Kantian Voices in the Family Values Debate

Ethics and Social Welfare 6 (2):143-156 (2012)
Abstract
One of the explanations frequently offered for current social problems is the breakdown of the family as an institution and the decline of values such as trust and responsibility that were until recently associated with it. While the philosophical position of many commentators in this area is rooted in a broadly utilitarian social philosophy, there is a case for an alternative?i.e. non-utilitarian?philosophical point of view. The essential requirement for such an alternative approach is that it accords a place to certain moral absolutes: promises, principles, obligations, and the rights accruing to others as a result of those obligations. Currently procreation, marriage, and family life are being subjected to unprecedented shifts in both meaning and practice, and this is a situation in which a Kantian approach, especially the Kantian dictum that persons should not be treated solely as means to other people's ends, can find new contemporary applications. An unqualified utilitarian spirit has led us into a world where parenthood and child-raising have been split from each other and where money changes hands for the elements of child-making and for the labour of gestation. The pressure for the new constructivist consensus is strong, but so is the case against a trivial or unnecessary extension of choice in procreation and against the increasing commercialisation of human conception. In these circumstances, Kantian ethics has a distinctive role to play in assessing the values at issue in today's ?new families? debate
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