Childrearing in Political Philosophy

Course Description: 

This course will introduce students to the main normative issues raised by the fact that we all start life as children. Most philosophers today believe that children are right-holders, and that various agents – such as parents, and states – owe them duties of justice. At the same time, children’s lack of maturity makes them the object of legitimate paternalism. The same feature makes it plausible that the content of justice towards them is different from the content of justice towards adults. Further, different children are unavoidably brought up by different adults – usually parents – who command varying amounts of resources, display varying degrees of rearing ability and varying levels of investment in childrearing. For this reason, the family has been said to undermine fair equality of opportunities, which is one of the most widely endorsed principles of justice; this raises the question of whether the family itself can be a legitimate institution. Most of the course will focus on fundamental issues concerning the conditions of legitimate exercise of authority over children. We shall discuss the questions of what is the nature and value of childhood; what is children’s moral status; what is the metric of justice towards children; how can adults acquire a moral right to parent; what are the limits of adults’ authority to intentionally shape children’s values; and what permissions do adults have to bestow benefits onto particular children. In this context, we shall also look at concrete issues such as parental licensing, adoption and schooling. Towards the end of the course we shall address particular questions concerning children’s freedoms and their participation in society as potential voters and potential workers.

The main rain reading for this course is Harry Brighouse and Adam Swift, Family Values: The Ethics of Parent-Child Relationships, Princeton University Press, 2014. We shall also read several chapters from The Routledge Handbook of the Philosophy of Childhood and Children, edited by Anca Gheaus, Gideon Calder, and Jurger De Wispelaere, Routledge 2019 as well as a selection of journal articles.

The evaluation of students will be based on (a) active participation during discussions, including weekly questions on mandatory readings, sent in advance (40%), (b) two oral presentations (20%) and (c) a final essay on a topic decided together with the instructor (40%).