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On the Complementarity of the Ages of Life

Journal of Applied Philosophy

Published online on


In a pair of influential papers, Tamar Schapiro argues that childhood is a ‘predicament’, in that children lack stable characters that allow them to be subjects of ascriptions of moral responsibility. Comparing childhood to the political ‘state of nature’, Schapiro holds that childhood is a stage of life from which agents must be liberated. I argue that the comparison to the state of nature gives rise to the implication that ‘instantaneous adulthood’ would be a desirable state. Canvassing the nascent literature on ‘intrinsic goods of childhood’, I hold that such views cannot defeat Schapiro's implications, as they are based on theories of value that beg the question against Schapiro's. Only if childhood can be shown to be a necessary stage toward a normatively attractive adulthood can the ‘instantaneous adulthood’ implication be defeated. I show that Schapiro's view is only plausible if it incorporates the endorsement condition and the articulacy condition. But these are incompatible with instantaneous adulthood. Childhood can be seen as the stage in life in which agents actively endorse their characters, and gain articulacy with respect to the maxims that constitute them.