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Justice and the Family: An Analysis of the Normative Significance of Procreation and Parenthood in a Just Society

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - Family Justice (Justice and the Family: An Analysis of the Normative Significance of Procreation and Parenthood in a Just Society)

Reporting period: 2018-09-01 to 2020-02-29

The family – the site of procreation and parenthood - is integral to the existence and continuation of society; moreover, having and rearing children involves substantial benefits and burdens for parents, children, and society at large, so salient questions of justice arise about how our social and economic institutions should distribute these benefits and burdens among all parties involved. This project´s overarching objective is that of developing a normative-theoretical framework for determining how the benefits and costs of children should be distributed between parents and non-parents and between contemporaries and across generations. To pursue this objective, the project addresses three related sets of questions: 1) Parental Justice – Do parents, insofar as they have and raise children, have claims of justice to sharing the costs of children with non-parents? 2) Childhood Justice - What are the claims of justice that we have as children, how do they relate to those we have as adults, and who bears the correlative duties? 3) Intergenerational Justice - Do all contemporaries, regardless of whether they are parents or non-parents, have the same obligations of justice towards future generations?

The framework the project formulates is of both practical and philosophical importance. Practically, it is needed to assess some central public policies, such as those which socialise the economic costs of children through child-tax and universal publicly funded funded education, or population policies which aim at controlling or sustaining fertility. Philosophically, addressing hitherto neglected questions of family justice is important because they are central to the problem of distributive justice, which asks how our main institutions should be structured “so that a fair, efficient, and productive system of social cooperation can be maintained over time, from one generation to the next” (Rawls 2001: 50). Procreation and parenthood are necessary to maintain a system of social cooperation over time, from one generation to the next, so questions concerning the fair distribution of the costs and benefits of procreation and parenthood occupy a central place in a theory of justice.
The PI has completed work in all three of the research project areas.

1) An exploration of Parental Justice involves two complementary tasks: formulating a positive case for socialising the costs of children when children are “public goods”, and exploring whether citizens have reasons of justice to object to the socialisation of the costs of children when having and raising children, instead of producing public goods, may be seen to produce negative externalities (e.g. because of pollution or overpopulation). The PI has advanced with both these tasks, identifying several possible different arguments for socialising the costs of children offered by existing liberal egalitarian theories of justice (“The Costs of Children”, Routledge Handbook of the Philosophy of Childhood, 2018), and showing that several possible arguments for objecting to the socialization of the costs of children are unsuccessful (“Children as Negative Externalities?” Politics, Philosophy and Economics, 2017). This work has made it clear that the formulation of an account of how the costs and benefits of children should be distributed is part and parcel of developing a complete theory of distributive justice, rather than being an application or an extension of an independently formulated theory. This conclusion is the starting point for the PI´s book on Parental Justice (under contract with Oxford University Press), in which she both offers a diagnosis of why liberal egalitarian theories of justice are unable to duly accommodate the claims of parents, and develops a novel account of justice which recognizes the central role of social reproduction for the maintenance of the just society.

2) The PI has focused mainly on two aspects of concerns of Childhood Justice: first, the justification of the parent-child relationship; and second, the question of whether what parents owe their children is in tension with the demands of egalitarian justice. A treatment of the first issue has been published as “Liberal Equality and the Moral Status of Parent-Child Relationships”, in Oxford Studies in Political Philosophy (2017), while the second appears in “Equality of Opportunity and Justified Inequalities: How the Family Can Be on Equality´s Side” (forthcoming). These, as well as further questions concerning childhood justice, are also explored in “The Family and Justice in Political Philosophy”, forthcoming in The Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics. This article is a wide-ranging examination of questions concerning both what the family owes society in order to help realise independent demands of justice, and about what society owes the family to do justice to the interests of parents and children.

3) The PI´s interest in Intergenerational Justice is guided by a distinctive agenda, that of determining how our theories of justice between generations should respond to the recognition that citizens´ obligations and claims of justice may vary depending on whether or not they are parents. Two sets of questions, in particular, have been identified and addressed in this context. First, since how many people do and will exist affects in various ways what claims of justice people can make, what stance should theorists of justice take about desirable population size? (See “Egalitarian Justice, Population Size, and Parents´ Responsibility for the Costs of Children”, The Oxford Handbook of Population Ethics (forthcoming)). Second: What do certain familiar views of intergenerational justice assume, at least implicitly, with regard to how the costs and benefits of children should be shared among members of different generations? This question is examined in the last chapter of the PI´s book (see above).
The PI´s work on parental justice makes two important general contributions. First, it moves forward debates in political philosophy by showing how and why taking seriously the importance of the family as a site of social reproduction casts new light on the shortcomings of theories of justice as standardly formulated and directs us towards a novel understanding of justice which does not unfairly favour self-interested lifeplans. Second, by offering a theoretically well-grounded case for why it is mistaken to treat the choice of having and rearing children on a par with other choices people make, such as lifestyle and consumption choices, and by identifying and distinguishing between importantly different questions that are to be asked regarding the distribution of the costs and benefits of children, this work promises to have significance for the evaluation of policy that impacts on how the costs and benefits of children are shared. This is evinced by the fact that the PI´s work is cited by social science scholars (R. Putman, Our Kids, Simon & Schuster 2016; R. Gál, P. Vanhuysse & L. Vargha, Journal of European Public Policy 2017) and philosophers interested in justice under non-ideal conditions (T. Shelby, Dark Ghettos, Harvard UP) and in applied ethics (e.g. business ethics, see T Mejiers & in Economics & Philosophy 36 (2020), and medical ethics, see NJ Williams, Journal of Medical Philosophy 42, 2017).
Banner Adopted for the Family Justice Project