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date: 07 December 2022

Family and Justice in Political Philosophylocked

Family and Justice in Political Philosophylocked

  • Serena OlsarettiSerena OlsarettiCatalan Institution for Research and Advanced Studies, Pompeu Fabra University


Political philosophers’ interest in the family—understood as a unit in which one or more adults discharge a socially and legally recognized role as primary carers of their children—has given rise to a rich and multifaceted body of literature. Some of the questions philosophers address concern justice and the family, specifically, that is, they concern the competing claims of individuals once it is acknowledged that, as well as being citizens, individuals have all been members of families as infants, and may be members of families as parents, and that how the family is structured and run has a profound impact on the prospects and opportunities of infants and of their parents, and on some interests of society as a whole. Two main sets of questions about the family and justice are as follows.

The first set of questions concerns what the family owes society as a matter of justice, that is, how the family can and should help realize, or how it may hinder the achievement of, independently formulated demands of justice. One such demand is that of equality of opportunity: philosophers have debated whether the existence of the family necessarily threatens pursuit of equality of opportunity for children, and what may, or should, be done about this. They have offered a variety of diagnoses of the problem and solutions to it, depending on their views about the legitimacy of parental partiality and about the value of the parent–child relationship. Another demand of justice that may be in tension with the family is the demand not to diminish the fair shares of one’s fellow-citizens. Whether prospective parents must constrain their freedom to found and raise a family in light of considerations about the environmental impact that their having and rearing children will have for future generations, for example, is a growing concern among philosophers.

The second set of questions about the family and justice concern what society owes families—that is, what citizens owe to one another as a matter of justice, insofar as they are actual or potential members of families. While there is widespread agreement that adults have a right to parent—and to parent their biological children, in particular—and that children have a right to be raised in families and typically by their biological parents, there is a wealth of different views regarding the grounds of these rights. The views differ depending on whether they appeal to people’s interests in freedom, or in well-being, or both, in order to justify access to the family. Whether, besides having the right to access the family, parents also have claims to having society share in the costs of having and raising children, is a further question that political philosophers have examined and on which they have offered diverging answers.


  • Political Philosophy

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