That All Children Should Be Free: Beauvoir, Rousseau, and Childhood

Hypatia 25 (2):394 - 411 (2010)
Simone de Beauvoir offers one of the most interesting philosophical accounts of childhood, and, as numerous scholars have argued, it is one of the most important contributions that she made to existentialism. Beauvoir stressed the importance of childhood on one's ability to assume one's freedom. This radically changed how freedom was construed for existentialism. Rather than positing an adult subjectivity that tries to flee freedom through bad faith, Beauvoir's account forces a recognition of a situated freedom that itself is also developmentally achieved. In this article, I explore the influence of Jean-Jacques Rousseau on Beauvoir's discussion of childhood. By reading Beauvoir through Rousseau — who was one of her favorite authors — we see not just one but two accounts of childhood in Beauvoir's philosophical work. On the one hand is the idealistic childhood wherein the child is an apprentice to freedom. On the other is the constrained childhood whose product is apprenticed to the serious. I begin with a brief summary of Rousseau's Emile. Next, I offer some justification for reading Beauvoir alongside Rousseau before offering an account of Beauvoir's discussion of childhood. I end by exploring some of the implications of my reading for freedom
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