Moral Parenthood

There are moments where I become so overwhelmed by the injustice that exists in our world, where I find myself sandwiched in the corner of my room trying to breath amidst the tears after reading about Du’a Khalil Aswad, a young Yazidi girl being stoned to death for false suspicions of a relationship with a Sunni boy, the intensity of this subjective pain causing me to crush my fingers deep into the palm of my hands as I think about how witnesses can film rather than fight to stop the injustice. What would possess people to think that murder of a child is justifiable? Then I read about the commercial exploitation of children both sexually and for labour with our most vulnerable including refugee and migrant children, those homeless and impoverished among other demographic and high-risk factors and where the use of internet technology enabling these vicious predators to recruit and sell children. The shocking reality that the Global Report on Trafficking in Persons shows that in some parts of the world, there is a large proportion of women as traffickers.[1] While we often assume that parenthood is absolute in its protection and love toward children, social and environmental conditions as shown by the endemic proportions of global infanticide clearly prove that this is not the case for our vulnerable minors. As I am currently in the process of possibly becoming a permanent carer of a small child here in Australia, where I will become a guardian to a child who would otherwise have no security or stability on a permanent basis due to difficulties with their birth family. When asked how that differs from adoption where a child is legally considered as your child, the only difference is ownership.

The rights of a child is indeed a very complex framework that involves intricate questions relating to ownership, privacy and capacity that challenge the view that children are merely an independent choice within the private sphere of family and thus remain impenetrable from the jurisdiction of the law until they are legally of age. Indeed, privacy regulations are vital to ensure that each person enjoys the right to be protected from engaging in autonomous activities outside of public scrutiny and unauthorised intrusion, within reason. This includes ensuring that the state balances this privacy with security and the protection it largely affords to the public including intervention that safeguards the rights of our most vulnerable. While the rights of a child embodied in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of a Child (CRC) and the fifty-four articles therewith that lay the foundation exemplifying the importance of protecting children from harm and to lead a fulfilling life, it has come under scrutiny for its provisions being brazenly paternalistic that fail to address the autonomy and competence available to children. A necessary balance is required between children being vulnerable and dependent with autonomy and competence, child protection and advocacy with increased appreciation of a child’ ability to make decisions. This can be seen in the judicial system of Victoria (Australia) where children are enabled with the right to testimony in family law as well as other criminal and civil proceedings whereby to determine competency, judges factor in the age[2] and other determinable investigations such as whether the child understands the nature of being under oath[3] or give under special circumstances unsworn evidence.[4] Continued advocacy in Victoria to grant children stronger rights by taking a more flexible approach on a case-by-case basis that instead presumes a child as being capable until competency itself is questioned (rather than the other way around), which is slowly challenging the traditional, paternalistic approach.

Children being subject to rights imply them to be subjects to the law and an exploration of how the law can ensure the protection of these rights without abandoning their entitlement to play an active role viz., the assumption that they lack the autonomy needed to claim such rights must be reconsidered. Rather, their rights are parallel to that of an adult, but distinguished by a more sophisticated application. It is clear that competency and rights clearly differ and though a child according the UN Convention is a person who is under the age of 18 unless national laws state otherwise,[5] competency to provide evidence is fast becoming obtainable that challenges the socially constructed view that capacity is age related. It also challenges the theoretical approach. When an adult legally signs a contract, they are considered capable of understanding the binding nature that would enable them to adhere to the obligations set out within the contract. Social contract theorists such as John Locke argued that “children were in a temporary state of inequality because of their irrationality.”[6] As such, children cannot have rights because they lack the cognitive capacity that enables them to make rational choices. John Rawls states that, “it is sometimes thought that basic rights and liberties should vary with capacity, but justice as fairness denies this: provided the minimum for moral personality is satisfied, a person is owed all the guarantees of justice.”[7]

The largely incorrect opinion that children lack capacity deprives them of the chance to develop the intrinsic quality that is a natural part of human cognition, and having witnessed some parents and teachers fail to contribute to the development of reflective abilities by simply telling children how they should behave and what to think clearly is a pedagogical error, and in response children fail to ever learn to recognise their own ableness in decision making leading them to rely on the opinions of others even into adulthood.

What is this capacity for a moral personality? Jeremy Bentham has purported that people can only be afforded legal rights but moral rights is ‘nonsense on stilts’[8] and though it is true that there may be a complex theoretical underpinning to the concept, rights and freedoms have nevertheless become imbedded in our contemporary response to the external world. Rawls makes it clear that all human beings – save for a very distinct few who either from birth or accident have been deprived of this quality – contain the necessary attributes that would enable them with the quality of a moral personality, even if capacities vary. That is, though all people have varying capacities that enable an understanding and exercise of justice, they are still entitled to equal liberties. The exploration of children’ rights are indeed linked closely to the subject of capacity, where they are assumed unable and incompetent despite the presence of the faculty that is merely in its developmental stage. This immediate denial of self-determination reduces an adequate understanding of the broader responsibilities that influence and shape the pre-existing ability that enables capacity itself or as Rawls continues with, “[o]nly scattered individuals are without this capacity, or its realization to a minimum degree, and the failure to realize it is the consequence of unjust and impoverished social circumstances, or fortuitous contingencies.”[9] Capacity as a socially constructed and age-related concept could simply shut them off from the realisation of their own ability for self-determination.

When I find myself having conversations with some of the young children at the various primary schools I work in, their dispositions and attention immediately change when they realise that I am treating them as an individual, whereby they suddenly become conscious of their behaviour and of what they are saying. They are being heard. The largely incorrect opinion that children lack capacity deprives them of the chance to develop the intrinsic quality that is a natural part of human cognition, and having witnessed some parents and teachers fail to contribute to the development of reflective abilities by simply telling children how they should behave and what to think clearly is a pedagogical error, and in response children fail to epistemically ever learn to recognise their own ableness in decision making leading them to relying on the opinions of others even into adulthood.

While it is clear that we must ensure that we protect children from any violation of their rights, there is a shifting trend that children can be recognised as rights-holders and that the assessment of competency is leaning toward a better understanding of the nature of childhood and development. It is complex to say the least that there exists a problem of parental rights and ownership that can either undermine the rights of children or could depreciate the ability for a family to raise a child, but a balance itself needs to be reached that condones any act that will inhibit the development and education of a child while at the same time promote reflective practices and education that will give children the capacity to understand how to make decisions for themselves. It is what has been referred to as moral parenthood (rather than biological).[10] It is a recognition that challenges both the idea that a child is afforded rights solely by their biological parents that could quite easily been neglected or abused and by seeing children as having these rights would enforce both legally and socially moral attitudes that would shift the predisposition of thinking for a child rather than listening to a child. With adequate mechanisms in place, listening to them and speaking in their language to work out what they find important, to both consider and enable them the opportunity to express their point of view will provide them with the capacity to think independently, consciously and morally.

[1] UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Global Report on Trafficking in Persons, 2014, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/5492a3d94.html %5Baccessed 10 June 2017]
[2] Evidence Act 1958 (Vic) – in Victoria, it is under the age of 14.
[3]  R v Braiser (1779) 1 Leach 199; Omychund v Barker (1744) 1 Atk 21.
[4] Evidence Act 1958 (Vic) s 23.
[5] Article 1 CRC
[6] Mhiari Cowden, Children’s Rights: From Philosophy to Policy, Springer (2016) 26
[7] John Rawls, A Theory of Justice, Harvard University Press (2009) 77
[8] See Jeremy Bentham, ‘Anarchical fallacies; being an examination of the Declaration of Rights issued during the French Revolution’ (1791)
[9] Op. Cit., Rawls.
[10] David Archard, Children: Rights and Childhood, Routledge, London (1993) 109

 

 

Love Is The Only Way To Experience The External World

How can we be sure that we are experiencing the external world? While we may have conceptualised an external world within our own minds and interact with friends and family and a plethora of external stimulation, but just like how my dog hears that I have come home and becomes excitable, experience is not merely forming concepts as a passive observer. One may experience fragments of the external world where ideas causally evolve merely by a complex yet functional process of cognition within the parameters of the quality of our mental faculties, but that would mean that perceptions and experience are synthesized solely on an objective order of our physical activities. So how can we have an awareness of an external world without the experience, the very subjective quality that enables us to intuit representations, to capture a conceptual framework that transcends the mere cognitive ability to order complex physical events into an effective information system?

The mind-body dualism is a conceptual division between our mental states and the physical properties of the external world and the problem therein is whether one is capable of being able to distinguish themselves as separate to this external world. The experience of the external world can never adequately be explained, according to solipsism, beyond the limits of an individual mind and thus we become fundamentally incapable of moving beyond our own mental state and that therefore concludes that only our mental state exists. Indeed, the greatest flaw in metaphysics even until today is the inability to clearly and distinctly demonstrate the existence of an external reality. The problem, however, is that the notion sets in an entirely subjective experience that becomes devoid of an objective world, where – like the movie Matrix – our bodies are sitting warmly in a vat with plugs attached to the back of our brain that stimulates virtual experiences that we assume to be reality. Descartes’ cogito ergo sum is an epistemological inference that if one is capable of thinking, the latter being what he defines as the, “first and most certain of all to occur to anyone who philosophises in an orderly way”[1] then there is no doubt that the person exists, but the nature of this Cartesian aptitude is very specific, that one is required to have embedded in their nature an exclusivity that would enable the conditions necessary for ideal cognizance. Similarly, the psychological theory of introspection vis-à-vis the problem relating to the structure of our experiences with the external world suggest that we have the reflective capacity to examine our own mental state, but the practice relies exclusively on the quality of this self-examination that cannot guarantee an absence of error. A key to this is the authenticity that enables a reflective practice which can overcome the preventative thresholds that envelope the honesty necessary to facilitate a genuine narrative, what John Locke refers to as “the perception of what passes in a man’s own mind.”[2]

A phenomenology of this introspection, however, differs from an empirical view of the mind. While the mind as a functional tool necessarily requires the complex ability to maintain an order of the continuous inflow of experiences, empiricists such as Locke would say that all knowledge is formed by sensory experience of the external world alone and that we place experience within a framework based solely on this causal evolution. The first-order level of the mind or the rules that govern the cognitive resources and the sensibility that enable the objective conditions for understanding and perception exist that any phenomenal consciousness would need to move beyond empiricism. While phenomenology is the study of being and experience within an external world, introspection is fundamentally the epistemological relation that studies the inner experience of this being with the external world; consciousness is fundamental. That is, the introspective experience of phenomenal character or the subjective and intrinsic quality of qualia is accessible and is central to the nature of consciousness.

‘A sociopath may mimic A Streetcar Named Desire by telling himself that the woman he raped is crazy and that she wanted to have sex with him, but this clearly lacks the interpretative accuracy of the external world. Human beings, according to Kant, are innately evil that subordinates morality to self-conceit and the only solution to this is by overcoming our propensity to evil through the cultivation of moral agency.’

The phenomenal character of mental life is a feeling of this sensory experience, that is, perceptions have a distinct phenomenal framework that differentiates between a mere perception with consciousness of the perception, an actual awareness of the activity where each experience has a distinct, conscious character so to speak. It is lived action. Unlike the empiricist who believes the contents of our being are made up of a series of perceptions, Kant takes it one step further and claims that the transcendental conditions enable us to have the experience rather than being a result of this experience. His interpretation of the transcendental differs entirely to transcendence, which purports something that exists beyond perceptual experience or non-sensory modes of understanding, which is a realm that one cannot verify and thus ultimately irrelevant to our epistemological system since if it transcends knowledge, it is beyond knowledge and falls into the dimension of faith. The transcendental conditions that extend beyond the grounds of reason is defined by Kant as what enables knowledge to not just be occupied solely with objects, but the very mode of our a priori knowledge of these objects.[3]

Our experience of the external world is spatiotemporal, separated causally through an arrow of time that evolves over the period of our cognitive existence and thus while there exists an external world, time is entirely a subjective experience. The transcendental aesthetic is an a priori mode of engagement with space and time, where patterns of sensations and experiences ascribed spatiotemporally to cognition a priori that enables the coherence of the external world, rather than space and time being actual, external entities.[4] Yet, we are capable of non-empirical representations of space, where we can see a human in front of us without that person actually being there spatially that leads Kant to label this mode as Intuition and hence why he famously stated that, “[t]houghts without content are empty, intuitions without concepts are blind.”[5] Time enables the intuitions to make sense of the spatial experiences in an orderly fashion and this succession organises the mental states where knowledge of thus formed. The difference is that that intuitions are the representations themselves given in sensibility: “In whatever way and through whatever means a cognition may be related to objects, that through which it relates immediately to them, and at which all thought as a means is directed as an end, is intuition. This, however, takes place only insofar as the object is given to us; but this in turn, is possible only if it affects the mind in a certain way. This capacity [to acquire representations] is called sensibility. Objects are therefore given to us by means of sensibility, and it alone affords us intuitions.”[6]

‘It is not simply a disposition that one emulates and there needs to be an authenticity that one feels autonomously that evokes a strong sense of duty to moral principles themselves independent of the required obligations set by others.’

If we are capable of non-empirical representations of space, what exactly are the conditions that enable our sensibility to authentically be receptive to the external world? A sociopath may watch A Streetcar Named Desire and mimic the plot by telling himself that the woman he raped is crazy and that she wanted to have sex with him, but clearly the conditions therein lack the accuracy that interpret the external world correctly. Human beings, according to Kant, are innately evil that subordinates morality to self-conceit and the only solution to this is by overcoming our propensity to evil through the cultivation of moral agency. This is via a ‘revolution’ so to speak, an acquisition of a way of thinking that personifies moral goodness. But it is not simply a disposition that one emulates and there needs to be an authenticity that one feels autonomously that evokes a strong sense of duty to moral principles themselves independent of the required obligations set by others. If we look at this from a geometrically different angle (namely through the lens of Husserl), intentionality is the property of mental states themselves, the very internal experience that functions independent of the external world.[7] The mental states are thus empowered with the function to take an experience of an object and transcend beyond that experience, the nature of this property enabling a moral transaction. When one considers existential feelings of angst, for instance, the isolation and emptiness of feeling estranged from the company of the external world embodies an intentional state where one is conscious of this separation via possibilities that enable a non-empirical narrative and reconfigure consciousness to interpret ones place in the external world beyond space and time. It leads one on a path to ascertain the possible phenomenal connections that echo this potential merger between ‘I’ or my subjective experience with the external world.

It is thus through empathy that one is enabled with the sense experience of the external world, where ones ‘conscience’ becomes the key to consciousness of an external world beyond this self-conceit. It transforms that intuitive ‘possibility’ into an experience that enables a channel to the external world and objectifies a narrative of shared experiences, thus becoming the very foundation that builds an ethical mindset, but it nevertheless requires reason as a basis for being able to interpret and identify moral consequences. Conscience, the very sense of right from wrong and the will that propels one to act morally, is sensually the very experience of giving love, but universally even though this ‘revolution’ may have been initiated by love for one object or person. Moral agency embodies the ability to conceptualise abstract principles and for Kant is derived from pure reason; the duty that motivates the will to conform with these principles by sensually experiencing the suffering of others establishes a sense of sympathy and emotional angst that moves the will to act ethically. This very act of expressing moral standards sensed by a subjective pain irrelevant to our own experiences in the physical world is an act of moral consciousness – love – the very desire to want the pain or suffering of others to be removed, to want their lives to be improved, the very desire to care for another person and thus authentically explore the external world.  While this ‘revolution’ may be stimulated by a specific object or experience, this intuit becomes a principle that one conceptualises into an abstract form that becomes universal, hence the categorical imperative.

The question here is, is this shared experience merely a simulation or is it a genuine exploration of sensing beyond the subjective mind? Further discussion of this continuum cannot be furthered today as alas, the limitations of this poor blog post prevents me in doing so, particularly since a variety of complexities vis-à-vis developmental epistemology and other relevant features would be required to be discussed. I will touch more on the latter part of this subject in a later post.

[1]Rene Descartes, Key Philosophical Writings, Wordsworth Editions (1997) 279
[2] John Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, P. H. Nidditch (ed.). Oxford: The Clarendon Press J. (1975) 115
[3] E. Kant, Critique of Pure Reason (A11, B25)
[4] Ibid., (A23/B37-8)
[5] Norman Kemp Smith, A Commentary to Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, Springer (2003) 80
[6] Op. cit., Kant (A19/B33).
[7] Susi Ferrarello, Husserl’s Ethics and Practical Intentionality, Bloomsbury Publishing, (2015) 101