Against Aristotelian Parenting (sort of)

Parenting is a deeply moral enterprise, both in being the locus of a lot of morally significant decisions and actions—it matters a lot how parents treat their children—and in the sense of leading to morally significant results—it matters a lot how children turn out. It is often remarked that despite its moral importance, (Western) philosophers seem to have little to say about parenting. This is true comparatively—philosophers actually say a fair amount about parenting, but much less than they say about many other things, even within ethics.

Aristotle is seen as something of an exception, at least insofar as his remarks about moral education and the acquisition of virtue seem readily applicable to parenting. His account of human flourishing, the role of the virtues in tending us towards the good, the good as defined in terms of human psychology (literally), habituation as the source of the (moral virtues), the taming of the appetites and feelings as a condition of genuine autonomy—all of it lends itself to a natural account of much of what parents try to do. Wise parents, knowing the good, use their authority to instils habits of behavior which lead to moral development, a practice that in time turns their children towards the good and towards happiness.

There’s something right about this, and those who turn to Aristotle for child rearing advice are on some solid ground. But there are also some things wrong with this. Keep reading…

Children Are the Property of Their Parents

Or so thinks Rand Paul. Or at least that what he said: “The state doesn’t own your children, parents own their children.” The context was recent debates about vaccinating children, and on that subject Paul’s comments are alarming enough. Hopefully though he doesn’t really believe children are literally the property of parents. I would guess he means parents have a unique or absolute right to make medical decisions about their children and that this trumps the state’s authority to make medical decisions about children. Keep reading…

New article

I had a paper come out in the Journal of Philosophy of Education. Here’s the abstract:

The ways in we raise and educate children can appear to be at odds with basic liberal values. Relationships between parents and children are unequal, parents routinely control children’s behaviour in various ways, and they use their authority to shape children’s beliefs and values. Whether and how such practices can be made to accord with liberal values presents a significant puzzle. In what follows I will look at a recent and sophisticated attempt to resolve these tensions offered by Matthew Clayton in his book Justice in Child Rearing in the context of general account of the proper limits of parental authority. I argue that Clayton is unsuccessful in ways that point to fundamental and pervasive questions about the place of liberal values in child rearing and education that remain unanswered.

Licensing Parents

Time to shake of the cyber dust and get a bit more active here. So, to that effect, here are some thoughts on a controversial idea…

I read a little piece recently that recommended, among other things, requiring people to get a license before they could have and raise children. This is not a new idea, as various philosophers have argued for something along these lines, most prominently Hugh Lafayette as long ago as 1980. But  there are three trends whose confluence may point to its looking more attractive. First is the growing consensus that good parenting does not come naturally but requires a special expertise. This expertise involve both specialized knowledge of important facts of developmental and child psychology as well as specialized skills in caring for children. Second is an assumption that this expertise is not reliably acquired and passed on from one generation to the next. Rather it’s the sort of thing that must be directly taught by experts—hence the industry of parenting books, magazines, website, classes, and so on. Lastly is the assumption that the state has an essential role in guaranteeing children a minimally decent childhood at least to the extent of protecting them from gross abuse and neglect.  Keep Reading…

Tony Bruckner 1953-2014

Tony Bruckner, who died a couple of weeks ago, was my thesis advisor, having overseen my dissertation on Jerry Fodor and naturalized semantics. I also took a number of courses with him as a graduate student at UCSB. Tony was 61 and doubtless at the hight of his powers—this one of those untimely deaths that just seem particularly unfair. Though my philosophical interests have kind of drifted away from the close, rigorous analytic philosophy he excelled at, I’d like to think I acquired at least some small measure of his truly remarkable ability to work through an argument with exacting care, precision and detail. I’d also like to acknowledge a particularly good bit advice he offered when I began working on my dissertation, which was something to the effect that “you’ve read enough—start writing.” And so I did. One last thing has to be said in any remembrance of Dr. Bruckner: as anyone who knew or worked with him will tell you, he was an uncommonly generous and kind person.

More on Gender Roles

Why would we want gender roles? What good can they serve or further? The answer I want to consider is diversity understood in a specific way. For this I’ll rely on Peter Hershock’s gloss in his book Valuing DiversityDrawing on a particularly intriguing reading of the Buddhist idea of Interdependent Arising, Hershock distinguishes diversity from variation:

Variation is a means-to and has the meaning-of generating novel incidents of nonidentity—a process of increasing the quantity of individual things present. Diversity is a function of relational dynamics that are conducive to the production and sustained presence of a particular quality of interaction: a distinctive complexion of interdependence. Diversification is a means-to and has the meaning-of generating creatively enriching patterns of mutual contribution to sustainably shared welfare. It marks the advent of a distinctive qualitative shift in how things are present. (48-49) Keep reading…

Xunzi on Language III

One last bit on Xunzi and language. I think Xunzi holds to neither a realist nor a nominalist metaphysics—I don’t see that this question would have occurred to him either. Rather his view seems really rather straightforward. We should draw pragmatically valuable distinctions between things according to their type (lei), and we do this by looking at things to discover genuine similarities…continue.