"What do grown children owe their parents?" Over two decades ago philosopher Jane English asked this question and came up with the startling answer: nothing (English 1979). English joins many contemporary philosophers in rejecting the once-traditional view that grown children owe their parents some kind of fitting repayment for past services rendered. The problem with the traditional view, as argued by many, is, first, that parents have duties to provide fairly significant services to their growing children, and persons do not (...) owe repayment for others' mere performance of duty; second, even where parents go above and beyond duty in their loving and generous rearing of their children, the benefits are bestowed, at least on young children, without their voluntary acceptance and consent, and so, again, fail to generate any obligation of subsequent repayment on their part (see Blustein 1982: 182-3). Moreover, the entire idiom of obligation and repayment, in English's 1 words, "tends to obscure, or even to undermine, the love that is the correct ground of filial obligation" (352). English's alternative, however -- that children strictly "owe" their parents nothing except what flows naturally from whatever love and affection exist between them -- also strikes many as problematic. Christina Hoff Sommers offers examples of what seem to be clearly delinquent adult children, who simply don't "feel" like sharing their lives with their aging parents, or providing any emotional or financial support to them, and so don't (Sommers 1986: 440-41). Sommers points out that we need some talk of obligations in order to fill in the cracks in human relationships where love and affection fail: "The ideal relationship cannot be 'duty-free,' if only because sentimental ties may come unraveled, often leaving one of the parties at a material disadvantage'" (450-51). Sommers proposes as her alternative to English that legitimate duties arise out of special relationships defined by social roles: being a father or mother, a son or a daughter, "is socially as well as biologically prescriptive; it not only defines what one is; it also defines who one is and what one owes" (447).. (shrink)
I once attended a writing conference for aspiring authors of books for children, at which one speaker enraged the audience by making the pronouncement that, in his view, parents were disqualified to be authors of children's fiction. His reason: parents have to protect themselves from the reality of their children's pain and so wouldn't be able to write about childhood traumas with sufficient awareness and honesty. To this the audience, largely composed of mothers, shot back that parents are especially qualified (...) to write for children, for precisely the opposite reason: they live with children in a relationship of great intimacy and so know children in a way that non-parents 1 do not. But, assuming, as I am inclined to do (as myself a writer of books for children who is also a parent), that the parents are correct here, or at least correct in asserting that they have a distinctive avenue of access to children on which they can draw to enrich the writing of their books, what ethical problems, if any, arise? If children do indeed provide their author-parents with "material," is this material the parents are entitled to use? If the children grow up themselves to be authors some day, will they be able to draw on their own childhoods -- and their relationships with parents and siblings -- to craft their own novels, or memoirs? (Flannery O'Connor is quoted as saying that no author need ever be at a loss for subject matter to write about: "All you need is a childhood.") Can friends write about friends, while still remaining friends and being true to the expectations and obligations of friendship? In this essay I want to highlight -- and then partially seek to dissolve, or resolve -- the particular tensions that arise between the obligations of friendship (or family relationships) and the necessity for an author (of either fiction or memoirs) to draw on her own life -- that is to say, her own relationships with friends and family -- in her work.. (shrink)
The statistics at least seem alarming. The production of Ritalin, an amphetamine derivative used for the treatment of attention deficit disorder in children (and lately, in adults as well), has risen a whopping 700 percent since 1990. According to figures given by Lawrence Diller in Running on Ritalin, over the decade, the number of Americans using Ritalin has soared from 900,000 to almost 5 million -- the vast majority children from the ages of 5 to 12, though there is a (...) significant rise in Ritalin use among teens and adults as well. No comparable rise is reported in other countries, though a much smaller surge has taken place in Canada and Australia. In Virginia Beach, Virginia (perhaps the most egregious example), 17 percent of fifth-grade boys were taking Ritalin in 1996 to control behavior problems and improve school performance. (Boys on Ritalin 1 outnumber girls in a ratio of 3.5 to 1; when I was recently complaining to another mother about my own son's academic difficulties, she said simply, "Welcome to the world of boys.") Stimulants have been used to treat behavior problems in children since 1937; Ritalin itself appeared on the market in the 1960s to treat what was then called "hyperactivity" -- impulsive, disruptive behavior by children who just "couldn't sit still." In recent years, however, the root problem has been identified as "attention deficit disorder" (ADD), either with or without attendant hyperactivity. Symptoms of ADD, according to the standard survey used in its diagnosis, include: "often fails to give close attention to details or makes careless mistakes in schoolwork," "often has difficulty organizing tasks and activities," and "often avoids, dislikes, or is reluctant to engage in tasks that require mental effort (such as schoolwork or homework)." Symptoms of ADD-H (the variant with hyperactivity) include: "often fidgets with hands or feet or squirms in seat," and "often has difficulty playing or engaging in leisure activities quietly." Ritalin, by most accounts, is remarkably effective in getting such children to settle down and pay attention, with resultant (at least short term) gains in parental sanity and academic achievement. The fear, stated quite baldly, is that as a society we are 1 drugging our children in ever-larger numbers to get them to conform to adult expectations.. (shrink)
Recent years have seen the emergence of two interrelated trends in the arena of cultural politics. First, there has been a call for multiculturalism: for greater diversity in artistic and educational offerings, for a broadening of the spectrum of society's interest beyond the activities and experiences of dead or living white males. Thus, students demand courses in black, Hispanic, and women's studies; children's librarians clamor for more books about Native American and Asian youth; viewers of all races protest if their (...) stories are not told on television's nightly news and prime-time sitcoms. Second, there has been an insistence that those offering representations of previously unrepresented groups be themselves members of the group in question -- that courses in black studies be taught by black faculty, books about Native American youth be written by Native American writers, and reporters covering the Hispanic community be of Hispanic descent. It is this second and more controversial requirement that I wish to submit to examination here. (shrink)
This paper grows out of a story. A friend of mine got his girlfriend pregnant, in the usual way. He did not want to be a father, though he was willing to help pay for her abortion and to support her emotionally through the experience of abortion (his first choice); or (his second choice), he was willing to help pay her medical expenses for the birth and support her through the experience of giving birth and then relinquishing the child for (...) adoption. What he got, however, was his nonchoice, what he did not choose at all: she had the baby, kept the baby, and he became a father, with financial and emotional responsibilities to meet for the rest of his life. Throughout the decision-making ordeal, he became increasingly frustrated that his fate, his future, depended almost entirely on her choice. He had to wait to see what she would decide to find out whether or not he would have a lifelong identity that he wished to reject. If she chose abortion, he would have no obligations to this child, for there would be no child; if she chose adoption, he would have no obligations to this child, for such.. (shrink)
A children's book frequently takes as its subject the moral growth of its protagonist. The Little House books of Laura Ingalls Wilder trace Laura's growth in moral awareness and moral development from early childhood through her first employment, courtship by Almanzo, and marriage. Laura's moral maturation is rich and multi-layered, but at the heart of the Little House books, and shaping their progression as one multi-volumed novel, is the theme of obedience giving way to autonomy, literally moral self-rule.
First, two stories. A friend, after struggling with years of infertility, divorces her husband. Single now, and still grieving her childlessness, she begins to explore the option of single-parent adoption. She tells me that she thinks in the end she will probably decide against adoption, but, in her words, "At least I'll know that I'm childless by choice.".
Drawing on the theoretical constructs of Pierre Bourdieu, this article explores implications of the Australian My School website for schools located in disadvantaged communities. These implications flow from the legitimisation of certain cultural practices through the hidden linkages between scholastic aptitude and cultural heritage and the resulting reproduction of social and cultural inequalities. Seeing transformative potential rather than determinism in Bourdieu’s theoretical constructs, the article also suggests ways forward for improving the educational outcomes of students in disadvantaged communities. A transformation (...) of the ‘field’ is central to this. (shrink)
In this article, I consider recent debates on the notion of procreative liberty, to argue that reproductive freedom can be understood as a form of positive freedom—that is, the freedom to make oneself according to various ethical and aesthetic principles or values. To make this argument, I draw on Michel Foucault’s later work on ethics. Both adopting and adapting Foucault’s notion of ethics as a practice of the self and of liberty, I argue that reproductive autonomy requires enactment to gain (...) meaning within the life contexts of prospective parents. Thus, I propose a shift away from the standard negative model of freedom that sees it solely as a matter of noninterference or nonimpedance, a view advocated by major commentators such as John Harris and John Robertson. Instead, reproduction should be understood as a deeply personal project of self-making that integrates both negative and positive freedom. (shrink)
In this article I assess the ability of motivational accounts of paternalism to respond to a particular challenge: can its proponents adequately explain the source of the distinctive form of disrespect that animates this view? In particular I examine the recent argument put forward by Jonathan Quong that we can explain the presumptive wrong of paternalism by relying on a Rawlsian account of moral status. I challenge the plausibility of Quong's argument, claiming that although this approach can provide a clear (...) response to the explanatory challenge, it is only successful in doing so when it relies on the strength of its rival: the argument from personal autonomy. In doing so I illustrate that such responses are conceptually dependent on an account of respect for persons, and thus much of the relevant controversy is actually disagreement over how we respect other individuals. (shrink)
The “Occupy Wall Street!” movement has stimulated a long listing of other candidates for radical “occupation.” In this paper, I suggest the occupation of liberalism itself. I argue for a constructive engagement of radicals with liberalism in order to retrieve it for a radical egalitarian agenda. My premise is that the foundational values of liberalism have a radical potential that has not historically been realized, given the way the dominant varieties of liberalism have developed. Ten reasons standardly given as to (...) why such a retrieval cannot be carried out are examined and shown to be fallacious. (shrink)
Samantha Vice’s essay, ‘How Do I Live in This Strange Place?’, is a sensitive and subtle exploration of the difficult moral terrain of the issues of white responsibility and white moral self-reform in a South Africa that is formally post-apartheid, but still profoundly shaped by the legacy of white domination, both in its enduring socio-economic structures and in its citizens’ typical moral psychologies. Vice’s conclusion is that shame is the moral emotion most appropriate for whites unable to free themselves from (...) white privilege and live up to what she sees as the required standards of moral excellence. In response, I argue that she is in effect making the supererogatory obligatory, and constructing an unrealistic schedule of virtues. Drawing on various recent writings on non-ideal theory, I suggest that standard moral distinctions need to be relocated to take systemic social oppression into account, thereby yielding a more forgiving moral taxonomy than Vice’s own over-demanding mapping. (shrink)
Issues in reproductive ethics, such as the capacity of parents to ‘choose children’, present challenges to philosophical ideas of freedom, responsibility and harm. This book responds to these challenges by proposing a new framework for thinking about the ethics of reproduction that emphasizes the ways that social norms affect decisions about who is born. The book provides clear and thorough discussions of some of the dominant problems in reproductive ethics - human enhancement and the notion of the normal, reproductive liberty (...) and procreative beneficence, the principle of harm and discrimination against disability - while also proposing new ways of addressing these. The author draws upon the work of Michel Foucault, especially his discussions of biopolitics and norms, and later work on ethics, alongside feminist theorists of embodiment to argue for a new bioethics that is responsive to social norms, human vulnerability and the relational context of freedom and responsibility. This is done through compelling discussions of new technologies and practices, including the debate on liberal eugenics and human enhancement, the deliberate selection of disabilities, PGD and obstetric ultrasound. (shrink)
In this paper I will argue for the ethical and political virtue of a form of critique associated with the work of Michel Foucault. Foucault’s tryptich of essays on critique---namely ”What is Critique?’ ”What is Revolution?’ and ”What is Enlightenment?’---develop a formulation of critique understood as an attitude or disposition, a kind of relation that one bears to oneself and to the actuality of the present. I suggest that this critical attitude goes hand in hand with a mode of intellectual (...) practice realized rhetorically in the form of the interrogative and methodologically in ”problematology’. But, in addition to highlighting the habitus of critique suggested by Foucault, I also want to consider the entanglement of this critical enterprise in the conditions of the present that it attempts to diagnose. Specifically, I ask, in what way is a critical enterprise in the interrogative mood itself imbricated in the trope of interrogation that fills so much of our current political and public landscape? (shrink)
JM Coetzee has on several occasions been criticised for his failure to elaborate a political vision of transformation beyond the social and political conditions that he describes in his novels. Focusing on the novel ’Life and Times of Michael K’, I argue that this criticism fails to appreciate the conception of political futurity that is evident in Coetzee’s novels. For there emerges in Michael K a gesture of hope in which turning away from history is the condition of possibility for (...) hope for the future. Central to elaborating this gesture is the question of the status of the subject before the law, for it is on condition of the law’s suspension - or what Giorgio Agamben has identified as a condition of abandonment - that the possibility for future transformation develops. Thus I show that Michael K can profitably be read in conjunction with Agamben’s conception of biopolitics and the condition of abandonment that he argues characterises contemporary political existence. Read within this conceptual framework, Michael K appears as a limit-figure of the human and animal, in which the caesuras that Agamben argues cross the human being in modern politics become evident. Despite this apparent conceptual congruence, though, the particular figuration of hope or political futurity that Coetzee develops differs from Agamben’s in significant ways. For the latter, pushing the condition of abandonment to its extreme limit is the necessary condition for the inauguration of a redemptive ’form-of-life’ in which the human and inhuman elements of the human being can no longer be separated. Coetzee, however, offers a portrayal of hope that rests on the realisation of spaces for living within the ban of the law - spaces in which there is nevertheless ’time enough for everything’. (shrink)
Since its original 1996 publication,Jorge Garcia''s ``The Heart of Racism'''' has beenwidely reprinted, a testimony to its importanceas a distinctive and original analysis ofracism. Garcia shifts the standard framework ofdiscussion from the socio-political to theethical, and analyzes racism as essentially avice. He represents his account asnon-revisionist (capturing everyday usage),non-doxastic (not relying on belief),volitional (requiring ill-will), and moralized(racism is always wrong). In this paper, Icritique Garcia''s analysis, arguing that hedoes in fact revise everyday usage, that hisaccount does tacitly rely on belief, (...) thatill-will is not necessary for racism, and thata moralized account gets both the scope and thedynamic of racism wrong. While I do not offeran alternative positive account myself, Isuggest that traditional left-wing structuralanalyses are indeed superior. (shrink)