Jaden Smith is only 15 years old, but he’s already an actor, a dancer, a rapper and an alleged dater of Jenner-Kardashian progeny. In the last week, it has seemed as though he’s intent on adding “budding philosopher” to his resume. The son of movie star Will Smith and actress Jada Pinkett-Smith has taken to Twitter to share his thoughts on society, education and the role of young people in the 21st century. Let’s take a look at what the After Earth star has to say:
Here it appears that Smith is decrying the evils of ageism in the modern world. For others to imply that a child should have higher aspirations for his future and not focus on his accomplishments up to that point is a clear demonstration of prejudice. By the age of 13, Smith had already starred in a blockbuster hit (2010’s The Karate Kid) alongside Jackie Chan and been featured on a track that went platinum (Justin Bieber’s “Never Say Never”). In other words, he was just like all other 13-year-olds. What more did you want from him?
Next, Smith denounces the strictures set forth by society, suggesting that each one of us create our own rules. Assuming he doesn’t mean simply the laws of society—and it’s unlikely Smith would restrict himself to such a narrow scope—Smith’s statement demonstrates a clear rejection of Kantian ethics and the categorical imperative, which the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines as, “a moral obligation or command that is unconditionally and universally binding.” Smith would instead prefer that we be bound only by the limitations we set forth for ourselves.
Now Smith turns his attention to the thorny issue of education. For thousands of years, philosophers have debated the role that schooling ought to have in the upbringing of children. The arguments they have made have been manifold and impossibly nuanced. Smith, however, boils the issue down to one essential truth. But it seems that in his quest for brevity, Smith may have overlooked the argument set forth in John Locke’s seminal 1693 treatise, Some Thoughts Concerning Education, in which the English philosopher posits that every human is born with a tabula rasa, or “blank slate.” Taken as such, education would not be washing the brain, but rather filling it with information as Locke suggests: “I think I may say, that of all the men we meet with, nine parts of ten are what they are, good or evil, useful or not, by their education.” Perhaps, however, Smith is suggesting that the education is somehow intrinsically re-wiring the brain. As with many philosophical texts, it can be difficult to deduce the full meaning and nuance of the author.
Though it may seem that Smith thoroughly and completely contradicts his previous statement with the one that follows, there is perhaps more than initially meets the eye. Maybe the message is that rebellion is bad and conformity is good? Probably not though. Every great philosopher has his missteps.
After that brief tangent into the principles of educational warfare, Smith pledges his support of a more modern philosopher: 20th century American scholar John Rawls. See, one of Rawls’ best-known principles was known as the “Veil of Ignorance” (or “original position”), which states that “…no one knows his place in society, his class position or social status; nor does he know his fortune in the distribution of natural assets and abilities, his intelligence and strength, and the like” and as a result, each person would prefer to be part of a society that was inherently fair and equal. By nature, newborns are entirely ignorant and thus are perfectly “veiled” themselves. Using Smith’s heady logic, this complete and utter ignorance enables them to truly appreciate the wisdom of original position. If only they were able to speak and share that wisdom with the rest of the world.
Finally, Smith concludes his treatise by returning to the matter of schooling, insisting that we would all be smarter without it.
He might be right: There are no confirmed reports of an educational institution at any level—from pre-school on up through masters philosophy programs—teaching the complete writings of Jaden Smith. Maybe that will change when he gets older—just don’t ask him about it.