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.
despite the plurality of relevant moral considerations and morally relevant
features, we should transform parent–childrelations so that priority is
given to parents’ duty to care for their children.
The alternative approach is problem-driven rather than theory-driven.
Problem-driven political philosophy, or non-ideal theory, starts from practice and the problems that it throws up. According to this line of thought,
political philosophers must first have a clear understanding of the practical
reality of people’s lives, and only then can they go on to
underlying assumptions. For it would not be unreasonable to harbour doubts
about the appropriateness of this whole enterprise. It could be argued that,
up to this point, we have evaluated parent–childrelations in the same
way that we evaluate the power relations of adults in the wider society,
that is, the power relations of the ‘political domain’, whereas the concepts
and methods used when evaluating the power relations of the political
domain are simply not appropriate to the normative evaluation of the relations between parents and children. I want to address and
includes no characters who are mothers. Without
wishing to offer a psychopathology of Reed’s work, I have nevertheless
sometimes relied on psychoanalytical models in the belief that these would
help further elucidate Reed’s interest in character, behaviour, and
human relations in films that are repeatedly concerned with parent/childrelations. Psychoanalysis has of course been one of the dominant tendencies
in film theory at
first address the counter-argument that issues of
legitimacy arise in the political domain and not in respect of parent–childrelations (Chapter 7). I then proceed to examine the ‘right to parent’ and
whether parents should be licensed, monitored, or trained (Chapter 8);
children’s voluntariness and competence, and the right to provide informed
consent for medical treatment and research participation (Chapter 9); and
finally, 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
that I treat parent–childrelations as power relations requiring justification.
Another important difference is that I have been sensitive to avoid liberal
biases when employing an account of practical rationality developed from
within liberal political thought.
I first considered the conditions that should be attached to the ‘right
to parent’, and, in particular, arguments for parental licences, the monitoring of parents, and the provision of parenting support programmes. I
came down against parental licences and instead considered the merits of
and Hewitt, Children in English society, Vol. 1, pp. 181–89; George, London
life in the eighteenth century, pp. 58–60.
15 For example, S. Wilson, ‘The myth of motherhood a myth: a historical
view of European child rearing’, Social History, 9 (1984), pp. 181–98;
A. James, C. Jenks and A. Prout, Theorizing childhood (Cambridge, 1998);
L. A. Pollock, Forgotten children: parent–childrelations from 1500–1900
16 Trumbach, The rise of the egalitarian family, pp. 230–1.
17 Sharpe, Population and society, p. 254.
18 R. Wall, ‘Leaving home and the
philosophers who were eager to offer parents advice on breast-feeding,
teething, washing, coping with a crying infant and dealing with
childhood diseases. These can help us to understand what certain
sections of medieval society thought was the appropriate way of bringing
up children, but cannot of course provide a clear window into actual
practices. Parent–childrelations belonged to a world where
child–king that transfigures his own martyr and elevates
the Marian piety of his poem onto a higher plane. Through the
child Edward, placed between the two poets, and joining them
‘from afar’, Chaucer is claimed for ‘universal Christendom’ and
consequently for England.
Childhood and youthfulness of spirit continued to help refashion Chaucer as the century progressed. Continuing appreciation
of Chaucer’s ‘pathos’ maintained his connection with childhood
by highlighting intense parent–childrelations in the Canterbury
Tales:31 the Prioress’s Tale; Griselda and children
’s principled rejection (R: 288). But the novel is
inconsistent in its attitude to the causes of Ruth’s fall. Since harsh judgment is seen to derive from an authority/obedience model of parent/childrelations, the approved non-judgmental attitude should be linked with
the opposite belief in education for moral independence. Yet Ruth’s ‘fall’
is attributed, not to the protected upbringing which ‘disqualif[ies] her as
a morally responsible person’ (Crick: 93), but, paradoxically, to a failure
of parental vigilance. In Chapter 3 Bellingham tells Ruth to ‘judge for