Philosophical Studies

, Volume 175, Issue 5, pp 1095–1112 | Cite as

Political liberalism and children

  • Christie J. HartleyEmail author


In this article, I highlight some core ideas that are important for understanding the parent-child relationship within the framework of political liberalism. I stress that, although some ideal or conception of the family is part of most, if not all, comprehensive doctrines, for political liberals, the state’s interest in the family is as a social-political institution in which certain needs of persons as free and equal citizens are met. I discuss the main needs and interests of children and parents in the parent-child relationship. I consider that many children are cared for by multiple people, and I discuss how the state should address the recognition of multiple legal parents. I discuss some contexts in which conflicts arise between the interests of children and caregivers and address how such conflicts should be resolved in the politically liberal state. Although Rawls failed to offer an acceptable account of the family as part of the basic structure and did not adequately address the role of caring relationships in a just society, I hope that this article helps to show how political liberals can offer a plausible account.


Political liberalism Parents Children Family Rawls Basic structure 



I thank fellow panelists Blain Neufeld and Gina Schouten as well as audience participants for helpful feedback and discussion. I also thank Lori Watson for helpful feedback.

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Georgia State UniversityAtlantaUSA

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