Calling All Philosophers: Conceptual Help Needed

Take the following scenario…

1. C has a rights claim against P.

2. C’s rights claim against P generates an obligation O on the part of P.

3. P’s obligation O is general in that P may fulfill O, through and number of actions A: [A1, A2, A3,…, An].

4. Assume some individual S, interferes with P’s fulfilling O, by interfering with some or all of An.

Question: How should we characterize S’s interference?

Possible Answers:

  1. S’s interference violates P’s right to fulfill O.
  2. S’s interference with P is not a violation of any right of P, but is a violation of C’s right to having O fulfilled.
  3. S’s interference with P is problematic if and only if S interferes with all instances of A [i.e., A1… An]
  4. S’s interference with P is problematic if and only if there 1) an An is not morally problematic, and 2) S has no other morally compelling reason for interfering with An.

This situation is relevant to conceptualizing the parent-child relationship. For example, assume that a child has a right to an education, and a parent has an obligation to see that the child receives an education. The parent may fulfill that obligation by enrolling the child in a private school, public school, hire a private tutor, or homeschool. Now suppose another party prevents the parent from choosing some of these options (say the state doesn’t allow private for-profit schools, or doesn’t allow parents to homeschool). How do we characterize the interference?

I suspect that if I want to maintain that there are no parental “rights” then I would have to argue that we must use a combination of (2) and (4). The reason for this concern stems from a criticism by Michael Austin in his book Conceptions of Parenthood: Ethics and the Family.

According to Austin if there are no parental rights, then that would mean there is not even a presumptive right on the part of others not to interfere with the way parents fulfill their obligations to children. Austin argues that conceiving parents as only having permission to fulfill O according to some A is not stringent enough. We should view others as have a prima facie obligation, and thus parents as having a prima facie right to fulfill their obligations.

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