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–child relations so that priority is
given to parents’ duty to care for their children.
The alternative approach is problem-driven rather than theory-driven.
Problem-drivenpoliticalphilosophy, 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
arguments made here in defence of practical judgements are moral in
content. Therefore, I have not adopted a nihilistic attitude to either morality
or rationality, for there is no justification for doing so, as shown by the fact
that even post-modernists cannot consistently maintain such a position.
The overall approach taken in this book has much more in common with
what Wolff calls problem-drivenpoliticalphilosophy. Rather than hoping
to change the world so as to better fit my theoretical ideas, arguably the
approach taken by such public intellectuals as Sartre and
education (Chapter 10). As already indicated, in these case studies the approach
taken is very much in line with problem-drivenpoliticalphilosophy as
opposed to ideal theory. In each case study, I start by examining the practical reality in which such decisions are to be made, and on that basis, I
address a number of ethical questions through practical reason and practical judgement.