This month’s reading, by Elizabeth Brake, is the second in the reading-group series. Contributions welcome (from members of the network or beyond) in the comments.
Brake, Elizabeth (2010) ‘Willing Parents: A Voluntarist Account of Parental Role Obligations’ in David Archard and David Benatar, eds., Procreation and Parenthood: The Ethics of Bearing and Rearing Children, Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 151-78.
Hardimon (in January’s reading) draws a contrast between between contractual and non-contractual roles, according to the source of the role’s obligations. When he discusses family roles they are put in the non-contractual camp, but he never discusses the role of parent save in passing, usually in the context of discussing filial obligations to parents.
Brake argues that we should treat parental obligations as having a voluntarist source. The standard alternative (the causal account) is to see parental obligations as derived from the parent’s having caused someone to exist.
While this network is about roles in general, rather than any particular role, the case of parenthood quickly puts generic considerations under the microscope, as can be seen from Brake’s core argument summary (quote from p. 155-6).
“My case turns on how obligations are incurred. The general outline of my argument is as follows (although the premises will need qualification):
(1) Special obligations only arise through voluntary undertaking or as compensation for some harm.
(2) Parental obligations are special obligations.
(3) Thus, parental obligations are either the result of voluntary undertaking or else owed as compensation for some harm done to the child. (1, 2)
(4) Parental obligations are not compensatory obligations.
(5) Parental obligations arise through voluntary undertaking. (3, 4)”
A causal account is defended by David Archard in the same volume. Brake has also co-authored (with Joseph Millum) an SEP entry on the ethics of parenthood, sections 4 and 5 being most relevant here. But the chapter itself reads perfectly well without this background. Its abstract is here.