Thursday, February 7, 2008

Permission to Adopt a Philosphy

Possummomma has a posting, "Props to P2's Vice Principal" , that concerns atheism and her child that contains the line:

I reiterated that he doesn't have to choose any philosophy just yet, and that it was no one's business.


I disagree with this.

It is morally obligatory to rule out certain 'philosophies' at a very early level - to teach children that this or that philosophy is unacceptable, and not on the legitimate list of choices.

We can see this quite clearly in the philosophies of the Nazi or the racist. Telling a child that he "doesn't have to choose whether the Jews are an inferior creature that should be exterminated just yet, and that it was no one's business," is utter nonsense.

It is just as much nonsense to tell a child that he may still choose to believe that homosexuals and those who work on the Sabbath should be stoned to death, or that women should be denied basic freedoms concerning who they may speak to, what they may wear, or even basic medical and educational care.

In fact, the bullying that P2 was subjected to is yet another example of a 'philosophy' that no person has the liberty to choose - even 11 and 12 year old kids. They should, at that age, know that these philosophies are off limits.

I can anticipate a response to this being that, "Of course, that is what I meant, Alonzo. You are twisting my words, taking it out of context."

And, yet, this brings up the question, "Exactly what philosophies do you actually think that this child has the liberty to choose?" To say that a child has a liberty to choose such a philosophy is to say that there are no moral objections to the way that the people who adopt that philosophy behave.

I do argue that belief that a God exists is morally neutral, and nothing we have reason to be too concerned over. Yet, this philosophy is very rare, and hardly the thing that comes immediately to mind when granting these sorts of permissions.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Samuel Skinner
You can adopt any belief you want- you just have to show you why the ones I'm giving you are wrong or immoral first. If you are right, I will switch to. Personality type on the other hand is up for grabs.

Anonymous said...

Are you serious, dude?

P-momma in no way suggests that her children are free to adopt the alarmist, negative, hate-filled philosophies you discuss here. She was using the word philosophy with a Christian vice principal. The phrase was not part of a dissertation. Using it out of context and focusing on the semantics is bogus. Did it occur to you that she might mean that her child would be free to form an opinion or philosophy about God or the spiritual realm? That's how I interpreted her comment.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

anonymous

I am well aware that P-momma would not condone an alarmist, negative, hate-filled philosophy. That was an essential premise in my argument.

Given this fact it follows that if one was going to give a person 'permission to adopt a philosophy' it follows that the philosophy one is giving a child a permission to adopt is not an alarmist, negative, hate-filled philosophy.

However, many religious philosophies do not qualify under this standard.

So, it cannot be true that a child has permission to adopt any religious view available, but that the child is permitted to adopt only from a subset of those religions, and children should be taught at the start that there are others that no moral person would adopt.

Atheist in a mini van. said...

Hello Mr. Ethicist,
I see what you're saying.

It is morally obligatory to rule out certain 'philosophies' at a very early level - to teach children that this or that philosophy is unacceptable, and not on the legitimate list of choices.

I agree. And...you're absolutely correct in suggesting that my comment was, perhaps, lacking realism. We do have an obligation, even as atheists, to guide of little ones in a manner that instills respect for humanity and tolerance. Thank you for correcting my poor wording.

Telling a child that he "doesn't have to choose whether the Jews are an inferior creature that should be exterminated just yet, and that it was no one's business," is utter nonsense.

I think, age appropriateness considered, that you are dead on (again). It is our job as parents to guide our kids against hate. However, I also think that, given the situation and the audience (as it were), my son chose a diplomatic response and I applaud him for showing the maturity and presense to say that this wasn't something to be discussed at school. The boys who started the rumor weren't interested in understanding their own hateful position. And, as a child, I'll give my son credit for responding as he did in lieu of a more considered response. I try to teach my kids to choose their battles wisely and keep focused on their "job" at school. Engaging in debate with jr. nitwits isn't an appropriate response during silent reading time. But, I do see your point.

In fact, the bullying that P2 was subjected to is yet another example of a 'philosophy' that no person has the liberty to choose - even 11 and 12 year old kids. They should, at that age, know that these philosophies are off limits.

The boys weren't asking him about his thoughts on genocide or the holocaust, they were making a judgement about his religious standing because he was reading a work of fiction.

I can anticipate a response to this being that, "Of course, that is what I meant, Alonzo. You are twisting my words, taking it out of context."

I don't think you're twisting my words or taking them out of context. You're responding to the comments as I presented them and I can easily see your point. I just don't konw that eleven year olds should choose a religious ideology (or even an atheistic stance). I know my son and I know he's not ready to make that decision and own it in front of his friends. He has much to consider if he's to come to this place where we are with any sort of integrity or care. I would discourage an eleven year old Catholic child from claiming to be Catholic for the same reasons. We can teach our kids to use reason and logic, but they need practice and experience to have a full understanding of the situation before making public disclosures. Does that make sense or am I not communicating well?

Exactly what philosophies do you actually think that this child has the liberty to choose?" To say that a child has a liberty to choose such a philosophy is to say that there are no moral objections to the way that the people who adopt that philosophy behave.

Good question. At eleven, I think he has the liberty to experience different philosophies. I don't discourage my children from attending services or youth group activities with their friends if they wish to do so. While you're correct in assuming that there are certain philosophies that are non-negotiable, they mostly regard humanitarianism and learning to act in appropriate fashion to the situations life presents. My older children have the liberty to decide their philosophy on issues like; nature-v-nurture, how we learn, what approach is best for conflict resolution, etc.,. As such, I respect his manner of conflict resolution in this case.
Perhaps philosophy was the wrong word? It's MY philosophy that we can't expect our kids to make wise choices unless we allow them to exercise different, but humane and justifiable, approaches to life. I want my kids to know why they believe in what they believe in. And, at the age of P1 and P2, this means I have to step back a bit and let them choose their approach as long as it doesn't violate key beliefs that we hold universal as a family. Does that help explain my position better? I also have a certain amount of faith in the fact that I doubt my kids would choose philosophies that encourage violence, genocide, violations of human rights, and the like. I haven't raised them to tolerate those things.

Good questions, though...and I appreciate your consideration on the matter. :)

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Ms. P-momma:

Thank you for your response.

My posting was not concerned with the method for resolving the conflict. My concern was with the literal statement that an 11 year old is too young to choose a philosophy.

I sought (seek) to offer a more accurate of that statement, that an 11-yar-old is too young to choose from among a set of morally permissible philosophies. However, a specific philosophy has to fit into the category of 'morally permissible' in order for the statement that the child is too young to adopt it is true.

I am simply not in a position to address the question of how well or how poorly your specific case was handled. I do not know all the details. I focus my attention specifically on the truth or falsity of a moral claim, and only seek to add some greater precision and accuracy.

When I was 11, I was asked if I believed in God, and casually answered 'No.' It was an honest answer. The response on the part of my classmates, though, was brutal and long lasting. It occurred even in the presence of teachers, and included one incident (when I was 13) in which I was convinced that I was seconds away from being killed (drowned, to be exact).

So, I am not going to say that the situation should have been handled differently and I sincerely hope that things turn out well.

I simply wanted to specify that the statement that your child is too young to choose a philosophy yet could be made a little more accurate by saying that your son is too young to choose from among a subset of morally permissible philosophies - and that, even at the age of 11, certain philosophies should already be set as 'off limits'.

Atheist in a mini van. said...

I sought (seek) to offer a more accurate of that statement, that an 11-yar-old is too young to choose from among a set of morally permissible philosophies.
Fair enough. :)