Philosophical Studies

, Volume 172, Issue 10, pp 2735–2756 | Cite as

Parental partiality and the intergenerational transmission of advantage

  • Thomas DouglasEmail author


Parents typically favour their own children over others’. For example, most parents invest more time and money in their own children than in other children. This parental partiality is usually regarded as morally permissible, or even obligatory, but it can have undesirable distributive effects. For example, it may create unfair or otherwise undesirable advantages for the favoured child. A number of authors have found it necessary to justify parental partiality in the face of these distributive concerns, and they have typically done so by appealing to features of the parent–child relationship. Parental partiality is said to be justified, despite its undesirable distributive effects, in part because the parent enjoys a special kind of relationship with her child. In this paper, I raise a problem for such relational defences of parental partiality. I report empirical findings suggesting that parental partiality will frequently create advantages—sometimes undesirable—not only for one’s children, but also for one’s more distant descendants; I argue that the creation of these latter advantages stands as much in need of justification as does the creation of advantages for one’s own children; and I claim that existing relational defences do not clearly contain the resources necessary to deliver such a justification. I then examine three possible responses to this problem.


Parental partiality Special relationships Fairness Advantage Brighouse and Swift 



I would like to thank an anonymous reviewer for Philosophical Studies, Harry Granqvist, Jacob Nebel, Saul Smilansky, and audiences in Bled (Slovenia) and Sheffield, for their comments on earlier versions of this paper; Adam Swift, for helpful discussions of his and Harry Brighouse's work on parental partiality; Simon Keller, for sharing an unpublished manuscript; and the Uehiro Foundation on Ethics and Education, for their financial support.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, Faculty of PhilosophyUniversity of OxfordOxfordUK
  2. 2.Brasenose CollegeUniversity of OxfordOxfordUK

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