Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Who bringeth to my remembrance the sin of my infancy?

As I've been thinking about sparring toddlers, I thought a bit of Augustine might be appropriate.

Who bringeth to my remembrance the sin of my infancy ? For before Thee none is free from sin, not even the infant which has lived but a day upon the earth. Who bringeth this to my remembrance? Doth not each little one, in whom I behold that which I do not remember of myself? In what, then, did I sin ? Is it that I cried for the breast ? If I should now so cry,--not indeed for the breast, but for the food suitable to my years,--I should be most justly laughed at and rebuked. What I then did deserved rebuke; but as I could not understand those who rebuked me, neither custom nor reason suffered me to be rebuked. For as we grow we root out and cast from us such habits. I have not seen any one who is wise, when "purging" anything cast away the good.
--Confessions, Bk 1, Ch. VII
Sometimes when the girls fight, it's because they're tired or cranky or hungry. But often it's because of jealousy or selfishness. Anyone who says that children are naturally sweet and innocent hasn't seen how a toddler reacts when another kid starts playing with one of his toys, even one that he had no interest in before. It's selfishness -- of an irrational and uncalculated variety, but selfishness nonetheless.

13. Did I not, then, growing out of the state of infancy, come to boyhood, or rather did it not come to me, and succeed to infancy ? Nor did my infancy depart (for whither went it ?); and yet it did no longer abide, for I was no longer an infant that could not speak, but a chattering boy. I remember this, and I afterwards observed how I first learned to speak, for my elders did not teach me words in any set method, as they did letters afterwards; but myself, when I was unable to say all I wished and to whomsoever I desired, by means of the whimperings and broken utterances and various motions of my limbs, which I used to enforce my wishes, repeated the sounds in my memory by the mind, O my God, which Thou gavest me. When they called anything by name, and moved the body towards it while they spoke, I saw and gathered that the thing they wished to point out was called by the name they then uttered; and that they did mean this was made plain by the motion of the body, even by the natural language of all nations expressed by the countenance, glance of the eye, movement of other members, and by the sound of the voice indicating the affections of the mind, as it seeks, possesses, rejects, or avoids. So it was that by frequently hearing words, in duly placed sentences, I gradually gathered what things they were the signs of; and having formed my mouth to the utterance of these signs, I thereby expressed my will? Thus I exchanged with those about me the signs by which we express our wishes, and advanced deeper into the stormy fellowship of human life, depending the while on the authority of parents, and the beck of elders. -- Confessions, Bk 1, Ch. VIII

Reflecting on how much small children learn from their parents, not just from their words but from their actions as well, always gives me pause. My girls may well be picking up habits and quirks of behavior amd unconscious attitudes from me that they'll carry with them throughout their lives. The time to instill in a child what's most important to you is when they're young and pliable and molding themselves to their parents' routines -- I think it must be a common mistake to wait until kids are old enough to "understand" a routine before it's implemented. (I recall some point in my teenage years when my mother decided that we needed to call her "ma'am". It didn't fly with us -- we were too old for it to come naturally and it felt forced and showy. )

And here's a paper for all of you interested in learning more about the concept of child development in Book I of Augustine's Confessions:

1 Book I of Augustine's Confessions(1) contains a remarkable account of child development. The maturation from infancy to later childhood is presented in its relation to the Trinitarian spiritual principle which animates human life, which is both the principle of its creation and the end which it seeks. Augustine's account is thus vibrant and exacting because it has hold of the objective principle of human subjectivity, because it knows the spiritual logic of the development of human reason and will.

2 It is this comprehensive standpoint which allows Augustine to speak vividly to those in our own time, which accounts for his attractiveness to those who profess either modernity or post-modernity, and which in its full development allows us to profess both.(2) Augustine's portrait of child development does not fall into the trap of confining the contours of the human spirit to the patterns of his own specific social world. Were this the case he might be thought a guide to the cultural practices of North Africa under Roman dominion in the fourth century A.D. As such he might offer a sociology of child development but not a philosophy, and the significance of his account would be merely historical.

3 It is a genuine difficulty of our time to find in speculative thought a freedom which cannot be reduced to such social-psychological parameters. The contemporary reader of the Confessions, then, faces a difficult confrontation with a text which advances an infinite spiritual logic unfettered by contingent cultural structures which is by its own account the determinate principle by which we would understand the truth of all social engagement. Where the determinate expression of practical life extends no further than the production and acquisition of goods and the creativity of an unbounded aesthetic will, fueled by the moralism which either upholds or descries these expressions, one will find philosophical thought foreign and estranged from itself.

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