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An exercise in pluralist political theory
Author: Allyn Fives

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.

Allyn Fives

2 Caretaker or liberator? In the last chapter, we examined the concept of paternalism in some depth, paying attention to a number of key conceptual issues. We looked at the different forms of ‘power over’, the nature of moral conflicts, the agency of those over whom paternalistic power is exercised, and also the rights children may enjoy. In this chapter, I continue this analysis of paternalism by exploring the way that concept has been utilised in the ‘caretaker thesis’ and the ‘liberation thesis’. Are parents caretakers or liberators? Is the role of parents to

in Evaluating parental power
Allyn Fives

, is the least satisfactory. I will make the case for an alternative, pluralist, definition of paternalism, according to which paternalism does involve moral conflicts, it does not always involve interference with a ­ nother’s liberty, and it is only exercised over those possessing the qualities of an agent. I will then ask, is parental power always paternalistic (Chapter 2)? Based on an extended analysis of the caretaker thesis and the liberation thesis, I argue that parental power often is not paternalistic, as understood by my preferred definition. Therefore, the

in Evaluating parental power
Allyn Fives

should be informed and constrained by issues of practical feasibility. For ideal theory, the role of political philosophy is to work out an ideal vision of society, or some aspect of society, and then apply the theory in a top-down fashion so as to have social life altered to fit with the theory (Cohen, 2003; Mason, 2004). The liberation thesis is perhaps most obviously an example, but so too is the more moderate caretaker thesis. In both cases, it is assumed that we should make reality conform to theory, for example, in the caretaker thesis there is an underlying

in Evaluating parental power
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Philosophy, power, and parents
Allyn Fives

. First, they are evident in the caretaker thesis, which can be represented as follows: children lack the qualities of an agent (except for many of those who have reached late adolescence); therefore, parents’ exercise of power over children is justified; and parents’ power is paternalistic (as defined above). The same assumptions are evident in the opposing liberation thesis, which can be represented as follows: children often do not lack the qualities of an agent; once children are capable of agency, parents’ exercise of power over children is then unjustified; and

in Evaluating parental power
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Allyn Fives

which a person ‘is or should be left to do or be what he is able to do or be, without interference by other persons’. In contrast, positive freedom derives from the idea of being my own master (2004 [1958], pp. 169, 179). Therefore, 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 empirical findings from psychology would, in addition, seem to support the normative conclusions of the caretaker thesis. The former suggest not only that parents

in Evaluating parental power
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Allyn Fives

’s general findings of a conceptual and methodological nature? The first conclusion is that paternalism is insufficient to account for the legitimacy of parents’ power, as there are non-­paternalistic forms of parental power, and they too can be legitimate. This finding has important implications for both the liberation thesis and the caretaker thesis, for both equate parental power with paternalism. The implication is that we must break out of what has been a very limiting debate and move beyond categories of caretaker and liberator. I also concluded that, when we do need

in Evaluating parental power
Allyn Fives

reasons adults can be said to have a ‘right to parent’. As we shall see in Chapter 8, it is argued by many that, if parents are not able to protect their children from harm, they should lose their right to parent. Priority is given here to ensuring the safety and wellbeing of children, as is the case in the caretaker thesis, as well as Hobbes’s account of legitimate coercive power. However, so as to better protect their children in this way, parents often will be required to prevent their children from engaging in risky behaviour. In doing so, in protecting their

in Evaluating parental power
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Allyn Fives

3 Moral dilemmas In Part I of this book, I argued that paternalism is inadequate as a general account of parental power. And as both the caretaker thesis and the liberation thesis equate parental power with paternalism, their adequacy as theories of parental power is questionable for that reason. However, of greater significance for our present purposes is the fact that, according to each thesis, when we evaluate parental power, we will not be faced with irresolvable moral conflicts. There are two aspects to this argument, and they are the focus of this chapter

in Evaluating parental power
Allyn Fives

not, as a general rule, have priority over other moral considerations, and the case for such a conclusion has been made by utilitarians (Scarre, 1980), Kantians (O’Neill, 1989), Aristotelian Thomists (MacIntyre, 1988; 1999), and others, including Archard’s version of the caretaker thesis. That is, this is a matter of on-going debate, as it is the subject matter of a philosophical disagreement that has not been resolved. Gutmann can be challenged on the grounds that her proposed general rule for resolving moral conflicts lacks philosophical licence. Indeed, there may

in Evaluating parental power