Libertarianism, Autonomy, And Children

Public Affairs Quarterly 5 (4):333-352 (1991)
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IBERTARIANS hold that we have such duties as: not to directly and significantly harm others or their property, to keep agreements, to refrain from lying and certain other sorts of deception, and to compensate those whom we wrong. They also hold that we have a duty not to interfere with the liberty of others as long as they are fulfilling these duties. This duty of non-interference, they have thought, has protected the privacy of the home, and hence parental autonomy, for it insures that others have no authority over or responsibility for (except in extreme circumstances) how parents raise or treat their children. (Why parental autonomy has been held to be protected by this duty of non—in_terference should be clear enough: for if (as is surely plausible) the main effect of that duty is to secure for adults the liberty (within limits) to live their private lives as they choose, then, on the natural assumption that the matter of how to raise one`s children falls within the domain of the private lives of adults, intervention by others, and in particular by the state, for the purpose of ensuring that children get raised in one way rather than another, would be impermissible.) More specifically to our purposes now, libertarians have supposed that the duty of non-interference leaves intact parents` perogative to decide if, and in what way, their children are to be educated. That this is crucial both to the degree and to the point of parental autonomy is clear enough. For it goes both to the matter of keeping out of the private home those who would provide education for children (if such is the wish of the parents), and to the matter of parents` entitlement to instill in their children the values that they (the parents) wish their children to have. Libertarians, however, have not had very much specific to say about the moral status of children. Are children owned by their parents? Do they have all the rights and duties that normal adults have'? Or is their status somewhere in between these extremes? Given that libertarians haven't said, there are different possible ways of extending traditional libertarian theory so as to cover children..



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Peter Vallentyne
University of Missouri, Columbia

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