Advanced Search

Why are parents said to have the right to teach their children whatever they

Why are parents said to have the right to teach their children whatever they want? What are the underlying philosophical justifications and explanations for this right?

I don't know of any society where parents can teach their children whatever they want without regard to laws and social norms. With respect to laws, for example, a parent could not teach a child that it was okay to act out sexually in a way that the law would regard as involving incestuous sexual abuse. And, similarly, with respect to social norms I think that most people would say that parents have no right to teach their children a virulent racism that promoted the children to treat schoolmates horribly.

Both of the examples I gave involved teaching extreme thought that led to unacceptable action, and these cases show that exist significant limitations to parents' rights to teach their children as they see fit. Are there cases where there are limits on what parents could teach their children to believe even when the children do not act on those beliefs? The incest case, I think, shows that there are strong social and perhaps legal limits on teaching "mere" thoughts -- the incest taboo is so strong that if others were to find out that parents were teaching their children that incest were okay would face social and perhaps legal sanction even if no incestuous behavior occurred.

So, the taboo case shows that even the most pluralistic and free societies place limits on what parents can teach their children. Of course, many societies reject pluralism or support limited freedoms (or both) and in those societies parents face many more limitations.

All that said, does there exist a philosophical theory according to which parents have a right to teach their children whatever they want? If so, perhaps the existence of the various limitations I've described should be understood as lamentable cases where existing societies fail to support rights to which parents are entitled. There are, of course, robust philosophical defenses of pluralism and autonomy that would support granting broad latitude to parents to teach their children unpopular or unpleasant things, and some societies embrace pluralism strongly enough that parents do in fact enjoy that sort of latitude (consider, for example, the way that the home schooling movement in the United States supports this). However, those philosophical theories and justifications are of course disputable and disputed and I think that even those who defend them would admit limitations of the sort I describe in the first paragraph, above.

Do the members of a married couple with children have a moral obligation, not

Do the members of a married couple with children have a moral obligation, not (just) to each other, but to their children, to not cheat on each other?

I'm guessing what the questioner is wondering is roughly this-- "Considering the way that infidelity tends to increase the probability of divorce and considering the known ill effects of divorce on children, do couples have a duty not just to each other, but also to their children, to be faithful?" My answer to that question is: yes.

Then there's the question whether people should be faithful even if they've redefined marriage so that infidelity is truly a non-issue (if such people exist). And there's also the question whether we have a duty to children not to redefine marriage that way. No, and no, to those two questions. But if the question is about people in ordinary marriages, I'll go for the idea that infidelity puts children in jeopardy, so the obligation to refrain is partly to one's children.

Do we have a right to procreate?

Do we have a right to procreate? Life can be a pretty difficult journey. What right do we have to decide that another person should go through it? Even if in good faith we wish our children health and happiness, we know that some suffering is inevitably part of life. If for example I know that my child will inherit with 99% probability a very painful disease: can I be held responsible for his/her suffering? What if the probability is 50%? what about 1%? What about the 100% certainty of death: aren't I responsible for the effects that I know will surely result from my actions? Life can also be quite unpredictable, who knows what will be of our world in 80 years. Isn't having a kid placing a bet (hopefully benevolent) on someone's else life? Does it even make sense to say that I do something for the well being of someone who doesn't exist yet? Isn't having a kid a very selfish thing, something we do out of our present desires (or fears) which will cause the suffering of another human being? I hope...

There is a Jewish joke that suggests that it would be better never to have been born rather than to live and then die, but who is so lucky? Many issues are raised here, but for most people it might be hoped that there are more pleasant than unpleasant aspects of life, and so playing a role in bringing them to that life is not such a grim choice as is suggested here. The fact that some suffering will occur does not mean that there will be so much that life itself becomes unbearable. Unless one has any special reason to think that one's child will be subject to special problems of this kind, procreation is not necessarily going to be as grim as you suggest. In fact, if you are going to concentrate on suffering you might want to look not so much at the child as at the parents!

What is wrong with watching child pornography? Let's be clear that child abuse

What is wrong with watching child pornography? Let's be clear that child abuse is wrong, and anything that makes more of it likely in the future is also wrong. Even if we agree that watching child pornography which encourages further harm to children is wrong, it seems less clear where the wrong is in doing so when there is no chance of causing harm. There are many pictures of adults and children who have been harmed to an extent at least on a par with the victims of such child abuse from the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and we do not normally think that viewing those images is wrong or makes us complicit. The most obvious candidate is the motive of sexual gratification on the part of the viewer. What makes that different from the motives of readers of bombs in the Middle-East? Is it the fact that the viewer must have a deviant sexual orientation or because they are benefiting from the harm in a way that the reader isn't? The first reason seems off the mark since it seems that the act of...

Let me ask a view questions.

Is it clear that viewing child pornography is always wrong? Consider a detective who is viewing it in an attempt to establish the identities of the participants.

Is it clear that any photograph of children being sexually exploited by adults is ipso facto wrong? Consider a reporter who takes pictures of some politician in bed with a pre-pubescent boy.

What is distinctive of the case in which we would intuitively regard the viewing as wrong? What attitude towards the participants does such viewing involve? In particular, what attitude towards the children does it involve? Does viewing child pornography as a way of achieving sexual gratification seem compatible with a compassionate attitude towards children and a proper respect for their interests and their autonomy? Does it seem compatible with a proper appreciation of their suffering? The wrong might lie less in the viewing than it what one's viewing such things as a means of sexual gratification says about the person doing the viewing.

That said, these are questions about morals, and some of the questions raised strike me more as questions about law. And it's a different question whether possession of child pornography should have the sorts of legal consequences it does. Here, it seems to me that the legal justification has to be that possession of such material involves supporting the market for such material and thereby contributing to the exploitation of children. But one could agree with that and yet wonder whether some of the laws concerning child pornography are not overly broad. Not many years ago, a woman was arrested in Cambridge Massachusetts when she went to pick up some photographs that showed her husband playing with their naked toddler on the beach. The person who developed the photographs had notified the Cambridge Police Department and called them when she arrived.

What is the basis of a person's right to have children?

What is the basis of a person's right to have children?

I think it is also interesting to consider arguments suggesting that procreation should not be viewed as a fundamental human good that individuals should be able to enjoy when they choose to become parents and find themselves in a position to live up to the responsibilities of parenthood.

Consider the thought that our uncreated potential descendants deserve our moral consideration. The act of being brought into existence surely is one of great ethical significance, and yet it is an ethically significant act that we "force" upon our children. Could this act of coercion itself be immoral? If so, procreation might be immoral.

Or consider this ecological argument: Might the many potential generations of future humans have a moral claim on us not to despoil the earth to such an extent that their lives are severely compromised? Suppose, further, that there exists a maximum population size that beyond which it becomes ecologically and technologically impossible for humans to meet that obligation. If our current population is close to or above that limit, it may be ethically required for many of the humans currently alive not to procreate until attrition causes the human population to decline to a "sustainable" level.

What should we make of the Dickson verdict? UK prisoner Kirk Dickson and his

What should we make of the Dickson verdict? UK prisoner Kirk Dickson and his wife Lorraine made various appeals to achieve their right to found a family. Dickson is in prison for murder and by the time he is released his wife will be too old to bear children. The couple campaigned for Dickson's right to donate sperm to be used via IVF. Their appeal was granted based upon the idea that if Dickson was not allowed to do this, it would be a violation of his basic right to found a family. I think that lots of questions can be raised from this: Do criminals sacrifice their right to found a family when committing a crime? If not, should their right be acknowledged through the use of IVF - what about alternative methods that cost less money? The biggest question for me is based upon the fact that six more prisoners have petitioned for their right to become fathers. But what happens when prisoners petition for their right to become mothers? This adds a whole new element to the debate but the state cannot deny...

I'm with you. But for me, the concern is not so much men vs. women and their respective rights, but the nature of punishment and who really ought to become a parent. The crucial problem with this case is that the murderer in question is currently incarcerated. There are certain rights which prisoners maintain, despite their crimes. The right to medical care. The right to worship. The right to have access to legal counsel. The right to live in a place that is safe while incarcerated. Putting someone in a dank hole to rot isn't justice, no matter the crime committed.One of the many social purposes of incarceration is punishment.

Punishment ought to hurt, but not too much (see note on dark hole above). No doubt it is painful for prisoners not to be able to do things that free people otherwise enjoy. But this strikes us as the fair price paid for committing crimes. I think the human right to have a family is on shaky grounds, much more shaky than the right for prisoners to have health, spiritual, and legal care. One reason for this is our tradition of human rights long predates the required biotechnology. Locke and Hobbes just weren't worried about smuggling sperm out of jail. A better reason why we shouldn't think of prisoners as having a human right to have a family while incarcerated is the potential life at stake: the future child. Society should come to the point of admitting that ethically, not everyone ought to become a parent. Who would I ban from parenting? It would be a great list to debate. But people currently incarcerated sounds like a good place to start.It would be taking things too far to say that convicted murderers should never become parents. If someone earns parole, turns his life around, and becomes a model citizen then I think - as far as the law is concerned - a convicted murderer might have the same chance that anyone else has to parent. Of course, would I say the same thing if the person in question was a convicted child molester-murder? Probably not, but my concern again would be ethics and not the reach of the law.

There's no moral obligation on us to bring into existence lives that are good;

There's no moral obligation on us to bring into existence lives that are good; on the other hand, if we know a life will be bad, perhaps we are under an obligation not to create it. So, perhaps, not knowing whether the lives we introduce will be good or bad, but knowing there's a significant risk they'll be bad, are we morally obliged not to risk introducing such bad lives?

If you haven't been reading David Benatar's book Better Never To Have Been: The Harm of Coming into Existence, then you might want to read it, because his argument is very much like yours.

Perhaps we ought to say that there actually is some obligation to bring into existence lives that are good. This only seems counterintuitive if you make the mistake of thinking this obligation trumps all other considerations, when people are deciding whether to have children. If that were so, we'd all be under an obligation to run around making the maximum number of babies--which seems absurd. But there are lots and lots of other considerations. Perhaps having children will interfere with the enormous good I'm doing as a concert violinist. Perhaps having children in an overpopulated world has both good and bad effects. Still, we should acknowledge some obligation to bring into existence lives that are good.

Thus, there is an obligation to create lives that are good to put in the balance with the obligation not to create lives that are bad. So the latter obligation is not all that matters when people are deciding whether to have kids. We have to think through the real risks involved in having a child, case by case, taking into account both the possible good and possible bad. We are not always morally obliged not to have a child.

Given the presence of a large (and increasing) number of orphans and a human

Given the presence of a large (and increasing) number of orphans and a human populace that is driven (evolutionarily or otherwise) to rear children is it more ethical to adopt orphans instead of giving birth and raising one's own? Indeed, given that only a certain number of people are 'fit' to raise children, is there a categorical imperative (for the ethically aware) to explore adoption before giving birth to one's own children?

I really like this question because I have often wondered the same thing! What follows is merely an answer-in-progress.

There are several related concerns touching this question. One is to consider resources at the macro level. According to Prof. Singer's book One World, the average American burns more than 5 tons of carbon a year while the average Japanese burns about 1.6 tons. The average Indian burns .3 tons a year. Assuming that burning carbon hurts our atmosphere, the planet, and thus all living creatures, the last thing the world needs is more Americans - be they adopted or biological children! Therefore, American movie stars who adopt African children are not doing the planet any favors, given the resources those Americanized children will likely consume as they grow up. But this resources analysis seems rather heartless, no? I think it is heartless because it prioritizes something abstract - important, but abstract - over the needs of particularly helpless children.

Another, related controversy is the reproductive technology versus adoption debate. A couple might spend thousands of dollars using technology for the woman to become impregnated with an embryo that will be the biological child of its parents. Meanwhile, there are thousands of children languishing in orphanages and foster homes, waiting to be adopted. Therefore, reproductive technology should be banned because the parents who use it are satisfying vain preferences at the expense of other children's welfare. But this analysis also seem off, no? It seems off because it unfairly puts the burden on infertile couples to save the world.

Finally, we get to the heart of the matter: is sexual reproduction wrong, for anyone in anyplace, as long as there are children in need of homes? I guess I don't want to go that far for a very practical reason: the urge to have biological children is terribly strong for many. If the evolutionary biologists are to be believed (a big ‘if,’ mind you) the urge to have children is something that morality can’t drum out of us, even if we wanted it to. However, I offer you some social conditions that would greatly ameliorate things by both making adoption a more popular option and reducing the number of displaced children:

· Eliminate adoption stigma

· Eliminate the pro-natalist messages that are so harmful to so many

· Make adoption affordable

· Give everyone of reproductive age sexual education and access to affordable and reliable birth control

· Give parents or soon-to-be parents social and material support

Why not compromise on the creationism vs. evolution argument and simply require

Why not compromise on the creationism vs. evolution argument and simply require that high schools offer an elective class in theology? This way the students still get the more pragmatic information of evolution but at the same time parents are given the option of introducing their children to the opposing ideas if they feel it is appropriate. Along this same line of thought, why not compromise in the argument of safe sex versus abstinence and simply offer both? Allow parents to select which class their child should be enrolled in, but require it to be one or the other? Children are individuals too. Some would benefit more from a conservative class while others would gain from a liberal class. Personally, I’m an eighteen-year-old virgin saving himself for marriage. I was raised on an abstinence program and it worked for me. A peer of mine was raised on the same system and is now at his doctor being tested for hepatitis C. By generalizing all children aren’t we guaranteeing that we’ll fail at least...

I think the two compromises you propose bring up very different issues. Letting parents choose between two types of sex education classes is problematic. Although you have personally chosen abstinence--which is entirely fine, of course--studies show that abstinence education generally (on average) changes the age of first intercourse minimally or not at all. If regular sex education generally does a better job of preventing unwanted pregnancies and STDs, the school would essentially be offering a choice between better sex education and worse sex education. I don't think offering that choice fits within the mission of health education--which is to use the best methods available to steer children and young adults toward better health.

The other compromise seems more sensible. Religion plays such a major role in world affairs, it is odd that a person can graduate from high school knowing next to nothing about it (as I did). It seem reasonable to at least offer comparative religion as an elective. However, if the idea is to offer such a class as an antidote to the teaching of evolution in science classes, that's another matter.

There are conservative Christian organizations that are all too eager to get into schools and manage the curriculum of religion classes. They are eager to push religion education toward a focus on their own literal, exclusivist, evanglical version of Christianity. There would be many other "agendas" that would inevitably shape the teaching of religion in the public schools. Conservative religious leaders would want to stop teachers from approaching religious scriptures as historical texts, for example. In the end, I don't think students would be likely to get a factual introduction to comparative religion as opposed to an air-brushed introduction to each religion as its leaders want it to be seen.

Still, maybe a distorted introduction to comparative religion is better than none at all. For many students, high school is the final stage of education. The important thing would be for curriculum designers to see knowledge and mutual understanding as their goal, not "correcting" the lessons taught in science classes. A true "comparative religion" class would not violate the first amendment to the constitution, but a class molded by Christian evangelicals most certainly would.

Do your parents have the right to impose their worldview on you, simply because

Do your parents have the right to impose their worldview on you, simply because they paid for your upbringing and education? What if their worldview and values offend you deeply - do you owe them anything more than you would to anyone else who had offended you, simply because they may have sacrificed financially for you, when you were a child and had no identity that could clash with theirs?

It depends what is meant by "impose". Parents are entitled to provide what they think is appropriate guidance for their children, and of course if these views are regarded as dangerous or deplorable by the state then there will be some official way of intervening despite the wishes of the parents, and that is appropriate. Children may come to feel that their parents' views are not ones they wish to assume, and I dare say that they owe their parents a duty of respect, so they should take seriously the option of adopting those views, but they are not bound to do so. Surely no-one has the right to impose views on us; in most religions even God invites us to share his worldview, he does not oblige us to agree with him.