“What if our whole policy of maximising our children’s welfare is mistaken? We parents cannot maximise our children’s welfare without modifying our ideas and practices when they seem mistaken.”
– Sarah Fitz-Claridge
From the archives: The original post was posted on 28th May, 1995
“Ideology is not necessarily bad, but it should be recognized for what it is: an internally consistent set of beliefs and values that may or may not correspond to measurable reality at any given point.”
Perhaps you did not mean the word “ideology” in a pejorative sense (meaning “dogma” or something) but it does sound as though you are calling this a set of beliefs, with a hint of a suggestion that the ideas are not open to criticism but held dogmatically. That is not the case.
You make it sound as though internal consistency is bad. But if a set of ideas has internal inconsistency, it can’t be true/right, can it? That is just a logical point. If a world view is internally consistent, that does not make it definitely, absolutely, certainly right, but it does mean that it has not been refuted by virtue of having internal inconsistencies.
“I am at this point only raising the question of whether the child’s apparent welfare is considered secondary to this set of beliefs.”
It really does sound as though you are viewing this as a crypto-religious “belief system”. These ideas are not an ideology/dogma, nor is Taking Children Seriously a fixed set of principles: these ideas are simply the best known solution to the problem of how to raise children. They are justified at many levels, both by argument (especially from epistemology) and because they seem to work better than their rivals; but it is a mistake to think that there is anything absolute or authoritative about them. They remain open to criticism and may be superseded.
You raise the question of whether children’s welfare is secondary to these ideas about non-coercion. I’d like to know what sort of child-raising would promote children’s welfare through coercion?
Coercion is by definition the entrenchment of ideas. That is its whole point. The growth of knowledge necessarily involves changing ideas—the replacement of old ideas with new ideas—conjectures and refutations. When an idea is entrenched, it is, by definition, immutable. Coercion thus prevents the rational, knowledge-building process, hence the idea that knowledge grows fastest in freedom. If you accept that, then this idea of a coercive form of parenting that maximises children’s welfare raises immediate epistemological problems.
Given human fallibility, these parents practising this coercive form of child-raising might be mistaken about many things relevant to “children’s welfare”: about the definition of welfare; or the best way of maximising it; or the best way of replacing bad ideas or practices detrimental to their children’s welfare that they discover along the way. Therefore parents cannot maximise welfare without providing means for their ideas and practices to be changed when they seem mistaken. But what if their whole policy of maximising their children’s welfare is mistaken, or misconceived, or wrongly interpreted, or whatever?
In order to maximise children’s welfare in any sense the family must create, and be continually creating, the knowledge to answer these questions, and to answer ever-arising criticisms of the prevailing answers. That is why the growth of knowledge is essential to children’s welfare, and that is one of the reasons I say that parental coercion—with its problem of preventing the growth of knowledge—is a mistake, and that consent-based decision-making within the family is preferable.
This is simply a restatement of the idea that the criteria for rational interactions with others seem to be that one is seeking truth and open to criticism. Coercion violates these criteria (which are the best we have at the moment, but themselves remain open to criticism, just in case you are in doubt).
- If we are fallible and not omniscient, surely it is exaggerating to say it is always possible to solve problems without coercion?
- Fallibilism as a way of being and acting
- What to do when your child says “Go away” or “I don’t want to talk about it”