This is a book about parents, power, and children and, in particular, the legitimacy of parents' power over their children. It takes seriously the challenge posed by moral pluralism, and considers the role of both theoretical rationality and practical judgement in resolving moral dilemmas associated with parental power. The book first examines the prevailing view about parental power: a certain form of paternalism, justified treatment of those who lack the qualities of an agent, and one that does not generate moral conflicts. It proposes an alternative, pluralist view of paternalism before showing that even paternalism properly understood is of limited application when we evaluate parental power. According to the caretaker thesis, parental power makes up for the deficits in children's agency, and for that reason children should be subjected to standard institutional paternalism. The liberation thesis stands at the other end of the spectrum concerning children's rights. The book then addresses the counter-argument that issues of legitimacy arise in the political domain and not in respect of parent-child relations. It also examines the 'right to parent' and whether parents should be licensed, monitored, or trained children's voluntariness and competence, and the right to provide informed consent for medical treatment and research participation. Finally, the book talks about parents' efforts to share a way of life with their children and the State's efforts to shape the values of future citizens through civic education. The overall approach taken has much more in common with the problem-driven political philosophy.
acted upon. For example, as Gert and Culver have
shown, there is a moral conflict involved in every act of parental paternalism. When I, as a parent, act paternalistically, in attempting to do what is
best for my child I violate a moral rule in regard to my child.
If we cannot identify a general rule for their resolution, how can we
resolve moral conflicts? In this chapter I try to show that we can do so
through practical reasoning and practicaljudgement. In doing so, I will
borrow from John Rawls and his account of reasonableness (1999 )
and Thomas Nagel
appropriate moral considerations and ‘the morally relevant features of situations
encountered’ (Hampshire, 1978, p. 39). I also want to explore ways in
which we can try to resolve moral conflicts without moral simplification
and without claiming to have identified a general rule to resolve conflicts.
Very much in line with the work of Thomas Nagel, Bernard Williams, and
Stuart Hampshire, in this book I argue that it is through practical reasoning and practicaljudgement, and not alone through theoretical reasoning,
that we can endeavour to resolve moral conflicts, and do so
parents’ right to privacy and the parents’ right to
parent their own child. Given what we have seen already (Chapter 3) we
can say that there is, therefore, a process of moral simplification whereby
the significance of other, conflicting moral considerations is diminished. I
want to trace the ways in which such moral simplification has occurred.
However, I also want to examine opportunities both to acknowledge the
presence of moral conflict and to try to resolve such conflicts through practical reasoning and practicaljudgement. In doing this, I will find little merit
its limits, we can only answer
such questions through practical reasoning and practicaljudgement.
Nonetheless, such practicaljudgements must be made with methodological rigour, and it is in relation to this issue that an important counter
argument must be addressed before we proceed to deal with specific cases
(see Chapter 7). For others will object that the concepts and methods we
use when evaluating the power relations of adults, those appropriate to the
‘political domain’, are simply not appropriate to the normative evaluation
of the relations between parents
parents, I intended this as a general theoretical claim. At the same time,
we can be doing quite applied work, and this requires that we look closely
at cases, and make decisions based on practicaljudgements in those cases.
However, when we make practicaljudgements in specific cases, we also
claim a kind of generality in our reasoning. So what should we say when
asked to apply arguments made in respect of one case to another case?
The honest answer in most scenarios is ‘I cannot answer your question
with full confidence just yet. It may be that, after careful
possibility of moral dilemmas presents us with our central methodological and conceptual challenge, and it is to this that I now turn (Chapter
3). If moral claims can pull in different directions, demanding different
and incompatible things from us, how are we to make moral judgements?
In the next chapter, I will try to show that we cannot do so by identifying
the general rule for the resolution of moral conflicts. Instead, we will be
required to work through moral dilemmas where they arise, that is, by
engaging in practical reasoning and practicaljudgement in the contexts
in the political domain, as it is defined by Rawls and others, they
are required in regard to the family as well. However, I also want to say
more about the requirement of moral objectivity where competing moral
claims are in conflict. In Chapter 3, I argued that we should resolve dilemmas through a form of practical reasoning and practicaljudgement owing
much to liberal thinkers such as Rawls and Thomas Nagel. In this chapter,
I explore whether such a ‘liberal’ approach to practicaljudgement is appropriate when we consider moral dilemmas in situations liberals
children’s right to liberty.
However, the way in which science and ethics have been brought
together, above, is not completely satisfactory. As we saw in the last
chapter, when we make practicaljudgements about the legitimacy of
parents’ power, we should incorporate empirical data of various kinds,
including findings from scientific studies of the effects of parenting practice
on children’s development of agency. Empirical evidence can inform us
about the different possible options available, for example, the four different parenting styles discussed above. At the same
judgement, and we can apply this directly now to the conceptualisation
of competence. Indeed, we can define competence as reasonable practicaljudgement. What we have seen is that, in making informed consent decisions, competent decision makers must understand the relevant information and the situation they are in, and provide rational reasons for the
The moral legitimacy of parental power
course of action they have chosen. They are also faced with moral values
that can come into conflict. Returning to practicaljudgement, according
to our conception, in making