Parental Partiality and Justice

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The problem of parental partiality and justice concerns the conflict between parents’ natural desire to put their own children’s interests first and the principles of egalitarian justice which express equal concern with the well-being of all. The underlying dilemma between partial concern and impartial treatment is a much discussed one in moral and political philosophy. Parental partiality raises that dilemma in an acute form given the very close attachment that parents have to their children and the substantial and ongoing social and economic inequalities present in contemporary societies. Investigating the meaning of egalitarian justice reveals that under any interpretation it imposes substantial obligations which many parents concerned with their own children’s interests will reject. Parental partiality, in turn, can be theorized as a social convention or personal project, but is most plausibly seen as realizing a special kind of value or form of flourishing, such as intimacy for example. Short of abolishing the family or abandoning the commitment to egalitarian justice, any reconciliation of this conflict will have to speak to both sets of values. One option is to circumscribe the domain of parental partiality by arguing that parents only have rights to realize a particular kind of valuable relationship with their children; another is to build in to our conception of parental partiality moral constraints of which egalitarian justice might be one. As long as we live in an unequal world where parents have strong attachments to their children, this debate looks set to continue.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationRoutledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy Online
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2017

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