Academic journal article Journal of Ethics & Social Philosophy

The State's Duty to Ensure Children Are Loved

Academic journal article Journal of Ethics & Social Philosophy

The State's Duty to Ensure Children Are Loved

Article excerpt

IN A recent and unprecedented decision, the Brazilian Supreme Tribunal of Justice condemned a father to pay R$200,000 (the equivalent of $87,000 U.S.) to his adult daughter for the moral damages that followed from his lack of affection toward her in childhood. The chief complaint of the daughter, Luciane Souza, was that her father, who separated from her mother when she was still young, did not treat her with affection and did not provide her with the same opportunities he later provided to the children of his second marriage (although he did provide her with child support). (1) The Tribunal of Justice agreed, and found that the father defaulted on a stringent duty to show warm affection and concern for his daughter, which made him liable for indemnification. (2) In this case, the Tribunal of Justice seems to be recognizing a moral right on behalf of children to be loved by their parents, and a corresponding duty on behalf of parents to love their children. But do children really have such a right, and do parents have such a duty? (3) In this essay, I argue that children do have such a right, but that the primary duty bearer is the state and not the child's parents.

This question has recently been addressed in the philosophical literature on children's rights. (4) There, the claim that children have a right to be loved has been met with two general kinds of skeptical response. (5) According to the first kind of skeptical response, the interest that a child has in being loved is not sufficient to ground a right to be loved. (6) The thought is that children can have their basic needs met without being loved, so there is no corresponding right to be loved. While this line of response has some merits, it overlooks an important role that love plays in the lives of children. I argue that, once we properly recognize the role that love plays in the lives of children, we will see that it is sufficiently important to ground a right of the child to be loved. (7)

According to the second kind of skeptical response, children cannot have a right to be loved because there can be no corresponding duty to love on the part of parents. This kind of skeptic argues that, since one can have a duty to do something only if it is under one's voluntary control, and love is not typically under one's voluntary control, there cannot be a duty to love on the part of parents. (8) Indeed, philosophers and non-philosophers alike seem to agree that, whatever love is, it largely consists of nonvoluntary psychological dispositions. I argue that this response relies on too narrow an understanding of how a right can give rise to duties. While it may well be true that no individual person can have a duty to love, the child's right to be loved can ground a stringent duty on the part of the state to create the conditions for children to be loved.

The discussion to follow will be structured in five parts. In section 1, I engage with the recent philosophical literature on the question of whether children have a moral or human right to be loved. I focus on S. Matthew Liao's defense of this right on the grounds that, all else being equal, children who are loved fare better than children who are not. While I endorse Liao's conclusion, I remain agnostic about the truth of the empirical claims he employs in support of his conclusion. I then move on to defend an alternative account. In particular, I argue that we can ground the right of children to be loved by appealing to the role that love plays in motivating parents to assist their children in the pursuit of the good. The discussion then proceeds as follows. In section 2, I argue that love can motivate action that goes beyond what morality requires, and that this has implications for how much cost loving parents are likely to bear in order to benefit their children. In section 3, I clarify what I mean by the good life and explain the role of meaning in securing the good life. In section 4, I argue that children, like adults, have a deep interest in finding meaning in their lives. …

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