Featured Profile: Isabella Trifan
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.