Advertisement

Philosophical Studies

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

Parental partiality and the intergenerational transmission of advantage

  • Thomas DouglasEmail author
Article

Abstract

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.

Keywords

Parental partiality Special relationships Fairness Advantage Brighouse and Swift 

Notes

Acknowledgments

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Swift, for helpful discussions of his and Harry Brighouse's work on parental partiality; Simon Keller, for sharing an unpublished manuscript; and the Uehiro Foundation on Ethics and Education, for their financial support.

References

  1. Belzil, C., & Hansen, J. (2003). ‘Structural estimates of the intergenerational education correlation. Journal of Applied Econometrics, 18, 679–696.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Black, S. E., & Devereux, P. J. (2011). Recent developments in intergenerational mobility. In O. C. Ashenfelter & D. Card (Eds.), Handbook of labor economics (Vol. 4, pp. 1487–1541). Amsterdam: Elsevier.Google Scholar
  3. Brighouse, H., & Swift, A. (2006). Parents’ rights and the value of the family. Ethics, 117, 80–108.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Brighouse, H., & Swift, A. (2008). Social justice and the family. In B. Craig, T. Burchardt, & D. Gordon (Eds.), Social justice and public policy (pp. 139–156). Bristol: The Policy Press.Google Scholar
  5. Brighouse, H., & Swift, A. (2009). Legitimate parental partiality. Philosophy and Public Affairs, 37, 43–80.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Brighouse, H., & Swift, A. (2011). Legitimate partiality, parents and patriots. In A. Gosseries & Y. Vanderborght (Eds.), Arguing about justice: Essays for Philippe Van Parijs (pp. 115–123). Louvain-la-Neuve: Presses universitaires de Louvain.Google Scholar
  7. Bus, A. G., van IJzendoorn, M. H., & Pellegrini, A. D. (1995). Joint book reading makes for success in learning to read: A meta-analysis on intergenerational transmission of literacy. Review of Educational Research, 65, 1–21.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Chevalier, A. (2004). Parental education and child’s education: A natural experiment. Discussion Paper No. 1153. Bonn: Institute for the Study of Labor.Google Scholar
  9. Cottingham, J. (1986). Partiality, favouritism and morality. Philosophical Quarterly, 36, 357–373.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Dearden, L., Machin, S., & Reed, H. (1997). Intergenerational mobility in Britain. The Economic Journal, 107, 47–66.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Goodin, R. (1988). What is so special about our fellow countrymen? Ethics, 98, 663–686.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Hale, L., Berger, L. M., LeBourgeois, M. K., & Brooks-Gunn, J. (2011). A longitudinal study of preschoolers’ language-based bedtime routines, sleep duration, and well-being. Journal of Family Psychology, 25, 423–433.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Haveman, R., & Wolfe, B. (1995). The determinants of children’s attainments: A review of methods and findings. Journal of Economic Literature, 33, 1829–1878.Google Scholar
  14. Hertz, T., Jayasundera, T., Piraino, P., Selcuk, S., Smith, N., & Verashchagina, A. (2008). The inheritance of educational inequality: International comparisons and fifty-year trends. The B. E. Journal of Economic Analysis and Policy, 7 (article 10).Google Scholar
  15. Hurka, T. (1997). The justification of national partiality. In R. McKim & J. McMahan (Eds.), The morality of nationalism (pp. 139–157). New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  16. Jeske, D. (1998). Families, friends, and special obligations. Canadian Journal of Philosophy, 28(4), 527–555.Google Scholar
  17. Keller, S. (2013). Partiality. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Kolodny, N. (2002). Do associative duties matter? Journal of Political Philosophy, 10, 250–266.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Kolodny, N. (2010). Which relationships justify partiality? The case of parents and children. Philosophy and Public Affairs, 38, 37–75.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. McMahan, J. (1997). The limits of national partiality. In R. McKim & J. McMahan (Eds.), The morality of nationalism (pp. 107–138). New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  21. Miller, D. (2005). Reasonable partiality towards compatriots. Ethical Theory and Moral Practice, 8, 63–81.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Pettit, P., & Goodin, R. (1986). The possibility of special duties. Canadian Journal of Philosophy, 16, 651–676.Google Scholar
  23. Raz, J. (1989). Liberating duties. Law and Philosophy, 8, 3–21.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Sacerdote, B. (2007). How large are the effects from changes in family environment? A study of Korean American adoptees. The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 122, 119–157.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Scheffler, S. (1997). Relationships and responsibilities. Philosophy and Public Affairs, 26, 189–209.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Scheffler, S. (2001). Boundaries and allegiances: Problems of justice and responsibility in liberal thought. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  27. Segall, S. (2011). If you’re a luck egalitarian, how come you read bedtime stories to your children? Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy, 14(1), 23–40.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Solon, G. (1999). Intergenerational mobility in the labor market. In O. C. Ashenfelter & D. Card (Eds.), Handbook of labor economics (Vol. 3, pp. 1761–1800). Amsterdam: Elsevier.Google Scholar
  29. Stroud, S. (2010). Permissible partiality, projects, and plural agency. In B. Feltham & J. Cottingham (Eds.), Partiality and impartiality: morality, special relationships, and the wider world. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  30. Williams, B. (1982). Persons, character and morality. In B. Williams (Ed.), Moral luck (pp. 1–19). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar

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

Personalised recommendations