Advanced Search

I'm thinking about writing a book to teach kids philosophy, but I've run into a bit of a writer's block from the onset. I'm not sure whether to start with epistemology(theory of knowledge) or metaphysics(theory of reality). At first I thought about starting with epistemology, then metaphysics, on the grounds that people base their views on reality around knowledge. But then I realized that one's understanding of reality will often influence how they perceive knowledge. Which one is better to start with? Or perhaps is starting with one or the other inaccurate and should both be introduced at the same time?

I wish you great success in this project! For inspiration, you might look at the entry on philosophy for children on the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. The books by Gareth Matthews are particularly good and are reference in the SEP entry. I suggest you might begin with both metaphysics and epistemology. It is very difficult to do epistemology without some (presumed) metaphysical claims (there are observations / sensations / there is thinking / doubting...) and difficult to consider metaphysical claims without engaging in epistemology (what do we know -or have good reason to believe about observations / sensations / thinking / doubting). You might even begin the book with making the claim that while it is tempting to prioritize epistemology (for example) it is difficult to do without some commitments or assumptions about what there is. One blended way of practicing philosophy with both epistemology and metaphysics can be found in the tradition of so-called critical common sense philosophy as...

John is 30 years old. Jack is 10 years old. They are clinically sane. One day, John feels a sudden, uncharacteristic urge to kill. He murders an innocent stranger. On the same day, Jack feels the same urge to kill. He also murders an innocent stranger. John and Jack both admit responsibility for the murders. They acted in the same way for the same reason. Their actions had the same result. Should they be punished in the same way?

Great question! In practice, at least in the United States, the punishment and even the trial will be different. The 10 year old would be tried in juvenile court. The jury would not be made up of only 10 year olds. John, on the other hand, would have a jury (if there was a jury) of fellow adults or peers, and the possible consequences would be different. I suggest that one reason for a difference in punishment is that while both John and Jack admit responsibility (which I assume involves admitting that they knew that what they did was wrong) the child (and a 10 year old is a child, based on international standards, e.g. UN definition of childhood) did not have as full of a grasp of the wrongness of the action as the adult. It may also be the case that the child had / has less resources mentally to address deviant desires / urges. I think we expect adults to engage in greater self-mastery, to exercise greater restraint and control of desires than children. Although the claim may seem odd: sanity...

I live with my husband and his mother. My mother in law seems to have issues with me; she picks fights and tries to manipulate my husband into treating me like dirt just the way she does. She is more than just a meddler. She seems to have strange episodes that might qualify as a mental problem such as depression. My husband always takes her side and goes crazy on me saying that his number one responsibility is to his mother. My question is what is the morally acceptable thing here? Does my mother-in law deserve more of my husband's 'respect' than I do? It seems that he thinks I should never say ill about her even when she's clearly in the wrong.

What a difficult situation! You may be dealing with a matter that involves different cultural traditions. If, for example, you and your family's background is Confusian there may be a primacy of hnor due to parentss, but if you are in Jewish or Chrisitian context then, while honor is due to parents, your primary loyalty is to the marriage partner (Genesis 2:24 institutes marriage as a matter of of a man and by implication, a woman leaving father and mother and father and "becoming one"). But setting aside cultural or religious expectiations, I think most people would understand the vow that established your marriage as promising always to love and respect each other. Sometimes this vow includes a line about "foresaking all others" which suggests the primacy and exclusively important nature of the marriage bond. In light of that, I find it difficult to believe that respect and love would lead to the kind of reproachful behavior you are describing. It would be interesting (but probably most unwise...

Do children have duties towards their parents? If they do, do these arise as a result of the parents' efforts on the child's behalf, or are they in some way structurally required, regardless of the parents' "performance"?

Great questions that have vexed many philosophers who have reflected on parenthood and debts of gratitude. Some philosophers (perhaps most famously John Locke) worked historically to limit the control of parents over children. Locke opposed what may be called patriarchalism and a tradition, that goes back at least to Roman times, that a parent (especially a father) could, by virtue of being a parent, exercise tremendous power (in ancient times this included the power of life and death) over the child. This seems to have been built on what you are calling a structual component (you created the child, therefore you have power over him or her) and this could back up claims on the child to demonstrate family loyalty. Behind Plato's dialogue the Euthyphro there is a hint that Socrates himself may have thought that a child should honor his father. (In the dialogue, Socrates challenges a man intent on prosecuting his father.) In any case, I suggest that there may be a prima facie debt of gratitude...

What is it that makes some things childish and others not? And why is it that most of the things we call childish are things we do for fun? Why are adults expected to have less fun and be more serious about everything?

Great questions! As for your main point or the point behind the questions, it does seem a great pity to think that adulthood must be defined in terms of a seriousness which frowns on fun, though I have some hesitancy about the way you are setting up childishness versus adulthood. I am not sure you are 100% right "that most of the things we call childish are things we do for fun." You may be spot on, but I suspect that we also call persons or actions childish when we believe they are immature, reckless, selfish, not thought through or naive. And in my experience children are sometimes just as serious, if not more so, than many adults I know. Also, the term "adult" has a pretty stable use in English for describing (perhaps inappropriate?) fun --as in "adult" films, bookstores, products. Stepping back from the above observations, however, it is interesting to note that in the old days (e.g. industrial revolution) childhood was often not associated with fun and education, but labor, viz. child labor. ...

I am curious about the formation of the moral conscience and at what age a child should be held responsible for knowing the difference between right and wrong. And would the same criteria apply for acts of commission and acts of omission assuming that there are no "defenses", so to speak, like voluntary intoxication or organic brain damage. Thanks.

Great question. Probably one of the other panelists will do a better job than me on this one, but here goes: I suggest that the key to determining the age of responsibility comes down to measuring the development of cognitive power and control. You ask about "what age a child should be held responsible for knowing the difference between right and wrong," which suggests that there might be a time when a child might NOT know such moral differences but that at some point the child SHOULD have such knowledge. For this reason, the key is knowing when a child has sufficient cognitive power to know the moral consequences of her/his acts and omissions. If, for example, the child simply lacks the power to put himself in the position of others (and thus fails, for example, to be able to grasp that hitting his sister hurts her), then the child is not a moral agent. Moreover, if the child lacks sufficient bodily and mental powers to control her body and thought, moral agency would also not be achieved. ...

Is it better to adopt children or to create them?

Great question, though "create" may not be the best term when you might refer to giving birth to a child. It seems that without considerable details, it would be very difficult indeed to answer your question. Still, one can identify some of the values that are in play. In adopting a child, it seems that you are exercising your voluntary will (it would be odd or unusual to adopt a child by accident or be compelled to do so) whereas in some cases getting pregnant may not be a choice or a voluntary one. In adoption you also may be acting to prevent harm (e.g. if the child is not adopted, perhaps she would remain in an orphanage until she comes of age) and bring about good to someone who (in most cases) already exists, whereas the child you have would not exist unless you and your partner had intercourse and the pregnancy came to term. In some respects, I suggest that giving birth to a child is the primary good. Every person, whether they will be adopted or remain with their birth family, has been, is...

Assume it were discovered that certain mental aspects of a person - their temperment, their inclinations, their basic attitudes and desires - were at least partly the result of the person's genes. Now assume that a couple (for whatever reason) decides that they want their child to be an energetic, extroverted, optimistic and competitive; or that they decide they want a calm, collected, intelligent, questioning and cooperative child; or any other variation. They then go on to their doctor and have the embryo's genes modified such that their child will have these qualities. Is the control exercised over the child's fundamental nature an imposition of the parents' wills onto the will of the child? And is a person whose will has been designed by another will as free as a will that has not been designed at all?

Excellent question. It is excellent partly because it goes to the heart of the nature of freedom: freedom makes little sense without a context. So, it makes sense to ask of a person at any time whether she or he is free to do X, but in the case you are imagining there is no will of the child prior to the parent's decision making. So, we do not have a case of when, say, a two year old child is given some character-transforming infusion, we are rather focussing in on the very gestation and emergence of the child. I suggest that there might be reasons to discourage this kind of engineering (perhaps such engineering might tend to make parents feel they have a kind of ownership over their children), but that such engineering need not be seen as an imposition of the parents' will "onto the will of the child" with one proviso. That condition concerns whether the child has any freedom once she reaches maturity to be (for example) not optimistic, not competitive, to neglect her intellectual talents, to be non...