Academic journal article Journal of Ethics & Social Philosophy

Unreliable Love

Academic journal article Journal of Ethics & Social Philosophy

Unreliable Love

Article excerpt

THERE IS AN ONGOING DEBATE about whether children have a moral right to be loved. While such a right is proclaimed in a number of bills and declarations, it is a challenge to specify what, if anything, could morally justify it. (1) Why think that love is as important a moral good for children as to merit the status of a right in the first place? I know of two attempts to answer this question. The first comes from S. Matthew Liao (2006), arguing that children who grow up without love will come to suffer severe psychological harm. However, Liao's argument has been criticized, and to my mind convincingly so, by Mhairi Cowden (2012) for including empirical premises that are not actually supported by the data. (2) Without going into detail here, I will thus focus my attention exclusively on a second, more promising argument recently offered by Luara Ferracioli (2014). What I shall call the argument from meaning can be summarized as follows:

(i) Children have a basic human interest in having a meaningful childhood, which requires the child's engagement in objectively valuable projects.

(ii) Children are owed a reliable supply of the means necessary to have a meaningful childhood, where they are not yet themselves in possession of such means.

(iii) Children usually lack the epistemic abilities necessary to recognize which projects are objectively valuable.

(iv) This deficit can only be compensated by way of adults putting their own epistemic abilities into the child's service.

(v) Love comes with a general disposition to care for the loved one's well-being, while loving parents reveal a tendency to conceive of their children as an irreplaceable element in their life.

(vi) The combination of caring and irreplaceability disposition makes love the only sufficiently reliable source of epistemic care.

C Thus, children have a right to be loved (inasmuch as parental love is concerned).

I take issue with (vi), especially the assumption that love is the only sufficiently reliable source of the type of epistemic care needed. Admitting that there are other possible sources, Ferracioli (2014: 14) argues that the reason why she singles out love as what children have a right to "boils down to the value of reliability." This renders (vi) particularly central to her argument. However, while love's irrplaceability feature is supposed to explain this reliability, it does not explain it at all. On the contrary, as I try to show, there is reason to believe that loving relationships of the kind Ferracioli envisages may be significantly less reliable than the major alternative she considers: professional caring relationships. I argue that this is precisely because of the latter's fungible nature. If I am right, then the argument from meaning does not yet establish a right of children to be loved.

1. Love As a Source of Epistemic Care

When Ferracioli introduces the notion of a meaningful childhood, she draws on Susan Wolfs (1997) account of meaning in life. Meaning on this account is one aspect of the person's good, to be distinguished from another aspect--happiness. While happiness is more associated with hedonic pleasure, meaning is taken to be a matter of fitting fulfillment. It consists and arises from one's subjective engagement in projects of objective worth. "Projects" can include such things as ideals, hobbies, valuable activities in general, as well as certain relationships.

For children it is difficult to acquire meaning, as children are "significantly constrained" in their epistemic ability to identify which projects are of objective worth (and which are not). As Ferracioli (2014: 12) puts it, it is only "as we grow up" that "we come to recognize that our loving relationship with our sibling, our attentive care of our dog and our mastering of a musical instrument conferred meaning on our childhood." Yet, meaning, Ferracioli claims, matters to children. …

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