This essay was a finalist in the Graduate Category of the 2nd Annual Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics
Written by University of Oxford Student, Yutang Jin
In a family, parents can exert enormous influence on their children. Parents tend to implant in their children’s mind, for good or ill, values and ideas which go on to guide their whole lives. This essay focuses on this relationship and discusses what justification we can have for parental influence over their children.
The dominant discourse in addressing the parent-child relationship is that of moral rights. I argue, however, that the liberal discourse of rights, sound as it may be, has lots of drawbacks that disqualify it from being a cogent account of family relationships. I then go on to craft a Confucian framework whereby to discuss how parents and children should behave to each other. My main argument is that parents’ influence is justifiable insofar as parents comply with moral rules that regulate their relationship with children, and these rules are subject to public justification and rectification.
One way to think of where parents’ discretion over their children ends is to be found in the liberal tradition of rights. According to natural rights theories, children are entitled to basic human rights as any others. This account, however, suffers two drawbacks. First, childrearing prima facie demands more of parents than providing basic needs as prescribed by general human rights. The second problem is what I call a ‘redistribution dilemma’, namely that it fails to convincingly account for why a child should not, upon their birth, be redistributed by the state to suitable stepparents in a way that makes her future life better off than if she stays with her biological parents.
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