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 Is It Bad Parenting to Say Santa is Real?

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PostSubject: Is It Bad Parenting to Say Santa is Real?   Is It Bad Parenting to Say Santa is Real? Icon_minitimeTue Feb 17, 2015 1:46 am

Starting Small

Most people want children. Most people love children. So, since any philosophy worth its salt is concerned with what people care about, what can philosophy tell us about children? Why would you want them? What rights do children and parents have? What do you owe them? What do they owe you? What are the principles of raising them?

Is It Bad Parenting to Say Santa is Real? Santa_1424002727

Is Reality really so boring, real life so dull and the truths of science so unexciting, that we must spice up our children’s lives with lies about magical men and Tooth Fairies?


In all mammals, childhood is the period between birth and sexual maturity, characterized by relative physical and mental dependency, during which the child must acquire the tools required for independent survival. Those tools include raw size and strength, and the special abilities the species has evolved for its survival – things such as speed for a deer, and hunting skills for a lion. For humans, the rational animals, those special skills are pre-eminently mental: as thinking is Humanity’s primary tool of survival.

The defining quality of human beings is rationality, in the sense of possessing the power of reason. That is what separates us from other animals, and that is the defining quality determining how we interact with external reality, including each other. Were it not for rationality – were you not a reasoning being with a conceptual consciousness – you could not be reading this nor extracting any meaning from these marks on paper or screen. Nor would the decisions whether to have children and how to treat them be anything more than the results of chance, instinct, and imitation; only a rational being can think, and only a thinking being can make free choices.

The physical basis of rationality is intelligence. Without sufficient mental processing power, a conceptual consciousness, one capable of inductive and deductive reasoning and infinite levels of abstraction, is not possible. The hallmarks of a rational consciousness – how it functions and deals with the real world—are integration and differentiation. These are the making of connections between things in reality, involving the mental uniting of concrete things into abstract concepts, the further uniting of simpler concepts into wider ones, and the fleshing out of broad abstractions with finer distinctions.

Consider the mental development of a young girl. As she experiences individual dogs, cats, sparrows, and frogs, she integrates them into the concepts “dog”, “cat”, “sparrow” and “frog”; she integrates these further into the concept “animal”, then integrates the concepts of “animal”, “plant” etc. into the broader concept “life”. At the same time, she makes more sophisticated mental divisions: dogs and cats can be grouped into the concept “mammals”, a subdivision of animals separate from others such as “amphibians” and “birds”; her initial simple concept of “dog” can be subdivided into “hound”, “terrier”, “poodle”, etc.—and broadened to include “wolf”. Thus as she grows, the whole, interrelated process increases her knowledge by integration, subdivision, and more diverse referents for each concept. Should she become a biologist, she might extend this process: more broadly into an understanding of the grand sweep of life, and more deeply into the minutiae of the different species of flies.

The foregoing description reveals the fundamental determinant of human childhood: to develop the rational faculty is a long process. It requires substantial time for the physical development of body and brain that underpins it, for the development of the mental tools required, and for the processes of learning, integration, and reasoning themselves. Of course, as with all animals, a human child needs time to mature physically. But comparison with other animals shows that this can be achieved much more quickly if that’s all there is to it: a cow or gorilla has a bigger body yet a much shorter childhood than a person. The importance and extent of mental development is the origin of the unusually long human childhood and adolescence.
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