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Do philosophers raise their children differently? Is talking back to a teacher

Do philosophers raise their children differently? Is talking back to a teacher always a good thing so long as the child has good arguments?

Second question first: Of course not! If 'talking back' means picking arguments with a teacher, that's not very productive -- or very philosophically minded. That said, I think many philosophers would agree that too much of formal education emphasizes the memorization or assimilation of 'established' knowledge as the expense of the sort of curiosity and questioning found in philosophy. There's a worldwide movement to promote philosophy education for children. Here are some good resources on that front:

As to your first question: I don't have any empirical data to support this -- to my knowledge, how philosophers raise their children has never been studied. All the same , I would not at all be surprised to learn that many of the traits that one needs to be successful in philosophy -- a sense of puzzlement, attention to reasoning, comfort with uncertainty, respect for those with whom one disagrees -- are passed on by philosophers to their children. I can say in my own case that my family's dinner table conversation is very much enlivened by philosophical inquiry in which my children are active participants.

Is it ethical to have biological children when there are children who could

Is it ethical to have biological children when there are children who could benefit from fostering or adoption? Isn't creating further needs wrong, when existing needs could be fulfilled? I'm unsure about the moral status of having children reproductively when fostering is possible. There are some reasons for this concern, which are as follows: In the developed world, each person tends to cause globally disproportionate amounts of pollution and environmental harm. The world bank's statistics on per-capita GHG output by country support this. Creating a new person means that there is a new set of needs which must be fulfilled, often at the expense of the globally worst-off, who will be hurt by the effects of procuring the necessary resources to meet those needs. Secondly, it seems as if we have moral reason to meet existing needs before it is permissible to create more needs through reproduction. There are plenty of children without homes, and adopting or fostering them both reduces environmental...

I think you're onto a profoundly important question, and I share your concern that the issue is not commonly one encounters in public discourses. I think the issue of having children is, as you say, bound up with concerns about prioritizing existing needs and also about the environmental consequences of additional pollution, consumption, habitat loss, etc. I think the issue, however, concerns both the more developed and the less developed world. The impacts from reproduction in each are different, but those impacts in both are substantial. Currently the levels of consumption in the less developed world are low, but we can't demand that populations remain impoverished. Moreover, populations in the less developed world are despite low individual levels of consumption nevertheless collectively exerting enormous pressures on non-human populations through their effects on water, habitat, and pollution. It is clearly, then, not morally unproblematic to reproduce under current circumstances for any of us. There, are, however, countervailing imperatives and mitigating qualifications that argue in favor, at least in a moderated way, for reproduction. Countervailing imperatives include the imperative to sustain cultures, families, and institutions that would cease to exist without a replenishing rate of reproduction--both in the poorer and wealthier parts of the globe. In addition, individuals find important moral and personal excellences as well as extraordinarily deep pleasures in bearing and raising children that would be lost with a moratorium, even for a short period. The window of reproduction for individuals is extremely small in relation to the time it will take to solve the grand problems we're considering. Think of these as our duties to ourselves. Qualifying or mitigating considerations include that halting reproduction in the developed world is not by itself either necessary nor sufficient to address the needs of those who require more resources both in the developed and less developed regions of the globe. Many of the problem we face are related to problem rather than to the finitude of resources. My own view is that it is in most circumstances wrong to reproduce at more than the rate of replacement, and that the world generally should move towards measures to reduce reproduction to less than the replacement rate. I'd guess that human populations should be reduced by at least a half over time, perhaps by two thirds. You may have seen the recent recommendation of biologist E. O. Wilson that we set aside at least half of the Earth for non-human species. That seems a reasonable goal to me. We must also aim for a population that can not only exist in poverty but instead flourish without the use of fossil fuels and perhaps also without the use of nuclear power.

What insight can babies in scientific experiments provide philosophy? If we

What insight can babies in scientific experiments provide philosophy? If we really are born with blank slates, how does that explain why many babies will choose to look and gesture at the side by side photo of the model instead of the photo of the grandma? I really think philosophy will answer this alone instead of neuroscience.

I don't have a clear fix on the question, but insofar as I do, I don't see how philosophy alone could answer it. You seem to be saying that there's a real-world, repeatable phenomenon: babies in certain situations behave this way rather than that. That may be true—is true, far as I know. But if it's true, there's nothing a priori about it; the opposite behavior is perfectly conceivable and might have been true for all we could have said in advance. I don't see how philosophical analysis could tell us why things turned out one way rather than another. At least as I and many of my colleagues understand philosophy, it doesn't have any special access to contingent facts. A philosopher might come up with a hypothesis, but insofar as the hypothesis is about an empirical matter, it will call for the usual sort of empirical investigation that empirical claims call for.

As for blank slates, philosophy can't tell us by itself whether we're born with blank slates as minds, but as a matter of fact, there seems to be reason to think we aren't. The mind seems to come pre-wired in certain ways. Understanding what that amounts to calls for doing some science, whether it be cognitive science or neuroscience or whatever. Philosophers may have contributions to make to clarifying relevant notions and questions, sorting out methodological issues and the like, but what they can't do is sit in their studies and settle the answers by themselves.

Is bearing a child really a right? The state does not know much about its own

Is bearing a child really a right? The state does not know much about its own citizens other than date of birth and tax information so bringing unwanted children into the world is unfair to the child and the rest of society that must deal with all of the associated problems. Irresponsible parents or single mothers cannot guarantee the welfare or even the survival of their wanted children so why not prevent problems by passing a law allowing the state to licence and decide what type of people are allowed to have children according to certain criteria just like a driver's license? Those denied a license can always reapply at a later date once they've proved they are responsible enough. Right to privacy ends once the child leaves the womb since it is then a separate human and legal entity.

Your questions touches on a number of issues within the emerging philosophical field of procreative ethics, the field addressing questions concerning the ethics of reproduction and parenting.

I concur with the spirit of your last sentence: It is interesting that landmark legal rulings in the United States establishing legal rights to use birth control and the right to abortion both appealed to the right to privacy. But if there is a right to procreate, it is probably not best modelled on a right to privacy.

Your comments about licensing parents echo a well-known argument given by Hugh LaFollette in a 1980 article ( Here's my reconstruction of LaFollette's argument:

1. Incompetent parenting is harmful to children.
2. Societies are justified in restricting access to activities that are potentially harmful to others if those restrictions significantly reduce the likelihood of harm from those activities. (Compare, for example, driving cars or practicing medicine: We license these activities precisely because of their potential for harm.)
3. Licensing would-be parents would significantly reduce the likelihood of harm from incompetent parenting.
Therefore,societies are justified in licensing prospective parents.

LaFollette notes that most societies have very stringent requirements for adopting a child, so if one thinks those requirements are justified (that we should 'license' those who choose to parent children who are already born), it would seem no less justified to require licenses of parents who create their own child.

I won't weigh in with my own appraisal of this argument, leaving it, as they say, as an exercise to the reader. One of the admirable things about LaFollette's article is that it engages with many objections. I'll conclude simply by noting that, in my estimation, the most serious worries concern whether the licensing scheme would violate other rights of prospective parents.

If it is not immoral to love one's own children more and put them above all

If it is not immoral to love one's own children more and put them above all other children, then why can't that concept be extended to one's own race? Biological polygenesis and philosophy of history makes it clear that colonialism and destruction of indigenous cultures and peoples is not always immoral and human perceptions of skin color will never go away.

Let's start with your second sentence: "Biological polygenesis and philosophy of history make it clear that colonialism and destruction of indigenous cultures is not always immoral." A few obvious points.

First, biological polygenesis (distinct origins for different races) is not widely accepted among scientists. In fact, far as I know, the evidence points in the opposite direction.

Second, even if polygenesis happens to be true, that wouldn't show that colonialism and destruction of indigenous cultures and peoples was okay. Compare: suppose that sometime in the future, humans travel outside the solar system and find intelligent creatures on other planets. Those beings certainly have different origins than we have. But from that it doesn't follow that we would be justified in colonizing them, let alone destroying their culture or killing them. After all, if intelligent aliens make it to earth, that wouldn't make it right for them to colonize us or kill us.

And finally, "philosophy of history" doesn't show what you claim without a very specific, detailed argument about particular cases. No doubt such arguments have been offered. Whether they are any good is another question.

But let's go back to the question you begin with. Let's agree that it's not immoral to love your own children more than other children. That doesn't allow you to ignore the welfare of other children. It doesn't justify you in doing things that actually harm other children. And it certainly doesn't give the law any reason to favor your children, or mine, over anyone else's.

Our emotional attachments are a complicated business. It's true: most (though not all) of my friends are white, like me. But that's a very different thing from my having some sort of general preference for the Caucasian "race" as such. If I subscribed to all sorts of peculiar beliefs about people of other races, I might end up with that attitude. But there's no reason to think the beliefs would stand up to scrutiny. In any case, it would be one thing if, as a matter of psychological fact, we tended to prefer people of our own race to people of other races. But if I think it would be wrong for me to treat my white neighbor in certain ways, then I ought to think it would be equally wrong if my neighbor wasn't white.

Maybe humans will always pay attention to skin color. What they make of it is another matter. My daughter and her friends are much more "color-blind" than people were when I was her age. This strikes me as a very good thing, which brings us to the point we'll end on. In spite of what you seem to suggest, it's hard to make the case that racial preference has done the world any good and easy to make the case that it's done a lot of harm. Extending concepts like love of one's children or love of one's friends to love of one's racial group is skating on micro-thin moral ice.

As a parent of young children, I have recently come to know that lots of people

As a parent of young children, I have recently come to know that lots of people find it acceptable to lie ("not telling the absolute truth") to children about all kinds of subjects. It is not only that they don't tell them there is no Santa Claus, they actually tell them that Santa Claus exists when children believe it's only a story, and they tell them that it is Santa Claus who gives them presents in Christmas. People tell 5 year old children that "if Mom and Dad really want it, a baby will appear inside Mom's belly". I once heard a Kindergarten "teacher" (can't find the right English word) telling a 3 year old that the broken tail of a plastic cow would grow again. I wonder if all this lying is acceptable? Perhaps there are some empirical, non philosophical issues here (how do children react to coming to know the truth about these things, and to coming to know that adults lied to them?; will this predispose children to lie when they grow?), but even if there are no bad distant consequences to this kind...

This is a great question, and it's one I think that parents -- and philosophers -- should think more about. I personally have grappled with it many times as a parent. It hit home for me when I was trying to figure out how to deal with my son's nightmares. The standard advice that turned up on web searches was to buy some kind of air freshening spray and tell your child that it was 'Bad Dream Spray' -- that we could spray it each night before bed and it would keep the nightmares away. In other words, the standard advice involved outright lying to kids. And this bugged me. And then I started thinking about all the other ways that we standardly lie to kids -- some of which you detail in your question. In general we think that lying is wrong. So why do we treat lying to kids differently, especially as we're simultaneously trying to teach them the value of honesty?

One account for why we might think it's OK to lie to children comes from philosopher Sissela Bok, who notes that the special needs of children help explain why we think differently about lying to them in comparison with others: "They, more than all others, need care, support, protection. To shield them, not only from brutal speech and frightening news, but from apprehension and pain -- to soften and embellish and disguise -- is as natural as to shelter them from harsh weather. Because they are more vulnerable and more impressionable than adults, they cannot always cope with what they hear. Their efforts, however rudimentary, need encouragement and concern, rather than 'objective' evaluation. Unvarnished facts, thoughtlessly or maliciously conveyed, can hurt them, even warp them, render them callous in self-defense."

But while I think there is some plausibility in this line of argument, much of parental lying would not fall under this category. Many parental lies are merely whimsical or expedient -- they don't seem to be designed to help or encourage children in any meaningful way.

Hugo Grotius, a 17th century Dutch jurist, offered a different explanation for we're perfectly justified in lying to children; in his view, "it is permissible to say what is false before infants and insane persons." When we lie to competent adults, we infringe on what Grotius calls their "liberty of judgment," but since young children lack this liberty, we do nothing wrong if we lie to them. To generalize this point, one might think that lying to children can be justified because we think they have no right to the truth.

Personally I feel squeamish when I encounter this line of reasoning. But there might be an argument in the vicinity that can help us make sense of this issue. Contemporary philosopher David Simpson argues that lying is immoral because "it draws on and abuses the core of interaction and community" -- "When I lie to you I do not just treat you as an object to be deceived, regarding you as an obstacle or a means to an end. When I lie to you I engage, at the core of the lie, the mutuality of our personhood. I do not just dismiss you as a person; I appeal to you as a person, and then use that against you." It might be plausible to think that children, especially very young children, are not yet fully persons in some sense; they have not yet exercised the full potential of their rationality. Even when we're being entirely honest with them, parental conversations with children can never be the mutual engagements of personhood that take place in conversations between adults. Thus, we can't violate this mutuality by lying to them. Without going so far as Grotius -- without saying that children have no right to the truth -- it seems plausible to think that the fact that children have not yet fully developed their rational natures means that we have different obligations of truthfulness towards them.

This doesn't mean that parental lying should be dismissed as non-problematic. As philosopher Jeffrey Blustein has argued, our most important duty as parents is to provide children "with the kind of affectionate, appreciative, and supportive upbringing that gives them a sense of their own value and a confidence in their ability to fulfill their intentions." In certain circumstances, it might be that we can best fulfill this duty by lying -- and the fact that our children have not yet fully grown into themselves as persons might excuse us when we do so. But once we stop to think about it, it's easy to see that those circumstances are far, far fewer than we'd like to admit.

(By the way, pardon the plug, but if you're interested in reading more on this, I've developed these points in more detail in "Creative Mothering: Lies and the Lying Mothers Who Tell Them," in Motherhood: The Birth of Wisdom, edited by Sheila Lintott.)

People who want to adopt children typically must demonstrate that they would be

People who want to adopt children typically must demonstrate that they would be good parents (they must be financially stable, reasonably healthy, law-abiding, and so on). This is often a very difficult process, as prospective parents are placed under intense scrutiny; and many couples who would likely make fine parents are denied. What reason is there to regulate adoption in this way that would not apply to parenthood in general? I think most of us agree that it is a good thing that not just anyone can adopt. But why should having one's own biological children by any different? I am normally repulsed by the claim that only certain people should be allowed to breed. However, I don't see what would justify applying such demanding standards to adoptive parents but not biological ones.

There are a number of reasons for the asymmetry for the difference in the way biological and adoptive parents are treated. The first is privacy. The second is liberty. The decision to reproduce and the process of reproduction are among the most personal, intimate, and emotionally profound in human life, and they involve one's own body. For the state or institutions to intrude into that process would entail compromising the most private dimensions of our lives and bodies and interferring with people's liberty in substantial ways, and people find that intolerable, especially given the epistemic problems in determining who is and is not fit to parent. The question of whether people are fit to parent can be handled once children are born. Scrutinizing prospective parents through adoption requires no iintrusion into the private matter of biological reproduction or positive comprimising of the liberty of people. Of course, the state and the community do have an interest in new members of the community being well raised, but many of those concerns can b addressed through providng sufficient schools, parks, social workers, jobs, security, health care, etcs. That is the interests of the community seem adequately served through alternatives to violations of privacy and liberty. There are, of course, difficult cases: prisoners, those with criminal histories and histories of profound mental illness or other health concerns. There is also the issue of enforcement. Consider a woman who is not licensed to reproduce but becomes pregnant anyway. What is to be done with her? A forced abortion? Liberty and privacy concerns rebuke that idea. Fines? That may end up harming the child by depriving its parent of resources needed to raise it well. Seizing the child and transferring it to another couple for adoption? Besides the liberty and privacy issues, most would, I think, find that punishment disporportionately punitive.

Is it fair to label childhood religious indoctrination as abuse ? at the moment

Is it fair to label childhood religious indoctrination as abuse ? at the moment in any given society it's seen as the norm , I often wonder will future generations look back in astonishment at this practice .

I agree with my co-panelist that it's hard to peg this as abuse. But I'd like to focus on a somewhat different issue: the word "indoctrination" is being used to mean an illegitimate way of inculcating beliefs. That's fine, and isn't my issue. But the notion of "religious indoctrination" is left unexamined. And so I want to know what counts.

In particular, suppose someone brings their children up in a religious tradition: introduces them to the texts and doctrines, participates in the rituals, makes clear that s/he is an adherent, and so on. If indoctrination counts as something bad, is this automatically a case of indoctrination? Surely it depends on the details. Suppose that the religious tradition has admirable moral precepts. Suppose it encourages thoughtful reflection. Suppose it doesn't threaten non-adherents with hellfire and brimstone. There really are such traditions; I know many people who belong to them. The tradition may well include metaphysical claims that you think are just wrong. But is that the criterion for indoctrination? If so, it's hard for me to see how it warrants the label "child abuse."

And for that matter, why pick on religion? How about ethical views? When my children were young, I certainly hoped that they would come to share at least the more dearly-held of my ethical views. Near as I can tell, they largely did. Was that indoctrination? Was it child abuse? If it might be, where do the lines lie?

We influence our children in lots of ways. It's not unlikely that if my children had been brought up in a different sort of household, they'd think differently than I do about some things I care about. Some of these things are eminently debatable; some reasonable people would say that the views my children learned from me are wrong. But without a lot more analysis, the word "indoctrination" doesn't get us very far, and without a great deal more analysis, the accusation of "abuse" is even less helpful.

There's another problem with invoking the notion of abuse here. If we label a child-rearing practice abusive, this suggests that we ought to do something about it$mdash;perhaps that the State itself should step in. I don't know about you, but I'm not confident that the State would draw the lines wisely.

So to sum up: maybe some cases of bringing a child up in a tradition count as indoctrination, but it's not plausible that all do. And maybe some of those cases count as abuse. But we'd need to think hard about what we mean when we invoke that word. And even if we decide there's a sense in which some cases of religious upbringing count as abuse, we need to think really hard if we want to take that as a license for any sort of intervention.

Do people have something like a right to have children? What would be the basis

Do people have something like a right to have children? What would be the basis or justification for such a right?

It might be argued that people who want to have children and cannot then fail to live the lives they choose for themselves, and since other things being equal children are generally taken to be a good thing, their efforts should be supported. After all, we are naturally designed to have children, as members of a species that reproduces, but not everyone can have children at all, or not without complicated procedures. Whether this should count as a right is an interesting question.

It is a bit like the right not to have children, where otherwise one would. It is often argued that if having a child is not something welcomed by someone who is pregnant then they have the right to discontinue the pregnancy by removing the fetus.

There are two interesting aspects of rights language here. If someone has a right to something, then someone else, like the state, has the duty to support them in exercising that right. The other pertinent remark is that rights language has tended to replace the idea that one should just put up with the way things are, whether an unwanted child is on the way or if one cannot get pregnant.

What's the source of the authority that parents commonly have over their

What's the source of the authority that parents commonly have over their children? For example, sayings like "My house, my rules" suggest that children and parents have a kind of agreement: in exchange for the food and shelter which their parents provide, children agree to follow orders. However, I'd guess that most people wouldn't really want to endorse this kind of justification. What then?

But normally we do regard ourselves as liable to respect the rules of whoever is offering us hospitality. This is not absolute of course, and children might see themselves as in a different position. They did not after all ask to be born, although after being born it is no doubt convenient for them to have somewhere to live and someone to provide for their food and general supplies. Once they have reached an age where they can make their own decisions about where they are to live we can ask them to accord with the policies of the care provider, or else.

Not that such a request is likely in most cases to be met by anything other than contempt, but it is always worth trying, I suppose.