Ethics in Light of Childhood

John Wall

"Creative, thought-provoking book . . . will interest psychologists and philosophers and any others with a serious interest in developmental psychology and ethics."
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Childhood faces humanity with its own deepest and most perplexing questions. An ethics that truly includes the world’s childhoods would transcend pre-modern traditional communities and modern rational autonomy with a postmodern aim of growing responsibility. It would understand human relations in a poetic rather than universalistic sense as openly and interdependently creative. As a consequence, it would produce new understandings of moral being, time, and otherness, as well as of religion, rights, narrative, families, obligation, and power.

Ethics in Light of Childhood fundamentally reimagines ethical thought and practice in light of the experiences of the third of humanity who are children. Much like humanism, feminism, womanism, and environmentalism, Wall argues, a new childism is required that transforms moral thinking, relations, and societies in fundamental ways. Wall explores childhood’s varied impacts on ethical thinking throughout history, advances the emerging interdisciplinary field of childhood studies, and reexamines basic assumptions in contemporary moral theory and practice.

In the process, he does not just apply ethics to childhood but applies childhood to ethics—in order to imagine a more expansive humanity.

Table of Contents


Part I. History

1. Three Enduring Models

Part II. Theory

2. What is Human Being?

3. What Is the Ethical Aim?

4. What Is Owed Each Other?

Part III. Practice

5. Human Rights in Light of Childhood

6. The Generative Family

7. The Art of Ethical Thinking





"The author takes us on a stimulating journey through considerations of history, theory and practice, and frequently relies on the perceptions of children themselves to illustrate the points he wants to make. He does this through the device of recounting children's stories of their own experience. . . . It is rare for an adult to put a moral and ethical case quite so succinctly."—Children & Society

"Creative, thought-provoking book . . . will interest psychologists and philosophers and any others with a serious interest in developmental psychology and ethics."—Choice

"A game-changing book for the field of Christian ethics. . . . Ethics should be read widely, and not only bythose who are explicitely conducting research involving children and childhood. While it has much to offer these scholars, Ethics real benefit lies in the possibilities that it opens up for both fundamental and practical ethics more broadly conceived."—Conversations in Religion and Theology

"This is not just a book about children and ethics. This book revolutionizes the very way ethics is done. With probing insight and close attention to social practice, John Wall rescues children from their usual place as the 'most systematically excluded group on the planet' and moves them to the center of moral deliberation. This book should be required reading for ethicists and all those who care about sustaining the good life and a just society."—Bonnie J. Miller-McLemore, E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Professor of Pastoral Theology, Vanderbilt University Divinity School and Graduate Department of Religion

"Could viewing moral issues from the perspective of children create a revolution in philosophical and religious ethics? This beautifully written book brilliantly argues that it will. Get ready for a new paradigm in ethics that author John Wall calls 'childism.' It may be as exciting for ethics as feminism was thirty years ago and be central to moral debates for decades to come."—Don Browning, professor emeritus, Department of Religious Ethics, University of Chicago, and author of Reviving Religious Humanism

"This wonderful book takes the study of childhood and of ethics to a new and transformative level. Animating ethical theory with stories drawn from real children's lives, Wall calls for a fundamental restructuring of ethical thinking. It is essential reading for anyone who thinks deeply about children."—Barbara Woodhouse, L. Q. C. Lamar Chair in Law and co-director, Barton Child Law and Policy Clinic, Emory University


Supplemental Materials


About the Author

John Wall is an associate professor of religion, with a joint appointment in childhood studies, at Rutgers University. He is the author of Moral Creativity, and coeditor of Paul Ricoeur and Contemporary Moral Thought and Marriage, Health and the Professions, as well as the forthcoming Children and Armed Conflict. He was also the coeditor of a nine-volume book series, Religion, Marriage, and Family.

216 pp., 6 x 9
Aug 2010

216 pp., 6 x 9
ISBN: 978-1-58901-692-7
Aug 2010

216 pp.
ISBN: 978-1-58901-624-8
Aug 2010

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