Thought for the Evening: Parental Rights and the Right to Parental Protection
There are a number of different accounts of parental rights. For instance, one kind of account grounds parental rights in the genetic relationship between parents and children. Another account is based on labor: by the time the child is born, the parents have already shouldered burdens for the sake of the child, and taking the child away would be unfair to them. A third account takes it that parental rights arise from the fact that the child is in some way the parent's own. And so forth. As often happens in philosophy, there is reason to think that each account does well for a certain class of parental rights and not for others. You can find traces of each in the way we talk about parental rights and responsibilities, but none of them do any good at tying everything together.
One thing that has always surprised me has been the fact that it rarely occurs to people to ground parental rights in the rights of the child. There is good independent reason to think that children have the right to parental protection. So let's take that as the basic, and see how it fares.
The simplest, most common, and most natural way to be a parent is obviously to be a biological parent; so if the child has the right to parental protection, he or she has, derivatively, the right to protection by biological parents. Thus, and also derivatively, the biological parents have the right to take reasonable steps to protect the child, and the particular kinds of protections the child needs would yield the particular kinds of parental rights the biological parent has.
However, in the actual practice of giving parental protection, it is pretty much never the case that the biological parents are the sole agents; aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, neighbors will on various occasions step up in supplementary ways -- watching the kids for a while, helping keep order, and so forth. None of this supercedes the parental rights; but there is a perfectly straightforward way, seen on a regular basis, in which people can contribute to the parental protection without being the biological parent.
Suppose that the biological parents fail to fulfill the role as parental protectors, either voluntarily (neglect, abuse) or involuntarily (external inability, death). Since we started with the child's right to parental protection and not a particular right of the parent, this right is still on the table: the child has a right to parental protection, even if the biological parents cannot provide it. But we know already that biological parents are not the only ones who contribute to make sure that parental protection is given; other adults act as, so to speak, instruments of the parents, when it's necessary. This is typically limited, but we do know that they can provide what is required. So it is in fact possible for other adults to step up, as a matter of necessity, and do what is required to guarantee that the child gets the parental protection to which they have a right. This might be other family members, or adopted parents, but we independently know it's possible for someone to step into the parental role.
The status of adopted parenthood is always a complication for genetic accounts; by grounding the parental-rights-conferring aspect in the right of the child, however, there is no actual difficulty, because parental acts are already mixed with the acts of other adults, because it is extraordinarily hard to give children the protection to which they arguably have a right, if you have no help. The account can recognize biological parenthood as the default, but recognizes that there needs to be a parent role even if a biological parent is not available -- thus giving us a reason in cases of necessity to take some other adult to fill that parental role. Foster parents are easily handled by this account as well. Labor accounts usually have problems with adoption and fostering as well (the parental rights in such cases often seem to precede the labor) and on the difficulty of seeing how paternal rights enter into even the biological case, given that mothers do the lion share of the prenatal work. But with an account focused on the rights of children, there is less of a problem with the latter: the child's right posits a parental role that is not dependent on how much labor you have put in as well. Likewise, any account based on something voluntary has difficulty with cases in which you involuntarily gain parental rights; but if your having the rights is derivative of someone else's rights, that is accounted for. One can go through other variations on these and other accounts and point out ways that this account would be better.
It's pretty clear that it can't be the whole story, however. Parenting doesn't occur in a moral void; it occurs in the midst an entire world of moral obligations, rights, and responsibilities. This complicates every account. Discussions of labor accounts, for instance, often fail to recognize that mother and father will typically already have rights and obligations with respect to each other, which will form a context for any kind of parenting. Proprietary accounts tend to miss the obligations of parents to society at large. And this account likewise cannot cover everything, because some of what we call parental rights may well derive from other moral sources into whose path the actual work of parenting happens to fall (deference to elders, gratitude to benefactors, and so forth). In addition, the way in which biological connection serves as a default for parenting is massively stronger than you'd expect just from the right of the child alone; some part of this probably does arise from other sources.
Various Links of Interest
* Being Poirot, a documentary with David Suchet on playing the Belgian detective
* Rob Mullins, Legal Postivism and Deontic Detachment (PDF)
* Christian Wallace, The Jackie Robinson of Rodeo, on Myrtis Dightman, one of the great bullriders of all time, in Texas Monthly
* Paul R. Golden, Xunzi, at the SEP
* Kenny Pearce, Richard Hooker's Influence on Locke's Epistemology, at "The Mod Squad"
* Matteo Ravasio, Analytic Perspectives in the Philosophy of Music, at the IEP
* Kenneth Chang, Asteroids and Adversaries, discusses the dust-up over an amateur's discovery that there were flaws in NASA's asteroid catalog.
* Lucy Bellwood discusses how to draw a sailing ship correctly.
* Steven Nemes, On the Priority of Tradition: An Exercise in Analytic Theology
* An interview with Emmanuel Falque on phenomenology and the body of Christ
* Bethany Barnes, Targeted: A Family and the Quest to Stop the Next School Shooter, at The Oregonian, looks into a school board's harassment of an autistic student because they thought he showed warning signs of being a possible school shooter.
* Colin Chamberlain, A Bodily Sense of Self in Descartes and Malebranche
* Christopher M.P. Tomaszewski, Intentionality as Partial Identity
* Srecko Kovac, On causality as the fundamental concept of Gödel's philosophy
* Robert P. George and Patrick Lee, Acorns and Embryos
* Vincent Garton, Catholicism and the Gravity of Horror, at Jacobite
Jules Verne, Journey to the Center of the Earth
John C. Wright, The Golden Transcendence
Kathrin Koslicki, The Structure of Objects
Edmund Husserl, Ideas