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.

1 comment:

  1. The key problem here, dear author... is the fact that the mind is not very well understood by modern science. There are some good inroads being made to studying it - like Gestalt Theory - but we have a long way to go.

    The elephant in the room is the question "What is reasoning?" And "how is reasoning different from other things that one does in one's mind?" Reasoning does not require agile thinking skills. Any sentient being can reason. Reasoning can be done over the course of long periods of time. Reasoning about one issue can even be done in many separate time frames. And awkward thinking habits don't overtly interfere with that process.

    The question "why?" and the question "how?" are universally interesting topics.


    Now how are these ideas of yours best applied in children's lives?

    Children were not always thought of, in the usa, as they are today. I grew up in the 1970s. And when I was growing up, one-man was waging a television campaign for changing the way children were raised. This man was Fred Rogers. Everybody could agree on the ethics which Fred Rogers talked about in his television show "Mr. Rogers' neighborhood." What happened next, was that the trade association for preschool teachers - the NAEYC - decided to change the way things were done in the usa. They designed accreditation programs for daycare centers. They designed degree programs for early childhood education in colleges. And these people - most of whom were females - infused the childcare industry with this perspective we have about children today - that their minds are not developed - that they can't reason, and so they need to be protected from negative ideas. Children, they think of as being like fragile little eggs... or like blank slates upon which parents can write.

    Centuries ago, there was hot debate over what would happen when society got "soft." It was known that aristocratic children led very different lives, than those who were poor, and working for a living. There were many who insisted things like "idle hands are the devil's workshop." They didn't want laws preventing children from working.

    Even in the 1960s, the conception of what children were was very different from what it is today. There's a great series of films you might be interested in seeing, by the filmmaker Michael Apted. The first one is called "Seven Up," and there are sequels "Fourteen up", "Twenty-one up," and so forth. These films follow the lives of children in Britain. The first installment starts when they are 7 years of age in 1963. A couple kids are in an orphanage. A couple are in the regular public schools... and a couple are in private schools. It's very fascinating to see how children interacted with eachother back then... and how they were treated by adults. I think children are better off today, by and large... because of this special niche they've been given. But we have lost respect for children, as well, to some degree.

    A lot of the frustration where parents throw up their hands, and don't know how to effectively guide their children, results from a misconception that their children cannot reason. Everybody wants to do what is best for themselves. And parents should be reasoning with their children, from birth. Infants won't understand the words... but they will understand facial expressions, gestures, and such things. Little children who are intent on some action, will often not acknowledge that they heard something from the adult. But they will think about what you said, and you can always physically restrain them, if it's necessary to protect their safety, property, or the maintain the sanity of the social environment.

    This brings us to authoritarian versus authoritative versus laissez-faire child rearing ideologies. An authoritarian person insists that the child does what she or he commands, without understanding the reasons why or wherefore. That authoritarian person expects compliance, even if the child realizes that to do those things isn't good or constructive in view of the situation. A laissez-faire person neglects the child's needs, and believes that free exploration, and school of hard knocks will teach the kid everything she or he needs to know. An authoritative parent or teacher will make the child's welfare the center of the project... and will do things to nurture that child. This kind of teacher can be relied upon to maintain proper structure, to a social environment involving a group of kids. He won't let chaos reign.