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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

, 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

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

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
Abstract only
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
Abstract only
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

do not attain the level of morality of principle, then they are not full or complete moral agents, and this surely affects the rights they may claim. However, advocates of children’s rights have noted that many adults do not live up to this ideal of moral agency while many young people can and do (Harris, 1996). As argued for in the liberation thesis, there is no longer any justification for assuming young people incapable of the autonomy adults are said to exercise. In this book, I have taken a different line again. Against the Rawlsian approach, I have argued

in Evaluating parental power
Abstract only
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

children from harm and thus meeting the conditions that attach to the ‘right to parent’, parents may thus violate the moral requirement to protect children’s liberty, the fundamental value for Nozick and also for the liberation thesis. How do we explain the differences between Hobbes and Nozick in their account of legitimate coercive power? It comes down to what they believe Normative legitimacy133 to be the morally relevant counterfactual, that is, their respective accounts of the ‘state of nature’. For Nozick, coercive power is justified if it can be shown to be

in Evaluating parental power
Allyn Fives

adults do not satisfy basic conditions for its enjoyment, including when it is decided they do not satisfactorily protect their children from abuse and neglect. This point is accepted even by those who reject the liberation thesis and defend parents’ ‘authority’ over their children: ‘the state properly intervenes in family decision making only when … [the child’s] developmental needs are demonstrably in jeopardy’ (Burtt, 2003, p. 248). (2) Parents also have rights ‘over’ their children, in particular, the right to make certain choices on behalf of their children

in Evaluating parental power