The purpose of this chapter is not primarily to claim particular rights for children or to advance new arguments about the nature and justification of children's rights. This has been attempted at some length elsewhere (Wringe 1981). My present purpose is, rather, to use the issue of children's rights as a case study to show how the philosophical method of carefully unravelling concepts and the relationships between them may be helpful in resolving substantive philosophical, not to say practical, misunderstandings. From the above it will be clear that I am concerned with an 'analytic' approach to philosophy in the sense suggested by John and Patricia White (Ch. 2 in this collection), rather than in the earlier sense of searching for basic propositions supposedly corresponding to the nature of reality. This chapter may therefore usefully be read in conjunction with Chapter 2.
In taking an analytic approach to questions about children's rights, one is concerned first of all to establish the meaning and nature of the key concepts involved, with a view to establishing the import of claims being made and, in particular, exposing ambiguities which may lead to misunderstanding, and thus obstruct the progress of discussion. This, however, is but a preliminary to two further and characteristic steps in the process of analysis. These comprise an examination of the justification of the claims being made, paying particular attention to the different modes of justification which may be appropriate to different kinds of claims and, finally, a consideration of the implications of such claims as may seem to be justified in relation to particular institutions and practices, larger world views or fundamental philosophical positions. In requiring us to give attention to each of these characteristic tasks of analysis in turn, issues surrounding children's rights provide a particularly good example of a topic in philosophy of education that is amenable to exploration along these lines.