spinoza on children and childhood

noa lahav ayalon


Baruch Spinoza, the 17th century philosopher best known for his metaphysical rigor and the radical heterodoxy of his conception of God as Nature, did not say much about children or childhood. Nevertheless, his few mentions of children in his masterpiece, the Ethics, raise fascinating questions of autarky, rationality and mind-body relations as they are perceived in the contrast between children and adults. Generally, philosophical theories of childhood benefit greatly from a strong metaphysical foundation. Spinoza’s philosophy, which has recently been gaining considerable attention by contemporary neuroscientists and psychologists, can serve as stable and fertile ground for developing a strong philosophy of childhood. In this paper I address the Spinozistic conception of a flourishing, happy human and the way this understanding of human excellence reflects on his understanding of children and childhood. I argue that the use of Spinozistic concepts can be valuable in the analysis of children and childhood—especially essence, striving to persevere in being, and the nature of the imagination. Spinoza’s epistemology can explain the unique rationality of children, and provide a metaphysical basis for normative behavior. Moreover, it can help us as caregivers better understand and empathize with children, by explaining the similarities and differences between children and adults.




childhood; spinoza; human essence; ethics.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.12957/childphilo.2021.59537


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