Family, ethics and the

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-L025-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved April 20, 2024, from

1. Metaphysical conceptions of families

As in the major religions of Middle Eastern origin, parents may be regarded as recipients of God’s gifts of newly created life. As such they are deputized guardians, not creators with powers of life and death over their creatures. Or, parents and children are seen as dutiful representatives of generations of long dead, but still attentive and demanding ancestors. In some versions or secular analogues, it is the nation or race that married couples must preserve and serve through the children they bear and rear. Accordingly, decisions about suitable marriage partners, or family size and comportment are decided by authorities speaking in the name of the transcendental agent or group, not by romantic couples or family-planning individuals.

Each of these theories prompts questions about the existence and moral authority of the metaphysical agent or collective invoked, such as: How can long dead ancestors continue to make demands of service or obedience on the living? How can a racial or national identity require those to whom it is ascribed to marry and procreate within its socially constructed limits? Answers to such questions often suppose that individuals are defined by particular relational properties (for instance, children of God the Father, sons of Erin, descendants of slaves). By contrast, Kantian and Utilitarian moral theories presuppose a metaphysical individualism of persons, each defined by nonrelational capacities for reason, good will, interests, or preferences (see Kantian ethics; Utilitarianism). Accordingly, children are not conceived as belonging to their parents, clan, or God, but as dependent on others for gradual development of their autonomy.

Citing this article:
Ruddick, William. Metaphysical conceptions of families. 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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