Many people believe that parents enjoy extensive moral options with respect to how they raise their children. For instance, they believe that parents are morally permitted to give their children a religious or non-religious upbringing as they choose: they are permitted to enrol their children into particular religious practices and to encourage them to believe in and develop a motivation to follow the teachings and rituals of that religion.
The main liberal response to this widespread view has been to argue that parents' moral options are constrained by children’s rights to what Joel Feinberg calls ‘an open future’. According to this view, children have a moral right to an upbringing that will equip them with the wherewithal to reflect on various conceptions of religion and what makes for a good life so that as adults they are in a position to adopt, revise and pursue the conception they find attractive. Nevertheless, on this view parents may still enrol their children into a religious practice provided that arrangements are in place to ensure that their children’s minds are not closed.
A more radical view, which I have sketched (2006, 2014) and am now currently elaborating and defending at greater length, which will appear in a book entitled Independence for Children, is that parents are not morally permitted to enrol their children into particular religious practices. I believe that parents and other educators are duty-bound to provide children with an upbringing that gives them the ability and motivation to honour their duties of justice to others and equips them with the skills to make their own informed decisions about which religion or conception of the good is worth pursuing. However, I also believe that parents are not morally permitted to encourage their children to adopt a particular view of religion, or make their children practise one as a child, even if the encouragement and enrolment are consistent with their children developing a sense of justice and the capacity to make informed choices for themselves later in life.
My main argument for independence for children involves extending to children’s upbringing Rawls’s ideal of a society that is acceptable to everyone consistently with regarding themselves as free and equal (Rawls 1993). Rawls believes that political principles must not be justified on the basis of controversial ideas about religion or what counts as a successful life, because to do so would inevitably involve citizens being required to live under institutions that they do not fully endorse. Endorsement of the rules that constrain us, and their justification, is part of what it means for us as citizens to govern ourselves. Therefore, many Rawlsians insist that, when acting in our capacity as lawmakers or citizens, we should not appeal to truths or beliefs about religion that inform how we live our non-political lives. Instead, we ought to proceed on the basis of ideals and reasons we can share with others in virtue of our status and interests as free and equal citizens.
I believe that a similar argument applies to the relationship between parents and children. Children suffer a violation of their self-government if, in their infancy, their parents make them participate in religious activities that they (the children) retrospectively reject when, as adults, they look back at what their parents did to them. For example, suppose your parents made you attend Church and encouraged you to adopt Christian beliefs as children. Suppose, in addition, that as an adult you believe that religion is superstitious nonsense. In that scenario, part of your life is shaped by others’ religious ideals that, on the basis of your considered reflection, you believe to be thoroughly mistaken. That is a violation of your independence. A parent ought, instead, to raise her children according to ideals that her children can share or endorse regardless of the conception of the good to which they devote their lives. So, she should not seek to perfect her children’s lives; she should respect their claim to live independent lives.
Independence for children represents a conception of parental morality, a conception of how parents ought to treat their children—what they are morally permitted or required to do to, for or with their children. But it also represents a perspective for thinking about the legal rights and duties of parents and schooling more generally. In a related project funded by the Spencer Foundation, Andy Mason, Adam Swift and I are writing a book in which we separately identify the implications of our different conceptions of parental and political morality for issues concerning whether faith schools should exist and be funded by the state. My distinctive contribution is a chapter entitled ‘Against Religious Schools’, which argues for the phased abolition of schools that promote controversial religious or irreligious views. However, together, we also try to identify the right policy for the regulating existing faith schools in England given that they are here to stay for the foreseeable future.
My views about political morality and the moral status of children have also led me to work with David Stevens on a series of papers addressing how the school curriculum should be arranged and whether teachers ought to be permitted or required to encourage students to adopt particular beliefs about morality, politics, religion, sexuality, and natural history. We are sceptical of education policies that prioritise the study of world religions over, say, philosophical conceptions of what a good life involves, but we defend the view that directing students towards the right view of justice should have a more prominent place in the school curriculum than it currently has.
Alongside my writing about children and education, with Andrew Williams I am writing a book that examines the moral, political and legal philosophy of Ronald Dworkin. Dworkin is often lauded as one of the most important legal philosophers of the Twentieth Century. His political philosophy has not received as much critical attention. One reason to write the book is to encourage students and researchers to take his political philosophy seriously, because in my view, apart from Rawls, no one has got closer to identifying the truth about political morality than Dworkin.
Matthew Clayton is Professor of Political Theory at the University Of Warwick
In my research I consider several related questions relating to children’s place in contemporary liberal theory. The motivation for my work is that lots of theorists think about childhood in the wrong way. Too often, philosophers begin by thinking through what a just society composed of only adults would look like. When they’ve come to an answer they’re happy with, they then apply their thinking to what they see as the side issue of children. I believe that children and childhood are more morally significant than this, and that an adequate account of justice for children forces a more significant reconceptualization of theories of justice.
I have explored these questions since my PhD research at the University of York which I completed in 2010, and since coming to Bristol five years ago have been working on a book on the subject that will be published in March of 2020 titled Liberalism, Childhood and Justice. The book builds on and develops arguments I have already published in a series of academic articles published in The Canadian Journal of Philosophy, Politics, Philosophy and Economics and The Journal of Applied Philosophy. In the book I consider how childhood affects foundational questions of distributive justice, whether a state charged with protecting children’s interests can or must be neutral with respect to contested ethical questions and the rights and responsibilities of parents.
On foundational questions, I take up the question of the right metric of justice. This debate follows Amartya Sen’s question, ‘equality of what?’. Those committed to broadly egalitarian principles of justice need to consider the currency that is to be equalised across persons. Other distributive theories face a similar issue, for instance those who think justice is about giving people ‘enough’ must answer what currency people must have enough of. In the existing literature two dominant approaches have emerged. Resource based theories believe justice should be about distributing goods that are widely held to be useful things for pursuing various plans of life. By contrast, Welfarists believe that justice should more directly track a measure of how well a person’s life is going. I show that the resource answer is a good one for adults whose plans and preferences are known, but a poor one for children whose future character is (in part) an output of the very social institutions that principles of justice regulate. Knowing which children benefit most from a particular social scheme means assessing the effects of those institutions on their character and personality, as well as the resources the scheme distributes to different groups of children.
Much of my existing work has been on the issue of state neutrality and its implications for childrearing. Leading liberals like Rawls, Dworkin and Larmore believe that the state must be neutral on matters of the good. According to them the state cannot, for instance, fund opera houses or literature festivals because we believe that a life engaging with such culture is richer than one that does not. Nor may states criminalise things like drug use or prostitution because of the supposedly empty or unedifying nature of lifestyles containing such activities. Matthew Clayton, an important contemporary thinker on childhood, believes that parents must also be neutral in this way. He believes that parents cannot encourage their children to follow particular pursuits, or induct them into cultural or religious practices. I have argued against this neutral view, both when applied to the state and parents. I show that while it often seems attractive when the subject of justice is conceived as an adult, it is much less persuasive when applied to children. Children require guidance from others on how to live well. For this reason, I argue that children are owed an environment that contributes to their development, not only towards being good citizens but to living flourishing lives.
What constitutes human flourishing is obviously hard to define and highly contested. In my work, I’ve prioritised several elements of wellbeing. These are intimate long-lasting human relationships, the development of one’s talents and abilities and access to the natural world. There’s obviously much more to living a flourishing life than this, but I’ve tried to show how these elements provide guidance for what kind of education and upbringing children are owed. For instance, defenders of liberal neutrality tend to see education as mainly being about raising good citizens. The reason its permissible for the state to force parents to send their children to school (or provide equivalent education at home) because schooling is necessary to acting as a good citizen. I think that while this is true and important, it misses a great deal of why education is important. Teaching children to read literature, or play music or learn history are good things for the state to do because they contribute to the current and future ability of children to live well.
In the book, I apply this framework to two policy questions, whether parents have a right to purchase expensive education for their children and whether society should subsidise parenthood (through child support payments or free childcare). I suggest that the right way to evaluate both policies is whether they would create a society in which the worst-off citizens have an opportunity to live well. This contrasts with an alternative framework which assess the fairness of transfers against a supposedly fair market outcome. I suggest that institutions like private schools are usually unjust, at least supposing the state provides good schools, because they disrupt egalitarian relationships between members of society. I then argue that states should subsidise parenting, because doing so protects a relationship which is hugely valuable for many people and gives citizens the ability to combine becoming a parent with a wider range of jobs and lifestyles.
In my future work, I plan to continue research on childhood and flourishing and to broaden my focus to encompass issues relevant to the elderly population. On childhood, I’m looking at how different states have understood ‘good parenting’ and whether this is something states can effectively promote through training courses or other targeted interventions. My suspicion is that too often ‘good parenting’ is synonymous with various middle-class cultural practices, and that state interventions blame poorer parents for their children’s bad outcomes when the best explanation is economic and structural rather than because of poor parenting. Continuing my focus on personal relationships, I’m also working on a paper exploring how elderly citizens can be better integrated into society and have more flourishing relationships with others, particularly with children.
Tim Fowler is Lecturer in Political Theory at the Unicersity of Bristol
In my work, I explore the impact of family norms on the development and use of reproductive technologies. I am also interested in the normative challenges that technologies raise for the ways in which norms about reproduction and the family are conceptualised. For example, in several papers I discuss questions of access to reproductive technologies by older women (Cutas 2007, Cutas & Smajdor 2015, Cutas, Smajdor and Hens 2017). In two papers, I challenge the view that children ought to have no more (Cutas 2011) and no less (Cutas and Smajdor 2017) than two parents. In a forthcoming paper, I problematize legal initiatives to connect fatherhood status to genetic parentage when the fatherhood presumption is questioned (Cutas and Smajdor 2020).
Whether the relation between two or more individuals is called a ‘family’ depends on normative assumptions about the kinds of relationships that people should be in, and has implications on the way in which their claims are met, socially and institutionally. Whether one’s desire to become a parent deserves medical attention depends on normative assumptions about the kinds of environments in which children should be born: children should be conceived naturally and born to their parents who are young, heterosexual, and married to each other. This is not only the ideal relationship between parents, but also between adult romantic or sexual partners (Cutas 2016). One may ‘experiment’ in one’s youth with other forms of intimacy, but monogamous romantic relationships are what one should aim for in adulthood. Romance and sexual intimacy are at the core of our closest personal relationships: everything else is secondary and may be invisible in the eyes of the law (Cutas and Chan 2012). According to Article 16 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “the family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State”. This holds even when such protection may be detrimental to the members of the family (Cutas and Smajdor 2017). Against this background, normative choices are presented as conceptual definitions, and the outliers are left to make their case and gain legitimacy – and permission – from their standing point as other than the default: other than the fundamental group unit of society.
This framework is at the basis of much of the current status quo in the regulation of close personal relationships, human reproduction, and family life. While marriage and legal parenthood include predefined bundles of rights and duties, other kinds of relationships do not. Insofar as regulations have been changed to accommodate other family forms, this has been done in an incremental manner with the nuclear family still the default. For example, infertility tends to be defined as non-conception in the heterosexual couple. ‘Clinical infertility’, according to the World Health Organisation, is ‘a disease’ that manifests itself in a couple’s failure to produce a child after more than one year of unprotected sexual intercourse. This definition, and variations of it, are part and parcel of the regulation of fertility treatments, alongside other considerations such as marriage or long-term cohabitation between partners.
A single woman or a same-sex couple cannot produce children in this way. Unlike the clinical infertility of the heterosexual couple, the incapacity of these other individuals or couples is seen as circumstantial: its causes are social, not clinical. People could always pair up with individuals with whom they are reproductively compatible (i.e. heterosexual) and then if after a certain amount of time they have not produced a child, they may aspire to the diagnosis of clinical infertility. The single woman is not infertile just because she may, for example, lack fallopian tubes. When she has a male partner and a pathology that prevents reproduction is known, the waiting time may not be required: so they may be diagnosed, as a couple (though they may still have to have lived together and/or been married to each other for a certain amount of time in order to gain access to treatment). A woman who does not suffer from any pathology preventing her from reproducing may be eligible for treatment. She will be on the receiving end of much of the procedures, even if it is established that it is her male partner who suffers from a pathology, or when no pathology is found at all. Her incapacity to reproduce with her current partner is not seen as circumstantial and she has a legitimate medical need for treatment even if she could reproduce with someone else. Where this framework is in place, the single woman or the same-sex couple are not seen as having such a need, because they are not infertile, even if they may not be able to reproduce without medical assistance, whatever they did.
The aim of fertility treatments is not to restore a function: it is not to make the couple able to conceive and have a child via sexual intercourse. It is, instead, to bypass that capacity and provide the couple with a child. What is treated is the desire to have a child: if not for this desire, there would be no need for treatment. Yet it is not the intensity of the desire, or of the suffering of its frustration, that determine access to or priority for fertility treatments. The single woman or the same-sex couple may well be suffering more: at least the couple have each other; at least the heterosexual couple have a chance to reproduce together, or to qualify for adoption where same-sex couples are barred. Such are however not relevant considerations in legislatures where only heterosexual couples’ suffering deserves medical attention or financial support. Moreover, it tends to be taken for granted that this desire is not to have just any child. It is the desire for a child who is obtained from the reproductive material of both members of the couple; failing that, a child obtained with reproductive material from at least one member of the couple; and only failing that, a child who is not genetically related to the couple. Therefore, from the perspective of this definition, fertility treatments treat the suffering caused by the incapacity to fulfil the desire to become the parents of (preferably) a specific kind of child, and only of certain sufferers, depending on their relationship status and other non-medical considerations (Smajdor and Cutas 2015).
The more people’s lives have diverged from the ideal of the nuclear family, the more scrutiny they have faced. Although significant progress has been made, this model is still the norm. Separating its elements – or aiming to reorganise its parts – has led to significant conundrums: if a child’s social parent is not the same as her genetic parent, and both (or all) claim legal parenthood, whose claim should prevail? How – if at all – should genetic connections with people who are not members of one’s legally sanctioned family be recognised? Why can a mother and daughter not share legal parenthood of a child they are raising together? Socio-cultural changes as well as technological innovations – including, not least, the capacity to detect mismatches between genetic and social parenthood – rip at the seams of the nuclear family model. This makes more evident the need to reflect on the justification of norms in close personal relationships, reproduction and the family and, perhaps, to refine and revise them.
Daniela Cutas is Senior Lecturer in Practical Philosophy at Umeå University and the University of Gotheburg.
I pursued my PhD studies as part of the ERC-funded Family Justice research project at Pompeu Fabra University, where I wrote a dissertation on the ‘question of parental justice’ (coined as such by Olsaretti 2013; Bou-Habib and Olsaretti 2013). This is the question of what, if anything, a just society owes parents in virtue of having and raising children.
The thesis, titled ‘What Do We Owe Parents? Distributing the Costs of Children,’ investigates the grounds in virtue of which parents, qua parents, can raise claims of justice to having the costs of children socialized. I conclude that the case for parents is far from secured, for two main reasons. The first is that the most widely endorsed case for sharing the costs of children rests on an insufficiently explained and defended principle of fairness (or Fair Play). Secondly, the most promising avenue for grounding parents’ claims of justice is their claim to enjoying equal autonomy, which would be jeopardized if the state did not socialize some of the costs of children. Here, too, however, existing accounts of what grounds individuals’ autonomy-based complaints are unsatisfactory or, more often, incomplete.
In the thesis I dealt with the first major gap I identified in the parental justice literature by developing a new, systematic account of the Fair Play principle. I concluded that this account, which I call the Shared Preference View of Fair Play, does not support a fairness-based case for sharing the costs of children. The view does, however, have important positive implications beyond the parental justice debate. First, it provides a systematic defence of Fair Play as a principle of special obligation in the face of widespread skepticism about its plausibility, which is a significant theoretical contribution to the Fair Play literature itself. Second, the Fair Play principle I propose has the capacity to establish special obligations in a wide range of contexts. Most importantly, it provides a basis for political obligation.
I defend this new account of Fair Play, as well as its implications for the wider debate on political obligation, in a recently published paper in the Journal of Political Philosophy: ‘What Makes Free Riding Wrongful? The Shared Preference View of Fair Play.’
In a more recent research project, which is an outgrowth of my thesis, I take up the task of filling the second gap I identified in the literature on parental justice. The problem is that arguments which seek to establish autonomy-based claims of justice are typically incomplete in two ways. The first issue arises under the assumption that once someone has autonomously made certain life decisions, some burdens must be left for them to bear if we are to respect their capacity for autonomously shaping their own lives. But we seem to lack an independent account of which burdens associated with an autonomously made choice (here, the choice to become a parent) should count as autonomy-undermining, and which ones should count as autonomy-promoting. Hence the need for what I call ‘principles of autonomy stakes,’ which would enable us to make that distinction. The second form of incompleteness we face with autonomy-based arguments is that, even once we have such an account of autonomy stakes, in order to establish that certain individuals have an autonomy-based complaint against the state we need an account of what the state actually owes citizens by way of promoting their autonomy. For it is not necessarily the case that the state is committed to mitigating any and all deficits of autonomy for their citizens.
Another project I am working on lies at the intersection of procreation and immigration, in particular as the two can be seen as providing some (partial) answers to the problems posed by population ageing. My main aim is to investigate the ways in which states may permissibly manipulate procreation and immigration in order to intentionally affect the size and structure of the population.
Population ageing is a phenomenon affecting virtually every country in the world today, as the number of people retiring from work increases relative to the number of working-age persons. In developed countries, population ageing is caused by the combination of increased life expectancy and decreased fertility. This is expected to have various adverseeffects on the economy, according to the 2015 United Nations Report on World Population Ageing. One crucial worry stems from the fact that most countries fund pension schemes, health care benefits, and other welfare measures by taxing the working population. A diminishing workforce therefore raises the prospect of a fiscal crisis that calls for governmental action.
Two potential demographic strategies are available to states for mitigating some of the effects of population ageing. One is increasing fertility through pro-natalist policies. The other is boosting the working-age population through opening up the borders to certain immigrants (‘replacement migration’). Contemporary political philosophy has, for the most part, treated procreation and immigration in isolation. However, examining these two practices through the unifying lens of their demographic impact can provide new insights for evaluating either practice and for determining what states may permissibly do to tackle population ageing.
Isabella Trifan is a Social Justice Postdoctoral Fellow at the Social Justice Centre, Concordia University, Montréal.
Who is responsible for the creation of human beings? For a long period in human history that was a relatively easy question to answer, but with the advent of so-called ART (assisted reproductive technology) that is no longer the case. On the one hand, the biological linkage of motherhood splits between the genetic and gestational ties; on the other hand, in many legal systems sperm donors are discharged from the conventional duties attached to parenthood when procreation follows the “natural path”. The possibility of using mitochondrial replacement therapy for the avoidance of certain genetic diseases has added even more complexity to this scenario.
“Responsibility”, moreover, is an ambiguous term. As the legal philosopher Herbert Hart famously pointed out, we might refer to someone as being “responsible” as the person who “caused” something to happen; or an individual who acts in a certain role, or with a distinctive capacity or liability. As a political and legal philosopher working at the intersection of Law and Bioethics, I am interested in knowing whether, contrary to widespread beliefs, creating people itself might be considered as a harmful activity for which procreators could be liable. There is a large literature dealing with the “externalities” caused by bringing people to exist, but occasionally judges have faced the difficult challenge of deciding whether existing constitutes per se a harm for the individual who was created. You may be familiar with those “wrongful life” cases – instances of harsh genetic diseases that may only be prevented by abortion- and also with those deliberate decisions to give birth to children with certain impairments such as deafness that may not be deemed so severe as to make life something absolutely regrettable, although some philosophers such as David Benatar have claimed that all human creation is actually a case of wrongful life because the tragedies of life – including our unavoidable death- outweighs its many joys. All those cases meet with the philosophical problem of “non-identity” raised by the late Derek Parfit.
We also face cases in which some people are brought into existence in order to save existing siblings. In these “savior-sibling” cases, a prenatal genetic diagnosis along with HLA-typing is performed in order to select the “healthy and useful” embryo and give birth to an individual who might subsequently act as a donor in a stem-cells’ transfusion to the ill brother or sister. Are those savior-siblings being treated instrumentally? Is procreation itself being corrupted? These are legitimate concerns that merit careful consideration but on my view, given certain conditions, those objections may be surmounted.
However, my main focus is and has been on the liability/role aspects of responsibility when procreating, namely, who should bear the parental duties and rights, what is the scope of those obligations and whether the use of ART makes any difference. Drawing on work by Elizabeth Brake among others, I am critical of our current legal framework and the gender asymmetries it creates by attributing parental responsibilities to men merely in virtue of their “inseminating” role. In my view, such a framework lacks coherence when (1) on the one hand, it makes it possible for single women to access artificial insemination (AI); (2) it grants women access to abortion but (3) still assigns parenthood to every men as a result of the mere fact of being the natural inseminator, irrespective of the way in which such insemination took place.
I have argued on grounds of fairness in favour of the permissibility of what we could call “financial abortion” by men who act with care in order to avoid insemination and who are not willing to be fathers; I have also developed arguments defending private arrangements between men and women (be they single women or lesbian couples) for insemination beyond the clinical setting of artificial reproduction.
Pablo de Lora is Professor in Philosophy of Law ay Universidad Autonoma de Madrid
If humanity were to go extinct, how bad would that be? How should we prioritize research and resources across many different threats to the long-term future of our species? How can we make trade-offs between the number of people who are alive now and the number who will ever be born? These are the ethical questions that form the backbone of my research.
Existential risk research aims to promote the long-term interests of humanity by better understanding the threats to our future and how we might respond to them. It owes its existence in no small part to the field of Population Ethics since it was in the writings of people like Henry Sidgwick and Derek Parfit on this subject that people first began to engage with the mismatch between the limited efforts being taken to mitigate the risk of human extinction and the enormous ethical costs that such a catastrophe would bring.
My research into this area began via the same route and my own attempt to resolve some of the intractable problems currently facing certain views about population ethics. In particular, my PhD thesis explored the hypothesis that there may be multiple irreconcilably different values that governed what it would be best for us to do when it came to future generations. Some of these are reducible to a single conception of ‘utility’ or ‘well-being’ while others cannot be so reduced, although they may still form part of a broader conception of what we call ‘Quality of Life’. Human extinction, I argued, would be doubly tragic because it would not only involve the loss of all the potential future happiness that members of our species might go on to experience, but also these other, less tangible, goods that related to our growing achievements, our aesthetic sense and our ability to engage ethically with the universe around us.
I still believe that this is, if not the right answer then, at least a step in the right direction to understanding the tragedy of human extinction. However, since I started working more deeply in this field, as a Research Associate at the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk, I have come to question whether my role as a philosopher should be coming up with the right answers at all, or whether I can put my talents to better use helping others to understand the implications of their own ethical position. I have thus started to work a lot more at understanding as much as I can about the nature of the threats that we face and on connecting these to the wide variety of ethical perspectives that exist in the world.
In a recent paper, co-authered with Phil Torres, we examine a range of these perspectives, from virtue ethics, Kantian deontology, contractualism and consequentialism, and argue that there are at least five ways in which we might view human extinction as bad, and that all of these perspectives gave us reasons to be extremely sensitive to at least two of these; although no perspective seemed to care about all of them. These were:
1. Human extinction would likely involve a massive loss of life and also a loss of auonomy and hope to very many people. It would thus be amongst the greatest harms that we could conceivably cause for most people now living.
2. Human extinction would remove rational agency and human understanding form the world as we know it, and potentially from the entire universe. It would be the frustration of every, or at least almost every, purpose or intention people have ever had
3. Human extinction would be the end of our collective story as a species and a violation of the intergenerational social contract in which we gratefully receive the benefits and wisdom of those who have come before us and seek to pass on even more of these to those who will come after us
4. Human extinction will cause many potential future people, who could have experienced even more potential future happiness, never to exist
5. Human extinction will remove from the world all of the best things in life that we have special reasons to value and treasure, from science and art to romantic love and universal compassion.
Of course, different theories may still disagree about just how much worse human extinction might be to other things. However, even arguing that this is important can imply a bias towards ethical theories that care more about relative values (like consequentialism) rather than those that see value as absolute. As we point out in the paper, Kant would almost certainly have felt we had a perfect duty to prevent human extinction if we could, and whilst that may only place it on the same level as our duty not to murder it still places it remains a perfect duty, which seems like something we should care a great deal about.
This convergence can sometimes break down when one turns from the question of whether human extinction is bad to how we should go about avoiding it, however, even here the differences between ethical approaches often appear to be less in practice than they appear in theory. Partha Dasgupta and I have recently been putting together a symposium of papers about population ethics as a global challenge. We have submissions from all sorts of ethical traditions, including Utilitarianism, Human Rights theory, traditional Akkan philosophy from Ghana, Intergenerational Justice and Non-Ideal Theory. These different approaches diverge on many points, such as the relative importance of conformity in reproductive decision making and the distribution of the burdens and benefits of parenthood. However, all agree that global population is becoming an increasingly serious issue that is not only driving destructive environmental change but also holding back poor people and developing communities from increasing their standard of living. These authors also agree that this has now reached such a point where the ethical imperative to have fewer children is one that people can see and understand for themselves, so we need to discuss population just as much as a problem for personal ethics as for public policy.
Since realizing this, I have sought more and more to take my work outside of academia. In 2017 I took part in the BBC's New Generation Thinkers scheme and was able to put together a radio documentary on population ethics that was broadcast last month. I also helped to found, and am now an advisor to, the All Party Parliamentary Group for Future Generations, which seeks to represent the interests of future people in the UK parliament.
I believe that both in terms of population ethics and existential risk, the world is reaching a tipping point. It appears that as many as 18% of everyone who ever lived might be alive right now. That is both a very scary statistic, but also a sign of how much potential we have to change our future. We need to start seeing population ethics as less about criticising others for their reproductive choices and more about helping our species navigate the many risks we face and achieve our true potential.
Simon Beard is a postdoctoral researcher at the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk at University of Cambdridge.
If parents have special duties to equip their children for a flourishing adulthood, does this require them to act on climate change? If the ‘global affluent’ has a shared duty to organise for climate change mitigation and adaptation, what does this require of parents in terms of training the next generation? Do parents owe their children a ‘climate conscious’ upbringing anyway, as part of enabling them to live and thrive as a moral agent. If having children is itself bad for the environment, what should parents do about that?
These are the questions addressed in my current research on climate change and parental duties. Such normative dilemmas fit well with both my longstanding interest in collective responsibility and individual climate duties, as elaborated in my book, Climate Change and the Moral Agent: Individual Duties in an Interdependent World, and my more recent work at the intersect of population, global justice and climate justice. They also fall within a curious gap in the literature. Given the plethora of literature on both climate change and moral duties, on the one hand, and on the other what parents owe to their own children, it is puzzling that almost nothing has been said on the pressing normative question of what duties fall on parents in the context of climate change, and comparatively little on what they owe, in general, in the face of failures of global justice. My arguments, accordingly, are focused on climate change but have implications more generally: for what means to be a good parent in our decidedly imperfect world.
Many of us in this generation have shared (or what I have called ‘weakly collective’) duties to coordinate to act on climate change. This is now a familiar moral claim. Ultimately owed to the victims of climate change, such duties of climate justice are defended either negatively, on the basis of contribution to harm, or positively, on the basis of capacity to aid. This itself is an important starting point for this project. However, parents also have a special shared duty to coordinate for effective action on climate change: a duty held over and above any such more general duties. Or so I contend in my paper: ‘Do Parents have a Special Duty to Mitigate Climate Change?’ The shared duty here is of a peculiar kind, being derived from special duties held by each duty-bearer to other specific individuals. Cooperation is ultimately owed by each parent to her own child or, in the case of one of my arguments, to her further descendants.
The claim is that parents are required to protect their children’s fundamental interests from climate change, whether we assume a causal account of parental duties (acquired because a parent causes her child to exist in a state of vulnerability) or an intentionalist one (on which parents implicitly commit to care for their children and prepare them for adulthood). The interests in question include not only those central capacities directly at risk from climate change, such as health, but also the important indirect interests that today’s children have in not seeing their immediate descendants condemned to great suffering, and in reconciling their own central interests and relationships with the perspective of the moral agent. On one line of argument, conditional on an expanded causal derivation of parental duties, parents owe it directly to their more distant descendants to coordinate to act on climate change.
The rest of this project defends and elaborates individual duties, whether as derivative of or as independent of such shared duties. Undoubtedly, getting the next generation ‘on board’ will be a crucial part of any effective collective response to climate change. But do individual parents have a duty to bring up their children informed of the moral challenges around climate change, and motivated to respond to them. If they do, why?
Such individual action might be defended as a necessary part of effectively promoting progress at the collective level (whether as parents or as those sharing positive or negative responsibility for climate harm). It might also be defended as as in some other way following from the need to respond to collective injustice, for example, on the basis of fairness among duty bearers. Such arguments are widely discussed (by myself and others) in the context of individual emissions-cutting duties, and part of this project will be to consider their application in this context. However, I have also argued that parents owe it directly to their own children to educate and motivate them regarding climate change. This is the claim defended in my paper ‘Justice, Integrity and Moral Community: Do Parents Owe It to Their Children to Bring Them Up as Good Global Climate Citizens?’. The argument is two-part. The duty to educate one’s children about climate change follows from the duty to develop their moral capacity. However, both this and the more controversial duty to motivate good global climate citizenship can also be defended by appeal to a combination of factors: on the one hand, the unique parent-child relationship; on the other, the fact that parents have climate justice duties of their own.
Finally, the project turns to the negative environmental implications of having a child: the single highest emissions-causing decision most of us will make. A lively normative debate rages on whether this means parents should have only a small family, or even no biological children at all. My work in progress contributes to this debate, rejecting, for example, an individual duty to have no children. However, this is not its primary aim. Rather, I defend the general-level insight that potential parents must take morally seriously the negative environmental ramifications of procreation. Or, to put it another way, we do have at least some responsibility for the expected carbon footprint of any children we freely choose to have. This then grounds a unique negative defence both of a parental duty to bring up ‘good global climate citizens’ and of a duty much more generally defended: to promote and contribute to the mitigation of climate change.
Elizabeth Cripps is Senior Lecturer in Political Theory at the University of Edinburgh.
I am a quantitative sociologist with an interest in family and social inequality. Several of my research projects have addressed informal caregiving. One example of this research is an analysis of spouses’ division of eldercare in Britain. An interesting aspect of this topic is the intersection of gendered roles in the couple with filial obligations towards their respective parents. My analyses showed that more couples reported caring for the wife’s parents than for the husband’s parents. The most common arrangement was that the child-in-law was not involved in caregiving, but in 40 to 50 percent of couples children-in-law supported their spouses and both spouses provided care for the parent(-in-law). This was much more common in married couples than in unmarried couples. Even if spouses were involved, the child still tended to provide more hours or husbands and wives provided similar hours of care.
Couples’ parent care was predominantly structured along kin relationships but it also showed gendered patterns. A higher proportion of wives helped their husbands and they provided on average more hours of care for his parents than husbands did. Husbands were more likely to support their wives if these worked full time whereas wives provided care for their parents-in-law irrespective of their husbands’ employment situation. Therefore, women’s increasing involvement in the labour market should lead to an increase of care provided by sons-in-law but one can also expect that it will reduce the hours of eldercare provided by daughters-in-law.
My current project addresses a different kind of caregiving, namely fathers’ childcare involvement. After decades of strong increases in fathers’ childcare times, the UK Time-Use surveys from 2000 and 2015 show that this increase has come to a halt. I am only examining fathers who lived with a partner and at least one child aged 14 or younger. These fathers spent about the same time doing childcare in both years – on average about one hour on weekdays and 100 minutes on weekend days. It is important to point out that these figures comprise all times when fathers reported childcare as primary or secondary activity. There is no clear agreement among researchers about how secondary activities should be treated in time-use analyses. I argue that including secondary activities is particularly important in analyses of childcare since childcare is often part of multitasking. Ignoring reports of childcare as secondary activity would lead to considerably underreporting childcare activities and the resulting constraints on parents.
Past findings about increasing disparities between high and low-status fathers’ involvement have raised concerns about the consequences for children. These disparities arguably form part of a more general pattern of divergence between the living conditions of children born into high-status groups and low-status groups (Putnam 2015). As father involvement enhances children’s development, unequal levels of father involvement are seen as contributing to the disadvantages of children from low-status groups.
My analyses reveal a further divergence of father involvement in the new millennium between fathers from different status groups. On weekend days, the difference in childcare time between high- and low-status fathers increased from nearly half an hour in the year 2000 to 52 minutes in 2015. This difference results from two changes: a widening gap in the proportion of fathers who get involved in physical care and the opening of a gap in the minutes of interactive care among fathers who provided such care. In both cases, high-status fathers were more involved than low-status fathers.
Interactive care – reading, playing or talking to a child – is regarded as particularly important for children’s social and cognitive development. More time in interactive care by high-status fathers compared to other fathers fits into the broader narrative of widening disparities of children’s resources. Having said this, the finding is only weakly significant, so it warrants confirmation by further studies.
The increase in the proportion of fathers who get involved in physical care on weekend days can be interpreted in a different way. Father involvement in childcare is relevant for gender equality in the domestic sphere (Goldscheider et al. 2015). In this context, fathers’ involvement in physical care is important because it is regarded as more burdensome and less desirable than interactive care. The increasing participation of high-status fathers in physical care on weekend days could indicate a relief of mothers’ childcare duties in these couples. This would also be in line with established class differences in gender-role attitudes. Whether the change actually signifies a more equal distribution of childcare among high-status couples on weekend days depends on mothers’ hours of care. The next phase of the project will look more closely into this matter.
My analyses cannot explain why the trend of increasing father involvement has come to an end in the UK. The introduction of paternity leave in Britain in 2003 and several subsequent policy changes should have encouraged fathers’ involvement. Mothers’ increasing level of employment should also have led to increased levels of father involvement since mothers’ employment tends to draw fathers into caregiving. It is possible that the stagnation of father involvement in the new millennium is owed to labour-market pressures after the 2008 recession. Lower levels of job security might have reduced fathers’ willingness or scope for prioritizing involvement in childcare. Future research should examine whether changes in the labour market have put particular pressure on fathers, especially on those from lower status groups.
Goldscheider, F; Bernhardt, E & Lappegård, T (2015): The Gender Revolution: A Framework for Understanding Changing Family and Demographic Behavior, Population and Development Review41(2): 207-239.
Henz, U (2010): Parent Care as Unpaid Family Labor: How do Spouses Share?, Journal of Marriage and Family72(1): 148-164.
Henz, U (2009): Couples’ provision of informal care for parents and parents-in-law: far from sharing equally?,Ageing & Society29(3): 369-395.
Henz, U (2018): Recent Trends in Fathers’ Involvement with Their Children in the United Kingdom: Stagnation and Social Differences. Unpublished manuscript.
Putnam, RD (2015): Our Kids. The American Dream in Crisis. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Ursula Henz is an Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology at the London School of Economics (LSE)
My interest in demography, ethics and public policy started in my first doctoral year at the LSE under the late Brian Barry. Brian always nudged me to try and incorporate normative political theory considerations into positive political economy analysis. My first book, Divide and Pacify, attempted to make sense of the historically unprecedented government-promoted early and disability retirement booms in 1990s post-communist Europe. This was a demographically not-yet-aging region, where short-term political tactics set in motion pathways toward the strongly pro-elderly oriented welfare states we see today. With Clara Sabbagh, we subsequently studied the remarkably strong and internationally consistent perceptions of intergenerational injustice among young people, and of pensions injustice among adults.
Another book, Ageing Populations in Postindustrial Democracies, co-edited with Achim Goerres, in turn attempted to infuse a sense of empirical variation and political-institutional refinement as a counterbalance to increasingly shrill and alarmist assertions about ‘gerontocratic’ welfare states dominated by unholy baby boomer alliances of ‘greedy grey’ voters and ‘myopic’ or populist politicians. Achim and I are currently working on a book on Global Political Demography. Demography is not destiny: governance cultures matter more than pure population aging in explaining policy biases and grey power – or their absence. With Markus Tepe, we similarly tried to inject empirical and institutional qualifiers into sweeping claims about how population aging causes gerontocracy politics in pensions, pension cutback delays, and elderly-biased welfare states.
Recently I have been thinking about how to measure the intergenerational justice of public policies in rich democracies. At the invitation of the Bertelsmann Foundation I developed a four-dimensional snapshot indicator of intergenerational justice (IJI), including a new measure of elderly bias in social spending (EBiSS). And I discussed reform ideas, including the ‘parental proxy votes for children’ thought balloon launched earlier by demographer Paul Demeny, philosopher Philippe van Parijs and others. I was also part of the team that developed the first Active Aging Index for the Commission, in the context of the European Year for Active Ageing and Solidarity between Generations.
I have also been thinking about the need for a wider humanities education (foxes and hedgehogs; STEM and Shakespeare!) and the potential of early human capital investment policies to provide future foundations for an aging Europe. And with demographers Robert Gal and Lili Vargha we have asked what resources generations give each other. From different angles, the latter two papers both argue that notwithstanding decades of ‘social investment states’ rhetoric, we actually observe surprisingly little state investment in young people.
Looking at public policies alone offers an incomplete and biased picture of intergenerational transfers. It’s a proverbial case of looking for a lost car key only where the streetlight shines at night. The reason is a key asymmetry in modern societies. Working-age people pay taxes and social security contributions to institutionalize care for older persons as a generation. But they invest substantial private resources (money and time) to raise their ownchildren, often with large social returns. Once one also incorporates these family resources, counterintuitive and radically different conclusions follow. Children actually receive more than twice as many per-capita resources as older persons in Europe – but not from policies. We live in pro-elderly welfare states within child-oriented societies.
A key ethics and public policy question is therefore: why do states not take a greater role in helping families raise children? Economist Nancy Folbre, sociologist James Coleman, and political philosophers Anne Alstott and Serena Olsaretti, among others, have forcefully argued that children are also public goods. Their contributions will later benefit all of society, including non-parents. Since children are also ever scarcer in aging societies, we ask: why has child investment not been socialized much morethan we can observe in reality? Robert Gal and I plan to keep investigating these questions and their normative implications in the near future.
Pieter Vanhuysse is professor of comparative welfare state research at the University of Southern Denmark
My interest in questions of demography and justice started with my PhD dissertation, in which I developed a conceptualisation of gender injustice using the capability approach (defended at Cambridge University, 2002). Some of that research is theoretical, for example my account of gender justice (which was published in a book edited by Jude Brown); some of that research tried to build the bridge between theory and empirical evaluation, such as this paper in Feminist Economics.
Since my methodological commitments are with understanding real-world problems, research aiming to contribute at institutional design, and non-ideal theorising, the analysis of unjust gender inequalities inevitably brings one to think about issues of justice and care work, as well as justice between parents and nonparents. In the period 2006-2011, I directed a VIDI-project on ‘social justice, demographic change, and the new welfare state’. Anca Gheaus contributed several papers to this project (see her profile here), as did Anders Schinkel who wrote a fine paper on ‘Filial obligations’. I also (co-) authored several papers analysing which policies could advance justice in the area of gender, parenting and care work, including a paper co-authored with Anca Gheaus defending an egalitarian design of parental leave systems, as well as a paper arguing for compulsory citizens’ duty to care.
In recent years, my interests have shifted back to economic inequalities, but also expanded to ecological justice (those two questions, together with questions on agents of change as well as nonideal methods, will be part of my ERC CoG project Fair Limits that runs until 2022). I have two unpublished papers on procreative freedom in the context of climate change, and am trying to argue that, if one were to have individual emissions entitlement (a ‘carbon card’), procreation-related emissions should not be taken from that card (in other words, procreative parenting is ‘special’ and not morally equivalent with consumption-based forms of emissions.) Since I’m trying to do too many other things, progress on those papers is slow. Working on this question has also reaffirmed my conviction that not all questions of justice can be properly addressed with the resourcist framework, but that, in this case, the capability approach, in itself, doesn’t have the theoretical resources to make this argument. Yet as I’ve argued in a book on the capability approach that was published earlier this year, this should not be seen as a critique on the capability approach, but simply follows from its proper interdisciplinary, multi-purpose understanding.
Ingrid Robeyns is Professor of Ethics of Institutions at Utrecht University.