Justice for children: The development of autonomy

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Title: Justice for children: The development of autonomy
Author: Adams, Harry William
Advisor: Sher, George
Degree: Doctor of Philosophy thesis
Abstract: Most contemporary theories of justice pertain primarily to the world of adults, and so provide only implicit or vague suggestions as to how various ideals and norms of justice might apply to children. In this dissertation I attempt to remedy this gap or imbalance. To do so, I focus upon the norm of autonomy, and consider how social institutions might be arranged and resources might be distributed so as to allow for due respect---but also, at a prior stage, allow for the proper cultivation---of persons' autonomy. In other words, I systematically argue that it is misguided to be concerned with respecting the (already formed) autonomy of adults, if social arrangements have prevented many adults from developing their autonomy in the fast place, when they were children. Toward this end, I defend a conception of autonomy, in the first chapter, as the complex ability to effectively govern one's life according to one's own capacities and non-adapted preferences. I point out that this ability is one of degrees, whose development depends in large part upon the enjoyment of certain childhood conditions and resources. In the second chapter, I marshall evidence from the most recent empirical research (in burgeoning areas such as Population Health and Life Course Studies, psychoneurobiology, primate ethology, and Social Cognition Theory), to reveal what specific conditions seem to lead, in point of fact, to a greater or lesser development of autonomy. In the third chapter, I argue that children who have been deprived of these various pre-conditions of autonomy have been seriously and wrongfully harmed; and I defend the state as being morally justified, perhaps even obligated, to intervene to redress such harm. The final two chapters are devoted to the ethical evaluation of practical interventions that would feasibly protect children from such "arrested development harm," within their home and school environments, respectively. Accordingly, in chapter four, I provide a model of parental licensing (which includes an analysis of the merits but also risks of compulsory short-term contraception, for cases of extreme parental incompetence or abuse). In the fifth and final chapter, I advocate an Educational Sufficiency Standard that would mandate a certain set of minimally adequate grade school conditions, where these conditions, in turn, would support children's assimilation of essential building blocks (in the form of certain cognitive and self-efficacy skills) of autonomy. In these ways, I argue that any just society will insure that its children are provided with whatever is necessary for their development of at least minimal autonomy.
Citation: Adams, Harry William. (2004) "Justice for children: The development of autonomy." Doctoral Thesis, Rice University.
Date: 2004

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