| posted on 5.8.2015 at 06:12 AM
Is having a loving family an unfair advantage?
Plato famously wanted to abolish the family and put children into care of the state. Some still think the traditional family has a lot to answer for,
but some plausible arguments remain in favour of it. Joe Gelonesi meets a philosopher with a rescue plan very much in tune with the times.
So many disputes in our liberal democratic society hinge on the tension between inequality and fairness: between groups, between sexes, between
individuals, and increasingly between families.
I don’t think parents reading their children bedtime stories should constantly have in their minds the way that they are unfairly
disadvantaging other people’s children, but I think they should have that thought occasionally.
The power of the family to tilt equality hasn’t gone unnoticed, and academics and public commentators have been blowing the whistle for some time.
Now, philosophers Adam Swift and Harry Brighouse have felt compelled to conduct a cool reassessment.
Swift in particular has been conflicted for some time over the curious situation that arises when a parent wants to do the best for her child but in
the process makes the playing field for others even more lopsided.
‘I got interested in this question because I was interested in equality of opportunity,’ he says.
‘I had done some work on social mobility and the evidence is overwhelmingly that the reason why children born to different families have very
different chances in life is because of what happens in those families.’
Once he got thinking, Swift could see that the issue stretches well beyond the fact that some families can afford private schooling, nannies, tutors,
and houses in good suburbs. Functional family interactions—from going to the cricket to reading bedtime stories—form a largely unseen but palpable
fault line between families. The consequence is a gap in social mobility and equality that can last for generations.
So, what to do?
According to Swift, from a purely instrumental position the answer is straightforward.
‘One way philosophers might think about solving the social justice problem would be by simply abolishing the family. If the family is this source of
unfairness in society then it looks plausible to think that if we abolished the family there would be a more level playing field.’
It’s not the first time a philosopher has thought about such a drastic solution. Two thousand four hundred years ago another sage reasoned that the
care of children should be undertaken by the state.
Plato pulled few punches in The Republic when he called for the abolition of the family and for the children of the elite to be given over to the
state. Aristotle didn’t agree, citing the since oft-used argument of the neglect of things held in common. Swift echoes the Aristotelian line. The
break-up of the family is plausible maybe, he thinks, but even to the most hard-hearted there’s something off-key about it.
‘Nearly everyone who has thought about this would conclude that it is a really bad idea to be raised by state institutions, unless something has gone
wrong,’ he says.
Intuitively it doesn’t feel right, but for a philosopher, solutions require more than an initial reaction. So Swift and his college Brighouse set to
work on a respectable analytical defence of the family, asking themselves the deceptively simple question: ‘Why are families a good thing exactly?’
Not surprisingly, it begins with kids and ends with parents.
‘It’s the children’s interest in family life that is the most important,’ says Swift. ‘From all we now know, it is in the child’s interest to be
parented, and to be parented well. Meanwhile, from the adult point of view it looks as if there is something very valuable in being a parent.’
He concedes parenting might not be for everyone and for some it can go badly wrong, but in general it is an irreplaceable relationship.
‘Parenting a child makes for what we call a distinctive and special contribution to the flourishing and wellbeing of adults.’
It seems that from both the child’s and adult’s point of view there is something to be said about living in a family way. This doesn’t exactly parry
the criticism that families exacerbate social inequality. For this, Swift and Brighouse needed to sort out those activities that contribute to
unnecessary inequality from those that don't.
| posted on 5.8.2015 at 12:25 PM
Plato either did not learn all that he needed to know from his African teachers, or he did not fully understand the principle behind: It takes a
village to raise a child. A (his?)misinterpretation of that principle would be that it denotes a contract between society and the child when in fact,
it is a contract between society and the parent who raises the child. File under: Git it right, boy! Git it right!
Liberal democratic.... or a Capitalist society where inequality is inbred? A Capitalist society in which competition, wherein the tension arises, is a
hallmark characteristic valued and promoted above all others?
To what purpose should they have that thought? For what reason?
How odd. Since the dawn of time, the question of the role of family has been central to all societies.
What does it profit a woman to save the world at the expense of her own child in the process? Should world salvation be the goal of every
I am so tempted to put up the emoticon, my fingers
We need more emoticons. One that can express my bemusement at whether or not the author is a product of Ding School school.....
Who are these cretins? Have any of them read a history book? Or even looked at the murauding monsters of Europe whose elite ROYALTY/ARISTOCRASY
parents did not raise them, rather gave their care and upbringing over to paid non-relatives?
So their intention was to disregard the lessons history has to teach us, not to mention the many disciples of (social) science, and re-invent the
Jesus, take the wheel.....
Well, that's 5 minutes of my day I can't get back.