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.
What does the work of Judith Shklar reveal to us about the proper role and limits of political theory? In particular, what are the implications of her arguments both for the way in which we should think of freedom and for the approach we should take to the resolution of moral conflicts? There is growing interest in Shklar’s arguments, in particular the so-called liberalism of fear, characteristic of her mature work. She has become an important influence for those taking a sceptical approach to political thought and also for those concerned first and foremost with the avoidance of great evils. However, this book shows that the most important factor shaping her mature work is not her scepticism but, rather, a value monist approach to both moral conflict and freedom, and that this represents a radical departure from the value pluralism (and scepticism) of her early work. This book also advances a clear line of argument in defence of value pluralism in political theory, one that builds on but moves beyond Shklar’s own early work.
This introduction presents an overview of the key concepts discussed in the subsequent chapters of this book. The book is about parents, power, and children and, in particular, the legitimacy of parents' power over their children. It talks about the prevailing or dominant approach to the analysis of parental power. The book proposes an alternative, pluralist view of paternalism. It shows that even paternalism properly understood is of limited application when we evaluate parental power. The book addresses a number of ethical questions through practical reason and practical judgement. It looks at an example of how political philosophers tend to approach moral conflicts. The book argues for an approach influenced in part by John Rawls's account of reasonableness and Thomas Nagel's account of 'public justification in a context of actual disagreement'.
This part provides different definitions of paternalism that political philosophers employ. Based on an extended analysis of the caretaker thesis and the liberation thesis, the part argues that parental power often is not paternalistic. Parents exercise their power in ways that are not paternalistic. The concept of paternalism focuses on both the nature of power and also the role of the philosopher in considering its legitimacy.
The debate on paternalism is important as it is illustrative of a wider controversy about the nature and role of political philosophy, in particular with respect to moral conflicts and how they are to be resolved. This chapter provides a brief outline of the prevailing, liberal view on paternalism and explains the various forms of paternalistic power. The prevailing, liberal view on paternalism does rely upon arguments from consent. A widely held assumption among liberals is that paternalism is a justified treatment of those who lack the qualities of an agent. An area of profound disagreement between liberals and pluralists concerns whether or not paternalism involves moral conflict. The chapter argues that paternalists must believe that the people over whom paternalistic power is exercised do generally believe that they generally know what is for their own good.
This chapter provides an analysis of paternalism by exploring the way that the concept of paternalism has been utilised in the 'caretaker thesis' and the 'liberation thesis'. To understand the caretaker thesis, it is helpful to start with the general liberal argument concerning legitimate power. The chapter examines Onora O'Neill's Kantian defence of the caretaker thesis according to which the fundamental moral principle is the requirement to respect autonomy. O'Neill denies that there is a moral conflict when parents interfere with their children's liberty in acting paternalistically. 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 chapter argues that children with the capacity for liberty of action are owed a right to liberty even when they are incompetent and/or cannot execute decisions.
This part looks at the conceptual and methodological issues to evaluate parental power. Findings from psychology strongly support the view that parents can use their power so as to promote their children's agency. The part examines the legitimacy of parental power. Even when parents successfully promote their children's social, cognitive, and emotional development, they can be faced with moral dilemmas and conflicts which call into question the legitimacy of their power.
This chapter argues that moral dilemmas are real or genuine conflicts between independent moral considerations. It addresses moral dilemmas concerning the legitimacy of parents' power through what John Rawls's public or political reasoning, that is, reasonableness as well as Thomas Nagel's account of public justification in a context of actual disagreement. In support of Nagel's position, the chapter looks at Bernard Williams's account of what genuine dilemmas are and how they arise. The view of moral dilemmas defended entails that the role of theory has its limits, and in particular, theory will not identify a general rule for the resolution of moral conflicts. The chapter outlines an approach to practical reason and practical judgement. It explains how practical judgement can complement theoretical reasoning when faced with moral dilemmas.
This chapter explores an aspect of parents' power over children and provides instances where parents' power is exercised so as to promote children's agency. It discusses the findings from the psychology literature on child development, where a positive association is hypothesised between children's positive freedom and children's ever-increasing independence from parental control. To use the concepts of political philosophy, in the psychology literature, a positive association is hypothesised between children's negative freedom and positive freedom. The chapter looks at Joseph Raz's discussion of positive freedom, which refers to both 'the inner capacities required for the conduct of an autonomous life' and 'an adequate range of options' to choose from. Like Raz, Isaiah Berlin acknowledges that moral considerations can pull in different directions leading to moral conflicts. He indicates how practical reasoning can be critical and can take account of the background conditions supportive of autonomy.
This chapter evaluates a reductive approach to the conceptualisation of power and a reductive approach to the resolution of moral conflicts when evaluating parental power. Psychology and Foucauldian sociology are indicative of two distinct approaches to the conceptualisation of parental power. The psychology literature supports a pluralist, non-reductive approach to the conceptualisation of parental power in political philosophy. The chapter looks at the psychology literature on children's agency, where the empirical evidence suggests positive associations between children's negative freedom and children's positive freedom. It concerns the differences between science and ethics, and argues that there is an irreducible plurality of power concepts, including 'power to', 'power with', and the various forms of 'power over'. Within the 'power over' category, the chapter distinguishes coercion, interference with liberty, control, authority, and paternalism.