This links up with the earlier post about intentions. That’s such a big topic that I have to take it in pieces. You might want to read that to start, but it’s not crucial for the moment.
There’s another big topic that relates to intention that I want to open up here, and that’s whose point of view you consider. Here’s what I mean: It’s popular to want to use a child-centered view when thinking about law and children. You can see why there’s an impulse to put children at the center. Typically children are NOT the main actors, but they are the people being acted upon. And we often think of children as blameless–by which I mean that they are not responsible for whatever legal or social complexity surrounds them. (Obviously this is particularly true for young children.)
So let’s imagine you looked at things from the child’s point of view and you’re trying to give meaning to the conduct of some adult in the child’s life. Does intention matter?
I think it often does not. Suppose I get up this morning, meaning to take the child to the beach. I don’t tell the child this, but I have the thought firmly in mind. Then I don’t follow through and there is no trip to the beach. Does the fact that I intended to matter, from the child’s point of view? I don’t see how it does. There was, in fact, no trip to the beach. That’s what the child knows. If the child really wanted to go to the beach, the child is disappointed. Certainly there is no less disappointment because I had intended to make the trip. All the child knows (in this version) is what actually happened–no beach trip.
(To be clear, it does matter to me whether I tell the child of my intention to take her/him to the beach. If I tell the child and then change my mind, I have raised expectations that I have the disappointed. If anything, this seems to me to be worse for the child. But I am trying to keep things pretty simple so I want to exclude this from consideration for now.)
Now I recognize that the trip to the beach is trivial in the grand scheme of things. But is it any different with big things–like intention to be a parent. Suppose I intend to be a parent to the child–do all those things that parents do, be present and constant and so on. But then I don’t–I change my mind and don’t do them. What does my intention matter to the child? It seems to me it matters not at all. If the child doesn’t know, then it is (from the child’s point of view) just as if I had no intention at all.
This, it seems to me, is important to think about. Obviously intention can be very important to those around the child–to those who know if it and rely on it. But what to make of the fact that from the child’s point of view, intention would seem to lack significance?