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Parents' Rights Notes

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Parents' Rights and the 'Comprehensive Enrolment' of Children

Do parents have a right to parent their biological baby? [2017, 2014]

Should children be raised by those best able to raise them? [2015]

Should parents have the right to shape their children's values? [2016]

Should parents be allowed to raise their children as members of a particular religion?

'Although parents' rights are indeed fundamental, they are conditional and limited' (Brighouse &
Swift, 2006). Discuss.


It is generally accepted that individuals have a number of parenthood-related moral rights - e.g. the right to decide whether, with whom, when and how often to procreate, and how to raise their child. The presumptive moral right to raise one's biological child is enshrined in law so long as parents meet certain parenting criteria. Philosophically, however, its justification is far from clear.


What makes parenting in general legitimate, and how do individuals acquire the right to parent a specific baby?
Does biology equate to a monopoly of care?

The parent-centred account
According to Brighouse & Swift, parents have a non-fiduciary interest in a fiduciary parent-child relationship because it contains several morally valuable and unique characteristics:

1. Structurally unequal, as determined by the child's intrinsic vulnerability. Children do not have the power to exit this relationship without placing themselves in jeopardy.

2. Children love their parents in a uniquely spontaneous, unconditional and unreflective way.

3. Parents are entirely in charge of their children's wellbeing and development

1 and 2 generate the distinctive moral burdens of parenthood which are valuable to parents as part of a process of self-knowledge and personal development.


Biological parents, or at least gestating mothers, are highly invested in the pregnancy. A poignantly embodied,
intimate relationship with the fetus begins before it is born, partly because they have already incurred various burdens necessary to bring the child into existence. This is largely unavoidable and morally valuable.

How does one measure parental competence? 'Adequate parenting' is a gradual process that few individuals get right on the first try.

What about bigoted parents who make loving transactions with their child?

According to anthropologist Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, human evolution was profoundly shaped by (female)
cooperative breeding or alloparenting - 'sharing and caring derived from the pooled energy of networks of grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, distantly-related kin and non-kin' such as teachers, coaches, friends and neighbours ('social parents')

The Israeli kibbutz is one example. Here, collective child-rearing took place within the boundaries of 3 concentric circles: the children's house (where they lived and had communal sleeping arrangements),
the parents' house (which they visited 2-3 hours a day), and the kibbutz community.

Embodies the African proverb, 'it takes a village to raise a child'

An education in tolerance (see: 'COMPREHENSIVE ENROLMENT')
If child-rearing became a more communal obligation/affair, all children benefit as they would be exposed to a variety of beliefs, values and lifestyles that differed from their parents', thus enhancing their budding autonomy. Having numerous caregivers would also help to identify/mitigate 'bad parenting'.

The child-centred view: 'adequate' parenting
Proponents of the fiduciary model of parental rights argue that children, as intrinsically dependent beings,
need continuous nurturing and protection from committed adults - that is, they need parents. Biology does not

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