Philosophies of Childhood in the 18 th Century


Anthony Krupp




Course Overview

Pedagogical Notes and Conclusions

Flyer (one sheet, double-sided) Distributed to Advertise the Course

Syllabus for 2005 Version of Course

Feedback Form for Short Paper on Rousseau



Course Overview


In Spring 2005, I led an upper-division, writing-intensive discussion-based seminar for undergraduates of the University of Miami ( Florida). The course was cross-listed in the Departments of Foreign Languages and Literatures, History, and Philosophy. One motivation for offering this course was to test ideas as I worked on a book manuscript, Reason’s Child: Infancy and Childhood in Early Modern Philosophers. Having nearly completed that manuscript, I would likely add it to the assigned reading in future manifestations of this course.

The first three weeks of this 14-week course introduced the very idea of the“history of childhood.” We began with Philippe Ariés’s groundbreaking Centuries of Childhood, and – since Ariés famously claimed that the medieval era knew no concept of childhood – continued with James Schultz’s excellent Knowledges of Childhood in the German Middle Ages: 1100-1350, which we read in tandem with selections of Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival. Students wrote short papers on Parzival’s childhood, making reference to Ariés and Schultz. I was pleased to see several students discover that their own close readings of a medieval text could be used to qualify Ariés’s claims about parental indifference to children. We spent a fourth week discussing Reformation concepts of childhood by reading Carmen Luke’s Pedagogy, Printing, Protestantism and Part One of Neil Postman’s The Disappearance of Childhood, both of which trace modern concepts of childhood to the invention of the printing press, the spread of literacy, and the evolution of compulsory schooling laws.

The remaining eight weeks were devoted to the eighteenth century. We focused largely on European philosophers, some known for writing on childhood (Locke, Rousseau), and others not known for doing so (Descartes, Leibniz, Wolff). Not surprisingly, students were quite receptive to Locke’s and Rousseau’s theories of child-rearing. (We read Locke’s Some Thoughts Concerning Education, with a very small extract from his Essay Concerning Human Understanding, and all of Rousseau’s É mile.) In fact, many students focused their final papers on either Locke, Rousseau, or both. But our Descartes discussions, which culminated in a second short paper, turned out to be very interesting. I had them read his autobiographical Discourse on the Method as well as his Meditations in full, along with his statements on cognition in childhood, infancy, and in utero, which I had extracted from his various writings. I believe I convinced them that childhood plays a crucial, though underexplored, role in Descartes’s philosophy.

We discussed Leibniz cursorily, focusing on differences between his model of mind and Locke’s. When I next offer this course, I plan to assign passages from Leibniz’s Theodicy on the damnation of unbaptized infants. I have since translated into English two chapters of Pierre Bayle’s Reponse aux Questions d’un Provincial, which review a debate between Pierre Jurieu and Pierre Nicole on pedobaptism, among other things. Since this text of Bayle’s helped Leibniz clarify his own position on the souls of moribund children – in a nutshell, Leibniz argues against the Jansenists, referred to as ‘baby torturers’ – I anticipate it would spark much discussion to read this along with Leibniz. Now that the Catholic Church is reassessing the concept of limbo, this topic seems to be on some students’ minds.

A month of discussion and a third short paper were dedicated to Rousseau. While our discussions ranged far and wide, as does É mile, I assigned a very specific writing topic, so that my students could attempt to see Rousseau’s general principles at work in discrete scenes. By comparing the garden episode in Book II and the magician episode in Book III, my students were able to coherently present Rousseau’s ideas on solitude and natural education, combined with the recognition that Émile must be socialized. Both episodes show that even within his ‘natural’ childhood, nascent ‘civic’ lessons must occur.

In the final weeks, we turned to a work of fiction, J. W. Goethe’s novel, Wilhelm Meister’s Years of Apprenticeship, which has been hailed as the first Bildungsroman. It is certainly among the first novels that begin with extensive discussion of a protagonist’s childhood. In addition to getting caught up in the plot, students were also able to identify the influence of Rousseau and Locke in various characterizations of childhood in Goethe’s novel. The character of Mignon, who is sometimes called ‘child,’ though she seems to be a young woman, who is also androgynous and gender dysphoric, posed special problems and much food for discussion. By occupying a liminal position, this character can help the reader to reflect on basic distinctions (man/woman, child/adult) that often go unquestioned.


Pedagogical Notes and Conclusions

On the first day of the course, I asked students to take ten minutes to write down their definition of the term “child,” after which we discussed the common elements as well as the differences that emerged. I then presented them with dictionary definitions from the 17 th, 18 th, and 19 th centuries. The point quickly became clear that the regularities among such definitions generally have more to do with the historical and cultural moment of definition than with the timeless truths of childhood. For example, the 18 th-century definitions’ focus on reason – a faculty seen as central to the human being, but a faculty that children are said to lack – may say more about the rationalist philosophers whose work inspired these definitions than it does about the nature of children per se. Discussion of the 19 th-century definitions, which focus on innocence and purity, showed my students that their own dominant beliefs might have originated from such cultural artifacts of middle-class writers.

By the end of the course, students were more able to identify the extent to which concepts of childhood were ‘socially constructed.’ They have certainly become more informed and careful readers of discourses concerning children and childhood. Through the semester, we returned intermittently to the Supreme Court decision to abolish the death penalty for youths, as well as to the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of the Child (still unratified by the United States of America). I would devote more time to such current topics, as well as to the No Child Left Behind Act.

In addition to three short papers, a final seminar paper, and discussion, I required weekly online postings on a web-based course discussion board. I found this tool to be excellent for at least four reasons: (1) it allowed me to get a sense of what students were thinking about the day before class, which helped steer me in planning discussion questions; (2) it ensured that students did the reading in advance of class; (3) it allowed students who were quieter by disposition to shine online, and it also helped them relax in class, such that they began making more comments; (4) as I began to reply to these postings, and students began to reply to each others’ postings as well, I found that much intellectual energy took place ‘outside’ of class, thus enriching our face-to-face discussions.

Certainly, this focus on philosophies of childhood yielded a very particular eighteenth century. But since this course involved several texts that are canonical in literary and philosophical endeavors, in English, French, and German, I feel that I served my students well. They will surely encounter many more references to Descartes, Locke, Rousseau, and Goethe over time, and now they will be more informed than they were before. But of course, the main impetus of this seminar was to do something innovative, in focusing on the semantics of childhood in (mostly) eighteenth-century texts. It has been fascinating to explore what the Age of Reason believed of human beings who have “not yet” come to the age of reason.



Flyer (one sheet, double-sided) Distributed to Advertise the Course


The History and Philosophy of Childhood (1100-1800)

FLL 300 R, HIS 421 R, PHI 392 R

Tuesdays and Thursdays, 2:00 p.m. - 3:15 p.m., Memorial 116

Writing Intensive Course

Spring 2005

Dr. Anthony Krupp



for FLL 300: ENG 106 and any 200-level course in Humanities or Social Sciences

for HIS 421: permission of instructor

for PHI 391: three credits in philosophy


Course Description

Consider these historical questions about the age of life called childhood:

-Was the concept of childhood > invented = or > discovered, = and if so, when?

-How has the idea of childhood developed over the last two centuries?

-Is childhood as we know it coming to an end?

Now consider these philosophical questions about childhood:

-What is childhood?

-Why didn = t thinkers like Descartes believe that childhood is an important period of life?

-What role does childhood development play in the > philosophy of mind = ?

If you find one or more of these questions interesting, then you should think about taking this course. Students of Education, French, German, History, Philosophy, and Psychology in particular should find this course to intersect with their main areas of study, but all students are welcome! Final papers can be tailored to your major; here are some examples:


* Physical Education in 18 th-century pedagogy (by an Education major)

* Rousseau et le paradoxe de l = éducation naturelle (by a French major)

* Die Idee des Spielens bei Baumgarten und Schiller (by a German major)

* Historiographies of Childhood: Questions of Method (by a History major)

* Reason = s Child: infancy in rationalist philosophy of mind (by a Philosophy major)

* Origins of Developmental Psychology: Baby-Diaries (by a Psychology major)

We will devote our attention primarily to philosophical texts from eighteenth century Europe. In addition, we will read and critically evaluate recent scholarship on the history of childhood. All texts will be available in English or in English translation. (For those interested, materials will also be available in the original French, German, and Latin.)



Course Readings

Medieval Period (two weeks)

-Philippe Arié s, Centuries of Childhood. A Social History of Family Life

-James Schultz, The Knowledge of Childhood in the German Middle Ages, 1100-1350

-Wolfram von Eschenbach, Parzival

Reformation (one week)

-Martin Luther, various texts

-Carmen Luke, Pedagogy, Printing, and Protestantism. The Discourse on Childhood

-Neil Postman, The Disappearance of Childhood (part one)

Enlightenment I (three weeks)

-Dictionary and encyclopedia definitions of childhood

-Rationalist philosophers: Descartes, Leibniz, Wolff, Baumgarten, various texts

-Alternative rationalisms: Hobbes, Pufendorf, Thomasius, Condillac

-Susan Turner and Gareth Matthews, eds., The Philosopher = s Child. Critical Essays in the Western Tradition (essays on Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau)

-Anthony Krupp, essays on Leibniz, Wolff, and Baumgarten

Enlightenment II (four weeks)

-John Locke, Some Thoughts Concerning Education

-John Locke, Essay Concerning Human Understanding (sel.)

-Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Émile

-John Cleverley and D.C. Phillips, Visions of Childhood. Influential Models from Locke to Spock

After Rousseau /Around 1800 (three weeks)

-Johann Gottfried Herder, essays on recent German literature and on the origin of languages

-Immanuel Kant, essays on pedagogy and Enlightenment

-Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Wilhelm Meister = s Years of Apprenticeship (sel.)




Syllabus for 2005 Version of Course


Dates, Themes, and Readings

Tuesday, 18 Jan --- Introduction; Centuries of Defining Childhood

Thursday, 20 Jan --- "The" Idea of Childhood

          Ariés, 9-67 and 100-133

Tuesday, 25 Jan --- German Middle Ages I

          Schultz, 1-71

Thursday, 27 Jan --- German Middle Ages II

          Schultz, 244-268

          Eschenbach, Parzival, last page of chapter 1, last page of chapter 2, all of chapter 3, first page of chapter 4, and all of chapter 7

Tuesday, 1 Feb --- The Printing Press

          Postman, vii-64

Thursday, 3 Feb --- Pedagogy, Printing, and Protestantism

          Luke, ix-xii, 51-131


Tuesday, 8 Feb --- Descartes I

          Discourse on the Method

Thursday, 10 Feb --- Descartes II

          Meditations, with Objections and Replies, sel. tba

Tuesday, 15 Feb --- Descartes III

          Meditations, with Objections and Replies, sel. tba

          Principles of Philosophy # 1, 57, 71, 72

Thursday, 17 Feb --- Descartes IV: Summary Discussion

Tuesday, 22 Feb --- Leibniz I

          Leibniz, sels.

Thursday, 24 Feb --- Leibniz II

          Leibniz, Monadology

Tuesday, 1 Mar --- Leibniz III and Wolff

          Wolff, sels.

Thursday, 3 Mar --- Locke I and Leibniz IV

          Locke, Essay, sels.

          Leibniz, New Essays, sels.


Tuesday, 8 Mar --- Locke II

          Concerning Education, 10-102

Thursday, 10 Mar --- Locke III

          Concerning Education, 102-161


Spring Break

Tuesday, 22 Mar --- Rousseau I

          Émile, Book One

Thursday, 24 Mar --- Rousseau II

         Émile, Book Two

Tuesday, 29 Mar --- Rousseau III

         Émile, Book Three

Thursday, 31 Mar --- Rousseau IV

         Émile, Book Four


Tuesday, 5 Apr --- Rousseau V

         Émile, Book Five

Thursday, 7 Apr --- Rousseau VI: Summary discussion


Tuesday, 12 Apr --- Goethe I

          Wilhelm Meister, Book One

Thursday, 14 Apr --- Goethe II

          Wilhelm Meister, Book Two

Tuesday, 19 Apr --- Goethe III

          Wilhelm Meister, Books Three and Four

Thursday, 21 Apr --- Goethe IV

          Wilhelm Meister, Book Five

Tuesday, 26 Apr --- Goethe V

          Wilhelm Meister, Books Six and Seven

Thursday, 28 Apr --- Goethe V

          Wilhelm Meister, Book Eight



Assignments and Grading


Reactions to Readings (20%)

Every Monday, you should post a paragraph-length reaction to the readings for the Tuesday class. There will be thirteen such Mondays between 24 January and 25 April; I require that you fulfill this task ten times. (Extra submissions result in extra credit!) This exercise is quite valuable: it allows you to formulate your first thoughts on the text before class, which makes discussion go all the better. It also allows you to check the website on Tuesday morning and read over your colleagues’ reactions. This way, you can see what questions and observations we have as a group, and you might even find that a question you posed has been answered by someone else. Your reactions will be graded in terms of quality (length plays a role, but is not the decisive factor) and timeliness. Furthermore, you should feel free to reply to each others’ postings at any point in time. Thoughtful replies will improve our level of discussion in general, and your participation grade in particular.

Informed participation (20%)

Completing the assigned readings, taking notes on these readings, preparing questions and comments in advance, and – on the basis of your preparation – participating in our group discussion: all of this factors into your participation grade. Although this may seem counterintuitive, I regard active listening as one component of participation. It is very clear to me when you have done the reading and when you have not. Active participation when you have not done the reading does not count as informed participation! That said, if it should happen that you have not done the reading for a particular class (gasp!), you should still attend class. We will move very quickly, and if you miss class, this will have a snowball effect on your general ability to participate, as well as on your writing assignments.

Presentation (10%)

Each student will take responsibility for reading a specific text very closely, and structuring a fifteen-minute oral presentation on that text. Be sure that you speak slowly and clearly! You may bring a handout to class, with salient points and/or discussion questions. I will have you sign up for your presentation topic in the second week of class; this way, you will have a week to skim through all of the course materials before you decide on a presentation topic.

Take-home papers (20%)

Three times during the semester, I will assign a take-home writing assignment, due one or two class periods later. I will pose a specific question for you to answer or topic for you to examine, and if you have kept up with the reading, you should find it not terribly difficult to complete these assignments. They should be about three pages in length. Your web postings will allow you to ‘react’ to the readings; these take-home papers will allow you to ‘reflect’ more on the readings. I will be looking for evidence of your ability to get to the heart of a topic, to summarize and assess an argument clearly, usefully, and succinctly, to consider possible consequences or implications, and to ask good questions. I will give you individualized feedback, which may be of assistance to you as you plan your seminar paper.

Seminar Paper (30%)

You will complete a final paper for this course, on a topic of your own choosing. In order to ensure you succeed at this task, we will break it down into several component parts. By 15 Feb, you should have communicated with me about possible paper topics. By 10 Mar, you should have completed a five-page (1.5 or 2.0-spaced) proposal, including a description of your topic, questions that interest you, work completed thus far, and further work you have planned. By 7 Apr, you should have completed a ten-page (1.5 or 2.0-spaced) draft of your seminar paper. I will give you feedback at all stages. The final version, around fifteen pages (1.5 or 2.0-spaced, and no less than twelve, no more than twenty pages) in length, is due in early May.


Attendance Policy

I strongly encourage you to attend every class. I will allow each student a total of two personal days, which means that I will not distinguish between excused and unexcused absences. Rather, I will distinguish between absence and presence. I expect you to come to class on time, and to remain in the classroom for the duration of the class meeting.

Each time you are absent beyond these two personal days, you will receive a 0 for participation that day, and in addition, I will detract 1% from your final grade. This course is organized as a seminar, that is, an extended academic conversation; its success depends upon your presence in that conversation.

It makes sense to offer you a 'carrot' as well as a 'stick': if you miss only one or two classes, and you are on a grading cusp, then I will bump up your final grade. Thus, a B might become a B+, a B+ an A-, etc.


What you can expect from me


You can expect that I will

- be on time to each class.

- have (re)read each text carefully.

- be prepared to lead discussion of the texts.

- reply to email inquiries within one week of receiving them.

- return assignments, with feedback, within two weeks of your having submitted them to me.

- always make time to meet with you, should you wish to discuss anything.



Feedback Form for Short Paper on Rousseau



Student Name:


Rousseau paper feedback



Is the length 3-4 pages? (if not, then points can be detracted from final grade) _____


Coverage of most important ideas in the encounter with the gardener (Why does Emile act as he does? What is he supposed to learn from this encounter?) /10





Coverage of most important ideas in the encounter with the magician (Why does Emile act as he does? What is he supposed to learn from this encounter?) /10





Synthesis: how do the two scenes exemplify Rousseau =s system of education? /10





Are claims supported with reference to other passages from Emile? /5





Is this paper an analysis? (Does it go beyond plot summary?) /5




Total points: ____

x2.5 ____


Percentage: ____


Letter Grade: ____