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Family Justice Report Summary

Project ID: 648610
Funded under: H2020-EU.1.1.

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - Family Justice (Justice and the Family: An Analysis of the Normative Significance of Procreation and Parenthood in a Just Society)

Reporting period: 2015-09-01 to 2017-02-28

Summary of the context and overall objectives of the project

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. Yet existing theories of justice generally neglect these questions by assuming that the principles they formulate are to regulate the main institutions of societies constituted by fully formed adult individuals whose numbers, creation and care are taken as given.
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.

Such a framework is of both practical and philosophical importance. Consider, first, its value for assessing some central public policies: we need to ascertain whether a society in which the economic costs of children are socialised through child-tax and universal publicly funded high quality funded education is more or less just than one which demands of parents that they bear more costs as a result of having and rearing children; or whether a society with a growing population that results in members of later generations enjoying a smaller per capita share of natural resources and publicly funded services is more or less just than one with a population policy aimed at controlling fertility so as to maintain equal shares for individuals, regardless of what generation they belong to. To form judgements about these issues, we need answers to questions regarding how to distribute fairly the costs and benefits of children, or questions of family justice.

Addressing hitherto neglected questions of family justice is also, as this research project aims to show, philosophically important, in that these questions are much more central to our theory of justice than has generally been realised. Without answering them we cannot answer the central problem of distributive justice which, in John Rawls’ words, is “(...) the problema of “how (…) the institutions of the basic structure [are] to be regulated (…) 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; emphasis added). 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 project aims to pursue its overall objective by analysing three main sets of questions about family justice which it has identified at the onset: 1) Parental Justice - Does justice require that parents and non-parents share, and share equally, the costs and benefits of having children, and how do different answers to this question bear on our theory of distributive justice? 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, and how, if at all, are the justification and the content of those obligations affected by considerations about what parents owe their children and parents and non-parents owe to each other?

Work performed from the beginning of the project to the end of the period covered by the report and main results achieved so far

During the period covered by this report, the PI´s research has focused on two of the three main areas of research identified by the project: those concerning Parental Justice and Childhood Justice.

With regard to the former area, the PI has moved beyond earlier work which examined the case for socialising the costs of children when children are “public goods”, or net positive externalities. She has explored the question of whether citizens have reasons of justice to object to the socialisation of the costs of children under some circumstances, such as those in which there is pollution, population pressure, overcrowding, or strain on publicly funded services, in which parents, by having and rearing children, instead of producing public goods, may be seen to be harming others. In her paper “Children as Negative Externalities?” (forthcoming in Politics, Philosophy and Economics), the PI argues that existing arguments for that conclusion are unsatisfactory, and that having and rearing children may not be treated like other life-plans or expensive tastes for the costs of which responsible adults should be held liable in fairness to others. In another paper on “The Costs of Children” (forthcoming in the Routledge Handbook of the Philosophy of Childhood and Children), the PI makes a case for the centrality of the question of how we should distributed the costs of children to our theory of social justice.

As far as the question of what children are owed is concerned (the question of Childhood Justice), the PI has tackled three aspects of that so far, regarding, first, the justification of parental partiality; second, the question of whether what parents owe their children is in tension with the demands of egalitarian justice; and third, and a discussion of the variety of objections to childhood poverty. A treatment of the first issue is published in a paper on “Liberal Equality and the Moral Status of Parent-Child Relationships”, Oxford Studies in Political Philosophy, Volume 3.

Progress beyond the state of the art and expected potential impact (including the socio-economic impact and the wider societal implications of the project so far)

The PI´s work on the question of parental justice is the best-developed part of the project so far.

In her work on this question to date, she has engaged extensively with the previously existing literature on the topic, and, beyond the specific contribution made by analysing particular views and presenting her own, her work has moved the debate further in three more general ways. First, it has brought to light the ways in which the question of parental justice is much more central for the formulation of a theory of justice than has been assumed thus far; second, it has made a strong case for why treating the choice of having and rearing children on a par with other choices people make, such as lifestyle and consumption choices, is unjustified; finally, 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 help structure future discussion of these topics.

As for the work on “childhood justice”, and although it is at a comparatively earlier stage, the PI´s papers on the topic (one of which has been published; see above) contribute in novel ways to existing debates on the justification of parental partiality. One of them argues that procreators – those who are morally responsible for a child´s existence – can have a right to be partial to their child in virtue of having incurred a duty to enter a parent-child relationship with that child. This discussion makes a link between debates on parental partiality on the one hand, and those on what grounds parental responsibilities on the other. The second, as yet unpublished, paper makes a case for thinking that, under certain conditions, the demands of parental partiality and those of equality of opportunity can be better aligned than they are generally thought to be. This is the first step in an endeavour to examine the ways in which parental partiality can be harnessed so as to promote justice, rather than pulling us away from it.
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