Social Justice and the Family (Gen Ed 1132)



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Gina Schouten

We seem to have wide moral prerogative to take special care of those we love, including especially members of our families. But the institution of the family seriously hinders attempts to make society more just, as evidenced, for example, by the many ways families transfer advantage across generations. What are we to make of this tension between social justice and the family, and what—if anything—can we do to resolve it?

Even as we focus on this central animating question, we will see that addressing it requires grappling with still other philosophical questions in the near vicinity: Under what conditions is it morally permissible to procreate, and when (if ever) may the state intervene in the lives of citizens to limit procreation? What are the rights and responsibilities of parents, and how does a person come to have these rights and responsibilities? What (if any) legitimate stake does a liberal democratic state have in the internal structure and dynamics of families? Who has a duty to pay child support, and is this an enforceable duty? What kinds of support (if any) should the state provide for families with children? Should parents and non-parents in a society share the costs of rearing children? What are the limits of family autonomy and parental partiality? 

The main goals of the course will be to develop a working understanding of these central moral and political questions and to better appreciate their relevance for our lives outside the classroom.


See also: Ethics & Civics