AbstractsEducation Research & Administration

Re-defining an Open Future, The Child's right to an Open Future revisited from a Virtue-Ethics perspective

by Jenny Murdoch

Institution: University of Hertfordshire
Year: 2014
Keywords: Open future ; autonomy ; self-determination ; character ; virtue ; 'character education' ; 'children's rights' ; 'development needs' ; 'moral motivation' ; 'virtue ethics' ; dispositions ; identity
Record ID: 1392909
Full text PDF: http://hdl.handle.net/2299/14329


The over-riding goal of my thesis is to supplement Joel Feinberg’s (1980) argument for The Childs Right to an Open Future with ideas from Virtue Ethics, in order to gain a more comprehensive and satisfying account of the kind of autonomous ethical understanding that we ought to nurture in children. According to The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, ‘Put most simply, to be autonomous is to be one’s own person, to be directed by considerations, desires, conditions, and characteristics that are not simply imposed externally upon one, but are part of what can somehow be considered one’s authentic self. Autonomy in this sense seems an irrefutable value ...’ Feinberg’s open future is defined by the ‘right’ of self-determination and by the ‘good’ of self-fulfilment. In Part One, I consider Feinberg’s argument for the child’s right to an open future, which attempts to show from within a rights-based deontological framework, that children have rights to not have their future autonomy violated prior to reaching adulthood. This section includes my examination of major objections to Feinberg’s argument as well as discussion of supporting argument and my own analysis of the shortcomings of Feinberg’s argument. I conclude that, although I support the principle that the child’s autonomy ought to be preserved, Feinberg’s argument lacks attention to any kind of ethical grounding for self-determination. This leaves Feinberg’s argument vulnerable to the kinds of criticisms that connect an open future with selfish egoism and moral relativism. In Part Two, I attempt to supplement Feinberg’s rights-based deontological argument by demonstrating the ethical value of autonomy. I hope to extend, or redefine, the open future by focusing on an aspect of self-determination that Feinberg largely ignores – the capacity for self-determination. On my extended account of the open future, the capacity for self-determination is nurtured by helping children to develop the kinds of cognitive skills that will enable them to reason well about how to live and, consequently, how to act - but which must be underpinned by virtuous dispositions if we want the child’s choices to be ethically motivated, not just self-interested or arbitrary.