THORNTON, J. T., JR.
Doctor of Philosophy
This study provides a moral justification of the family as a child-bearing and child-rearing institution by arguing that procreation may entitle parents to their children. It begins by observing that the belief that parents have such a right is deeply ingrained in the laws and customs of Western civilization but that at present we have no satisfactory theoretical explanation of this belief; and it further underscores the need for such an explanation by pointing to the conflict between a commitment to equal opportunity and the family. Part I first considers the historical arguments philosophers have made on behalf of the family and shows why they fail. It argues that (1) the traditional property argument fails because it interprets parental rights in terms of an absolute property right which is incompatible with the child's rights; that (2) natural affection fails because some parents abuse their children and because adoptive parents may display "natural affection"; and that (3) the best interest of the child fails because it cannot provide parents with a unique claim to their children. It then develops the property argument in a new and fruitful way. By replacing the traditional concept of an absolute property right with the modern "bundle of rights" analysis of property, it provides a means of analyzing parental rights in a way that prohibits abuse and is therefore compatible with the child's basic rights. Finally, it examines entitlement theory and argues that, since procreation satisfies its conditions, parents who adequately care for their children are entitled to them. Part II examines the nature of the parental entitlement claim. It argues for the rights necessary for paternalistic agency, interprets them according to a standard analysis of ownership, and concludes that a parental right to rear the child according to parental values is consistent with the child's rights. Next it argues that, in excluding others, parents incur a special obligation to do as much as they reasonably can for their child. And finally, it places things in a historical context, argues against an interpretation of parental obligation in terms of needs, and shows how the theory might work in practice.