Justifying an ethical conception of children's sexual rights 1
Ben Spiecker and Jan Steutel
Like so many other philosophers of education, we have tried to develop and discuss ethical conceptions regarding educational topics, including topics in the fields of civic education and sexual education. An ethical conception may be defined as a theory in which ethical claims are made and defended, for example, the claim that tolerance is a desirable or valuable trait of character, or the claim that civic education should promote critical thinking, or the claim that sexual activities should comply with the principle of mutual consent, or the claim that paedophilia is morally wrong.
In everyday life, too, ethical beliefs are held, defended and criticised. We may, however, assume some difference in quality between everyday and philosophical ethical disputes. In philosophy, including philosophy of education, the reflective attention that is paid to the justification of ethical beliefs is much more sophisticated. Penetrating accounts are given of the criteria that should guide us in assessing the reasons on which our ethical claims are based. Accordingly, the practice of justifying ethical beliefs is much more systematic, which means, among other things, that it is much more methodical. A methodical way of doing things implies that certain procedures are followed or particular methods applied. But which methods, if any, should be observed in justifying ethical claims concerning educational matters? And how could these methods themselves be justified?
Before going into these difficult questions we want to make clear that we prefer the term 'ethical' to the term 'moral'. The sphere of the ethical is much broader than the sphere of the moral. In ethical thinking many evaluative notions are used that are not specifically moral. Take, for example, 'admirable', 'excellent', 'advisable' and 'rational'. All these notions play an important role in ethical discussions but none is tied to moral evaluation in particular. Indeed, even central ethical terms like 'virtue' and 'good' are often used in a non-moral way, for example, when we speak about self-regarding traits like prudence and resourcefulness on one's own behalf.