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Children : rights and childhood by David Archard

By David Archard

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The emergence of an educational system and the preeminence of the family are presented as following from a society’s having a ‘concept of childhood’. Yet these developments are also seen as the preconditions for the acquisition of the concept. But it is the second form of criticism of Ariès’s thesis which is most damning and also the most relevant to the concerns of this chapter. This is that his thesis is value-laden. Specifically, Ariès is criticised for what has been called his presentism, that is his predisposition to interpret the past in the light of present-day attitudes, assumptions and concerns.

Indeed, that they endure in contemporary debate shows just how clear-headed and prescient a philosopher of childhood he was. Now that philosophical discussion of childhood and children’s rights is more common that it was some years ago, it is worth returning to Locke, as to other figures in the history of philosophy, for the fresh, and sometimes very bright, light they can shed on this discussion. To that discussion itself the rest of the book is devoted. 15 Part I CHILDHOOD Childhood is unknown.

We could agree, for instance, that torturing a human of whatever age is barbaric and immoral. And perhaps torturing a child is especially immoral because she is a smaller and frailer human being; or it may be especially immoral just because she is a child. Similarly, some might see the setting to work of children as cruel but only because of a theory concerning what is morally appropriate behaviour towards children as such. Any such theory is contentious. Ariès thinks the modern child rightly excluded from the adult world of work.

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