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Thinking with Beauvoir on the Freedom of the Child

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 January 2020

Abstract

Among philosophers, Simone de Beauvoir is unique in treating childhood as a philosophical phenomenon. In both The Ethics of Ambiguity and The Second Sex, she examines the relationship between childhood and human freedom and considers its role in the development of subjectivity. Despite this, few sustained analyses of her treatment of the phenomenon exist. I argue that Beauvoir's conception of childhood is not uniform, but changes from The Ethics of Ambiguity to The Second Sex. Whereas the former presents children as lacking moral freedom, as not fully sovereign individuals, the latter suggests that children are just as free as adults. When children do not fully possess or exercise freedom, it is not because they are not in a position to do so, but rather because various social institutions hinder them. I find this position useful for developing a phenomenological account of childhood as a site for freedom. Hence, Beauvoir becomes a source for thinking of issues in philosophical anthropology concerning the temporality of human existence and the nature of human agency over a lifespan.

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Hypatia , Volume 31 , Issue 1 , Winter 2016 , pp. 140 - 155
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Copyright © 2016 by Hypatia, Inc.

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