Self-Respect And Childhood
In his autobiography Martin Luther King, Jr. recounts how his mother, Alberta Williams King, confronted what he describes as “the age-old problem of the Negro parent in America: how to explain discrimination and segregation to a small child” (King 2001: 20). He writes “She taught me that I should feel a sense of “somebodiness” but that on the other hand I had to go out and face a system that stared me in the face every day saying you are “less than,” you are “not equal to”” (King 2001: 20). The challenge that Alberta Williams King speaks to raises many important issues. One of which concerns how a child should conceive of themselves from a moral point of view. Williams King is surely correct in wanting and teaching her son to conceive of himself well; to have a sense of himself as a “somebody”, as a person that matters, and matters equally among others. Moreover, this sense of self seems like one that all children should have as a matter of living well as children. But what does it mean more concretely for a child to have a sense of themselves in these terms? And why is such a self-conception of the kind that King describes so important? In order to answer these questions my primary aim in this dissertation is to offer a focused exploration and a robust account of how children ought to conceive of themselves in childhood. The account that I put forward is what I refer to as the ‘base form of self-respect.’ The base form draws from philosophical conceptions of Kantian ethical theory and contemporary cognitive developmental psychology to offer the first empirically informed philosophical account of self-respect that is fitting for the context of childhood.
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