Monday, December 10, 2007


Reason (for our purposes as a noun) is typically defined such that it includes the mental powers for drawing conclusions, making inferences, and judgments. Normally, reason seems sufficient enough a criterion to determine the innate innocence (as discussed last time) of an individual. Individuals lacking reason are generally said to be innocent, and individuals who have reasoning capabilities are not innocent.

It seems intuitive that for certain individuals who are so incapacitated that they lack the ability to reason, such as newborns or those with profound mental retardation (note, I'm talking about profound impairments in reasoning capability, not mental retardation as a whole) or brain degeneration, they truly are innately innocent, because in each case, none are able to comprehend the significance of causes, effects, and actions in the world. However, studies are showing more and more that younger children than ever thought possible are drawing conclusions about the world based from experiences. If such is the case, then children too must be considered along the spectrum as reasoning human beings, functioning at a level appropriate for the kinds of things they have to reason about.

So it is not so much the case, as the Catholic Church claims, that even young children below the age of 7 as specified by the "Age of Reason" (whereby a child is thought capable of committing sin) have no reason. But then if a child is capable of reasoning to a certain degree, is there still a need to view children as any more innately innocent than an adult, who is also a reasoning individual along the spectrum?

This is because the appearance of the ability to reasoning alone doesn't mandate one's expertise or optimal operative capacity to reason. Inadequate reasoning therefore wouldn't guarantee the individual not having innocence, according to the previous argument. Children supposedly have inadequate reasoning capabilities as well. Therefore, it can only be said that children and adults both maintain a degree of innocence if one is still defining innocence as the lack of ability to reason. This wouldn't change even if the definition of reason were altered, unless any adult can be shown to be operating at full capacity in this regard. With this in mind, it seems more reliable to call individuals who lack the ability to reason completely Ambivalent, rather than "innocent," if we still believe innocence follows a continuum from birth to old age (never being fully self actualized).

A few of my assertions:

1. Both children and adults (as well as mentally retarded) have reasoning capabilities to some degree, regardless of proficiency.

2. Therefore, both children and adults have innocence because neither practice proficient reasoning.

3. Reasoning is different for children and adults (i.e. what is morally obligatory for a child is not always the same was what is morally obligatory for an adult), as is seen in cognitive developmental theories such as Kohlberg's theory of moral development, where it is said that children progress through a series of stages of reasoning in interpreting what morality means that continue into adulthood. This is not just seen theoretically, but also in reality, whenever children incorporate their "different" reasoning into their environments, such as during imaginative play in the midst of a physical world.

4. Therefore, an individual's ability to reason can only be interpreted by measuring their ability to understand or internalize what is appropriate for their cognitive stage (a relative position). For example, for a child who is in the Self Interest (Pre-Conventional) stage of Kohlberg's stages of moral development, one should expect that child to reason about his or her moral obligations respectively, and for an adult who is in the Universal and Ethical (Post-Conventional) stage, one should expect to see that individual reasoning in a way appropriate to that stage. If an individual is not reasoning sufficiently, then it can be said that they are more innocent for their stage of development (according to this criterion of reason).

5. Therefore, the ones who are more innocent are the ones who are less able to interpret or internalize what reasoning is appropriate for their cognitive developmental stage.

6. This is not to imply that these stages are finite or to define morality or human development, we're only focusing on the behaviors and the metacognitive capacities of the individual to interpret these "a priori" facts.

7. To restate, children are innocent because of their incapacity to full reason what is expected of them or to fully draw factual conclusions about the world that are consistent with their cognitive understanding of the world. Adults are innocent because of their incapacity to fully reason these "a priori" facts about the nature of the world that are consistent with their higher but still insufficient cognitive understanding of the world.

Developmental Relativism

For purposes of illustration, I assign a point system, where 100 represents the maximum units of reason for an individual, and therefore the total ability to reason and the total lack of innocence (that is to say the individual is Optimal); and 0 represents the minimum units of reason for an individual, and therefore the total lack of ability to reason and total innocence (that is to say the person is Ambivalent, as stated above). This spectrum is numerically defined such that a child's 0 and 100 (minimum and maximum) are different from and adult's 0 and 100, and that this difference is based on the qualitative differences in the cognitive stages that affect the way reasoning is expressed in both categories. (Those with mental retardation would also fall into this scale as well).

Therefore, a child with 55 units of child reason, (and therefore 45 units of unreason) is the same as an adult with 55 units of adult reason. As such, both children and adults maintain a degree of innate innocence due to either one's inability to reach an Optimal level (100). I assert that no individual regardless of knowledge or cognitive capacity can ever be fully actualized for their stage, and so therefore, everyone maintains a level of innocence relative to each other and to other stages of reasoning. This point system is only theoretical though...for there is no way one could arrive at a single quantity to represent something like an individual's innocence.

What does this mean? It means that if both children and adults are innately innocent by degree of their ability to reason, then a child can sin, but only in a manner that is consistent with their understanding of sin, and their ability to express an act of sin. And if such is the case, then the idea that children are any more innocent than adults is incorrect, and that any individual can still be a sinner and innately innocent, because innocence (according to this criterion) is a defined through an individual's capability to reason.

Monday, December 3, 2007

On Innocence

Daisy stood in a meadow of tall flowers. Her sights settled on a blossom of such tantalizing beauty that for a moment it seemed like a princess with an entourage of loyal subjects in full bloom. She bent down to pick this flower princess from its throne in the garden court. What a stunning gown it had, with alternating petals of pink, deep blue and the purest white she had ever seen. The flower was like the sky on that sunny blue day, swirling with puffs of white clouds.

She felt a sudden tremor in the ground, and figured it must have been the flower court demanding their most precious princess back. In joy she began plucking the petals from this flower princess, counting to herself the rhythm of numbers she was practicing in school. The warm wind tossed her hair like gentle finger. Around her the birds chirped like a Sunday choir.

It was on the count of "eight" that she felt the heat. It was on the count of "nine" that the birds were silenced. She was deafened in an instant by the thunder in the clouds. She was blinded in a second by the light. And her breath drew still through the fire in the blast.
The young ones are impatient, discourteous, reactionary, disruptive, and antagonistic to the variety of life. The older ones are nurturing, charitable, forgiving, mature, and grateful for the opportunities that life presents each morning—the innocent are either faulty or pure. The young ones are optimistic, wide eyed, concerned, willing to learn, gentle to the touch and excited by the chance of new discovery. The older ones are distressed, vulgar, depraved, deceptive, corrupt and disobedient—still, the innocent are considered either wanting or whole.

It becomes immediately clear that simple heuristics such as these can never adequately define or quantify the innocence an individual has at any given time in their life, whether they are child or adult. Any descriptor could just as easily be indicative of a child’s behavior or an adult’s behavior in the appropriate context. A child can just as easily knowingly disobey an authority figure as an adult can knowingly disobey a social law or a standard of morality, for instance.

Yet innocence carries with it a connotation of purity, an expectation that the individual under the stigma can do no wrong simply because they are considered not mature enough in their faculties to interpret the consequences of their activities. This presents a contradiction, for a child or an adult can not be both innocent and be knowingly aware of the consequences of their actions, as discussed above, and yet the innocence stigma is the one most commonly associated with children, regardless of aptitude or relative maturity. This presupposes that children, though biologically immature in relation to adults, possess neonatal or infantile cognitive reasoning and behaviors that are completely differentiated from those of adults, when it can readily be seen that even pre-operational age children are quite independent both in thought and action. So therefore, it is not necessarily the case that every child, regardless of age, is innately innocent.

If this is the case than why is it so common in the organization of our social constructions that children be treated as innocent, god-sent, or as possessing some benign part of human nature that other individuals have lost by some manner of social corruption? Why is it so necessary that so many provisions be made in our civilization for preserving the young, sometimes at the sake of the old, and oftentimes at the sake of the young ones themselves? Why does our society uphold the schemas of ageism at the sake of individual equality? Is it true that the innocence paradigm, in the case of children, is one thing responsible for why the world is so harsh for children to live in to begin with—the world outside the chain link fences? Is a Harsh World penetrating the bastion of security and corrupting children, or are children just born corrupted by the human spirit for which they share a piece.

Innocence is defined in a number of different ways. In the legal sense, a person is considered innocent when they are physically not guilty of a crime, and in most common law countries, are considered innocent via the legal system, which is considered a worthy criterion for determining physical innocence from physical guilt. Innocence also manifests itself as a label for non-combatants; that is, people who are in not involved in a battle. The soldiers in the battle are considered the combatants, and therefore are assumed to not be innocent. These conceptions of innocence are valid and intrinsic, because they can be objectively tested. One is either guilty of committing a crime or they are not, and such can be determined in a court of law. One is either guilty of doing a wrongful action or they are not, and such can be determined by whether or not they committed the fault. One is either a soldier or a non-combatant, and such can be determined by whether one is assigned to a troop, or one is a civilian. Another way innocence is often defined, as mentioned above, is in the form of another sort of intrinsic quality that is not be empirically measurable, but nonetheless is heuristically typified sociologically. It is this fact that makes this form of innocence so confounding.

For some reason, the same dualistic comparison is drawn once again to separate the childish realm of reasoning from the adult. This is the distinction I will focus primarily on, since it defines human beings not based on their position (that is, not by whether they are guilty or not guilty, or a combatant or non-combatant) that can be empirically determined. Rather, it seeks to define whole groups of people simply on their age, their relative amount of virtue or purity, amount of life experiences, life expectancy (the justification for the child’s prioritized status), and regards these people as intrinsic victims irrespective of the content of their life experience. The arbitrariness to this very common schema of human development poses serious questions about the legitimacy of innocence, and by extension, many of the provisions set aside for the explicit preservation of this trait in human life. A more satisfactory justification for these provisions requires exploration.

To quantify a person's relative innocence, cultures and individuals throughout history, from the Catholic Church to John Jacques Rousseau, have often appealed to certain criteria. These criteria seem like common sense but when understood deeper, they present inconsistencies and unintuitive results based on how our society understands child development in the modern era. All the following appeals are common arguments made to support the notion that children are more innately innocent than adults, or that children are the embodiment of innocence itself and adults have no affiliation with it. We will later see that this duality is mistaken, that adults and children are in almost every way similar, that their actions are relative in respect to the size of their inhabitable field, and because of that, they are relatively equal in the amount of innocence they possess.