, Volume 16, Issue 4, pp 395-420,
Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

Filial Obligations: A Contextual, Pluralist Model


In this article I investigate the nature and extent of filial obligations. The question what (adult) children owe their parents is not only philosophically interesting, but also of increasing relevance in ageing societies. Its answer matters to elderly people and their adult children, and is relevant to social policy issues in various ways. I present the strongest arguments for and against three models of filial obligations: the ‘past parental sacrifices’ model, the ‘special relationship’ model, and the conventionalist model. There is something to be said—and after consideration of objections something remains to be said—for all three models. In other words: filial obligations have more than one source, and an adequate model of filial obligations should reflect this. On its own, each of the above models is one-sided. They also fail to show the connections between the question of filial obligations and various other issues, such as issues of gender justice, the extent of institutionalization of eldercare, and social conventions regarding filial responsibility. Therefore, I integrate what I think we should keep from the aforementioned models into a contextual, pluralist model, which places filial obligations in a broader social and cultural context and relates them to issues of social justice. The model also highlights the difference between general and specific filial obligations, and the factors that determine their nature and extent, thus enabling a deeper and more comprehensive understanding of filial obligations.