What Do Grown Children Owe Their Parents?

  • Jane English
Part of the Contemporary Issues in Biomedicine, Ethics, and Society book series (CIBES)


What do grown children owe their parents? I will contend that the answer is “nothing.” Although I agree that there are many things that childrenoughtto do for their parents, I will argue that it is inappropriate and misleading to describe them as things “owed.” I will maintain that parents’ voluntary sacrifices, rather than creating “debts” to be “repaid,” tend to create love or “friendship.” The duties of grown children are those of friends, and result from love between them and their parents, rather than being things owed in repayment for the parents’ earlier sacrifices. Thus, I will oppose those philosophers who use the word “owe” whenever a duty or obligation exists. Although the “debt” metaphor is appropriate in some moral circumstances, my argument is that a love relationship is not such a case.


Life Goal Love Relationship Filial Obligation Grown Child Piano Playing 
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  1. 1.
    Cf T. E. Hill, Jr. (1973) Servility and self-respect.Monist 57,87–104.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1992

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jane English

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