The Paideia Archive: Twentieth World Congress of Philosophy

Volume 18, 1998

Philosophy and Children

David Kennedy
Pages 12-19

Notes on the Philosophy of Childhood and the Politics of Subjectivity

The Western onto-theological tradition has long been preoccupied with two symbolizations of childhood. One conceives of it as an original unity of being and knowing, an exemplar of completed identity. The other conceives of childhood as deficit and danger, an exemplar of the untamed appetite and the uncontrolled will. In the economy of Plato and Aristotle’s tripartite self, the child is ontogenetically out of balance. She is incapable of bringing the three parts of the self into a right hierarchal relation based on the domination of reason. In other words, attaining adulthood means eradicating the child. Freud’s reformulation of the Platonic community of self combines the two symbolizations. His model creates an opening for shifting power relations between the elements of the self. He opens the way toward what Kristeva calls the "subject-in-process," a pluralism of relationships rather than an organization constituted by exclusions and hierarchies. After Freud, the child comes to stand for the inexpugnable demands of desire. Through dialogue with this child, the postmodern adult undergoes the dismantling of the notion of subjectivity based on domination, and moves toward the continuous reconstruction of the subject-in-process.