Family, ethics and the

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-L025-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved June 16, 2024, from

Article Summary

Do obligations to children take priority over filial and other family obligations? Do blood kin have stronger moral claims than relatives acquired through marriage? Whatever their origin, do family obligations take precedence over obligations to friends, neighbours, fellow citizens? Do family moral ties presuppose specific family feeling, love, or loyalty? Is the traditional family of a married, heterosexual couple with biological offspring morally preferable to families formed by adoptive, single, remarried or same-sex parents, or with the help of gamete donors or gestational (‘maternal’) surrogates? On what grounds may friends, neighbours or government agencies intrude upon ‘family privacy’?

To simplify the complexity and diversity of family life, reasoned answers to such questions may stress a single dimension. A metaphysical approach draws on the commands of a deity or the needs of a nation. A biological approach appeals to physical resemblance, blood or genes. An economic approach focuses on family property, income, division of work and resources, and inheritance. A related political approach attends to power, subordination, and rights within a family, as well as to their regulation by the state. A psychological approach takes affection, identification, intimacy, and emotional needs as morally decisive. A narrative approach makes recalling and revision of family stories the basis of moral education and the definition of family ties.

Although mutually compatible, these approaches do each tend to favour particular moral theories.

    Citing this article:
    Ruddick, William. Family, ethics and the, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-L025-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
    Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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