhood. And philosophical literature on childhood, parenting and families is increasing in both quantity and quality...

Continue reading the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on The Philosophy of Childhood by Gareth Matthews & Amy Mullin

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