This paper offers an approach to child study that moves beyond the traditional modern domains of medicine, education, and the social sciences, to explore the representation and symbolization of the child in philosophy, social and cultural history, myth and spirituality, art, literature, and psychoanalysis. It considers childhood as a cultural and historical construction, and traces the ways in which characterizations of children function symbolically as carriers of deep assumptions about human nature and its potential variability and changeability, about the construction of human subjectivity, about the ultimate meaning of the human life cycle, and about human forms of knowledge. The child as limit condition - as representing for adults the boundaries of the human - that is, "nature," animality, madness, the "primitive," the divine - is re-evoked continually in modern and postmodern symbolizations, and the tension between reason and nature or instinct, or Enlightenment and Romance, is never far from their surface. Finally, the extent to which the construction of "child" also implies a construction of "adult" is explored in the context of the history of culture and of child rearing, particularly in the rise of the modern middle-class European adult personality, which defined itself on the basis of its distance from childhood - both the child before it, and the child within. An ideal of adult maturity that includes rather than excludes childhood is capable of transforming our notions of optimal child rearing and education.