A philosophical analysis of filial obligations
Brakman, Sarah Vaughan
Doctor of Philosophy
Filial obligations are moral requirements that adult children have for the well-being of their parents. These obligations are non-voluntary special obligations. An examination of selected cultural (classical Greek and imperial Chinese), religious (Judaic, Islamic and Christian) and philosophical (Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, Hobbes and Locke) views concerning filial obligation is provided. Several candidates emerge for the basis of filial obligations. An analysis of the arguments for each of these candidates is provided. Personal identity is rejected as an inadequate basis for filial obligations because it relies on a fallacy. Friendship is rejected because (1) there are morally relevant features of the filial relationship that are not captured by this account and (2) the lack of equality of autonomy and the lack of independence make friendship between children and parents impossible. Reciprocity is rejected when it is shown (1) that the motive of parents for benefiting children is morally irrelevant on a reciprocity account and (2) that the requirement of the repayment of a debts is damaging to the parent-child relationship. Gratitude is supported as the basis of filial obligations because it does not fall prey to the inadequacies listed above. In addition, it addresses all features held to be important to the structure of the parent-child relationship. The argument defended is adult children whose parents have intentionally, voluntarily and benevolently benefitted them for their own sake, have an obligation to cultivate attitudes that are constitutive of the virtue of gratitude. The virtue of gratitude includes the dispositions of appreciation and goodwill. Filial obligations require that one act according to the possession of such attitudes. Application of the gratitude account of filial obligations to cases shows that the specific content of the obligation is context-dependent and cannot be determined across cases. This finding strengthens the argument for gratitude as the basis of filial obligations as it may be applied to our pluralistic society without undermining the values and customs for a particular community.
Philosophy; Religious history; Sociology; Individual & family studies