Only Children and Fools Tell the Truth

I am reading Karl Jasper’s Way to Wisdom, an introduction to philosophy. From page 9:

A marvelous indication of man’s innate disposition to philosophy is to be found in the questions asked by children. It is not uncommon to hear from the mouths of children words which penetrate to the very depths of philosophy.

From page 10:

Children often possess gifts which they lose as they grow up. With the years we seem to enter into a prison of conventions and opinions, concealments and unquestioned acceptance, and there we lose the candor of childhood. The child still reacts spontaneously to the spontaneity of life; the child feels and sees and inquires into things which soon disappear from his vision. He forgets what for a moment was revealed to him and is surprised when grownups later tell him what he said and what questions he asked.

Child psychologist have noted this too, and something else – that children soon learn to lie and to become destructive and vicious.

    • Ellen
    • February 9th, 2012

    Again, the explanation is found in biology. First of all, children are by definition dependent and protected at a certain level. They have the freedom to dream dreams that aren’t tainted by the real world. Their basic needs are taken care of for the most part. It is only when they become adults that they have to deal with the reality of finding food, clothing and shelter and often competing for same. This is a bit different in the modern inner city and you find many fewer philosophers among these children.

    It is indeed unfortuntaely that many innocent children turn as adults. In my experience that is either because they have parents from whom they learn the negative traits or they are forced to become deceptive to survive. It all starts and ends in childhood. We should put a lot more emphasis on how we raise our children who become the adults who destroy our way of life.

  1. Deprivation and threat, as noted in the comment above, can certainly distort childhood experience, but the blog post is really about a style of perception more available to children than to adults, who have had much more time to absorb the lies our civilization routinely tells itself. Before the distortion lens falls into place, children often reveal honest, true, and clear views of the world that fall into the charming category of “kids say the darndest things.” They are not really mini-philosophers, just truth-tellers.

    More importantly, children begin to undergo at the age of eight or so a shift in cognitive function (actually, alteration of brain wave patterns) that has been recognized for millennia as a developmental threshold signalling entry into adulthood, sometimes called the Age of Reason. Rites of passage such as the bar and bat mitzvah formalize the transition to adult thinking and responsibility.

    So children often see more clearly than adults, yet they’re also innocent enough to say discomfiting things aloud — things most adults have learned not to utter or question. Children are also paradoxically easier to lie to (Santa Claus, Easter Bunny, etc.) and harder to lie to (“everything will be all right”). They sense emotional cues more accurately than most adults but live in a waking dream where all sorts of miracles are possible.

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