Wadsworth Group/Thomson Learning, Inc., Belmont, CA. 2001.Christina Sommers & Fred Sommers (Vice & Virtue)

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MORALITY AND THE FAMILY What Do Grown Children Owe Their Parents?

they have fallen off to deep and then pull down the bed currain and re- tire himself.

Whhdbs:mfp.~5~ wouldp't-yant:tqb.e an old-man or an old fatheror ,gadfather h C h ?

This sort of thing is being very much laughed at by the prol~m- i a t e s a U n a as "fkuhlktk3" but there& a c h x U t v & & makes many old gentlemen __I_–_.._- mland ccli~g __& to it —- and think that m&rn

,- -org to the d o ~ ; The important point IS that every man as he certainly desires to.

seem5 to assume that literally independent,

one must admit that we must so plan our pattem.oflife7that t& golden period lies ahead in old ag~aLdd~.t,b__eh&d3juR~nd~- 5eEe. For if we take the reverse attitude, we are comnittcd wieh- out our knowing to a race with the merciless course of time, forever afraid of what lies ahead of us-a race, it is hardly necessary to point out, which is quite hopelms and in which we are e17cntually dl de- feated. No one can really stop growing old; he can only cheat him- _— — – self by not admi tdng t-mmce thcr.ejQo uis tlgh*ay&st nature, one mrght just as w e l l ~ o ~ v olhpgg- fiiwThe symphony of life should end with a grand-fkde of peace and serenity and material comfort and spiritual contentment, and not with the crash o f a broken drum or cracked cymbals.

1. Describe Lin Yutang's account of how the West and the East treat their elderly people.

2. Y ~ m g a s h , "How can any one deny that parents who ha* toiled for their children . . . have lost many a good night's sleep when they were ill, have washed their diapers . , , and have speflr about a quarter of a century bringing them up . . . have the right to be fed by them and loved and respected when they are old?" Do you agree with him? Do you feel a moral ohliption to tag

for yous parents when hey are old? 3- How does Yutang distingwkh between debts of friendship and

debts to parents? Do you see a fundamental d8erence bewe* the two?

I . Does Yutang criticize Western mows fairy? Or does he fail to understand the hnd of individuahsrn that characterizes human relations in our society? Some say the price for deference to the aged is 1 feeling of obligation that may interfere with our rauc

! ' of independence. Do you agree with this?

( IWhat Do Crown Children ( i&ve Their Parents?

1 -> ,)me English


2 . Jane English (1 947- 1978), who taught philosophy at the University ofNorth Cadna, Chapel HiU, wrote several articles and etLted a number of books in the area ofprac- tical ethics. She died trapjcaUpt 31 in anwrpeditiamn the Matterhorn. —-

Jane English argues that gown children h w a l I pbligations. She distinguishes between relations based

on reciprocal favors and relationships of friendship. Both k involve duties, but EngIish argues thafiiendshi~ a n r i b

duties ought to be the norm mverning the relationship — — , of grown chrldr–and parents. Filial abI ip ;a t io~sn-~~- . –

I p debt owed for_sea~es_~ende&d. Thus obl igac jo~~qac-

I I ents exist ')ust so 1ong.a friendship-exists."

do grown children-owe theirparents? fdcantend that the an- [ .& — – – — e h i n g . " ~~thou&-I agi& &at there are many thing that

EN OWU m m PARENTS? by Jane Endish from khvlng Chrldven by Ruddick, copyright 1979 by Odord University PIEB, Inc. Used ~veaity Presr, 3nc




1. How does English distinguish between duties created by debts and duties created by friendship?

2. Do you agree with En&h that filial obligation is not owed for services rendered, but instead results from friendship? How would Lin Yutang react to this view?

3. In some states, law requires children of poor elderly people to contribute to their support. Do you think English would argue for or against this? D o you support legislation of this kind?

4. Can we criticize English for advocating a "minimalist ethic" ac- cording to which no duties of self-sacrifice or altruism apply outside one's small circle of friends-all people, even family members, are moral strangers unless one voluntarily "contracts" an obligation?

5. How might Enghsh account for the m o d duty many people feel to take care of not only their awn elderly parents, but needy elderly people in general?

Traditional Jewish Family Values

– TraditionalJewish Family Values

Jewish family. The traditinnalfamily&m~1chmo~$- r n e m b u v

instituaon. This results in-greater intimacy and a strong sense ofmutual ~ b l e , for example, to the el- derly who are esteemed as authoritative. Members ofthe traditional f a d y practicGreat deal ofrestraint and for- bearance. enlphasiring duty, rather than rig$. F i n d s the family sees itself as part of a more general community of Jewish families that is, in turn, part of a continuous tradition and history. The traditional family is religious and committed to carrying on a Jewish tradition. This, says L a m , gives it further cohesiveness.

Lamrn argues for the importance of the " b e e r i t au&o*" that parents exercise, an authorit, all the more effective beca~~se the higher authority of God qualifies it. According to Larnm, a f a a t h a t hcb a central author- # ity cannot be cohesive. The children of such farmlies tend . — to be confused and disoriented. L a m warns that we are losing our sense of commitment to tradition in a world without fiith anzannot replace it simply by recopiz- # ine how badlv we need it

Norman h m m

Rabbi Norman Lamm (b. 1927), president of Yeshi% University, it the author d The G o d So~iety ( 1 9 7 8 A Hedge ./Roses: Jewish Inrightr into Marridge (197% and Tomk Uddlrr: 7 % ~ Encounter Rdeious m i n d rd Worldly Knowledge inJewish Trddifion (1990).

Lmmprescnts anidealized model of the tradi$onalJ*- kh fMia -. – — a n d 9 n t v n t e m p 3 – — Lin-

T R A D ~ I O N ~ jmw FAMILY v.uurn Protn]cuilk C ~ ~ ~ c i o ~ ~ n ~ s ~ – r d ~ i n g . Edited No- ,

m. 0 1973 by The B o d ofJewish Edurdon d Orrun NCW York. ~epnntcd sion of The Board ofJewish Education of Greater New York.


chJ* to do for their parents, I will argue rhat it is inappro- r-

{riaRandLg~leading ta dcscribe them as thmffsmowed." I will main- cajn xh&parats' vojun_@ry sacrifices, r . a t b $ : x X t 1 m $ r ~ ~ d c b h ~ $ ~ be . – "repaid –.- " tend to create -_——+– love or "friends&.~',Ehe duties of g- children are those of friends and tesult from love between them an$ their parents, rather than being things owed m repayment for the par- ents' earlier s a c r i f i ~ e ~ b ~ s , !will oppose those p h d o s ~ p h e ~ w h o ~ e t h ewg rd-tlrnLwh~&~orobJga&n-.wi~~s. Altl~ . – – ou ghAe A< debt?metapborisapppuate in some rn~~~rairqirnstanccs, m n ~ –

gument i ~ h e r e l a e i o . n s h ~ i _ s ~ o _ t _ s ~ c h _ a ~ c _ a s e . Misunderstandings about the praper relationship between parents

and their grown children have resulted from r e I I c c o n ~ h e "owing" terminology. For instance, we hear parents complain, "You awc&io gs- to~witb- piano ~ I a y i n ~ n g ~ o p ~ a h i p p i e lifestyld b e c a u d ~ a & r z e d . f p ~ y J p a y i n g for piano — lessons, – sqdjng-you to colIe=)." The clzild is sometimes even heard to re- ply, "Ijidn't _—- ak to he b m e &=piano lessons, t o – b e s t 0 college)." This inappropriate idiom of ordinary lanpagc tends to be obscure, or even to.undermineLthe love that is the cox.recttp~d of m,gbligatiaa

1. Favors Create Debts

There are some cases, othe;~thanliter&clebu w h i c h h l k ~ ~ w – i s " though metaphoiica~ is apt. New to the neighborhood, MaK barely knows his neighbor, Nina, but he aks her if she will take in his mail while he is gone for a month's vacation. She agrees. If, subse- quently, Nina asks Max to do the same for her, it seems that Max has a moral obli@on to agne (greater than the one he wdd.Jxi!&had if Nina had not done th- for him), u n ~ y ~ o m ~ r e a s o n if w , o _ u l d ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ on~Nioa bmforhun. I will clil this ajuuor: w w L a t B ' r reqest, bears -. rorneburddOf —

B, then B incurs an obliprion tueciprou<e. ~ ~ a t ~ ~ r : ~ m e r s ~ ! ~ ~ ~ ~ s ~ o w i r ? g ' ~ N i ~ p p r a p ~ i ~ . I t i s not Iiterall y a debt, of course, nor can Nina pass this IOU on to heirs, demand payment in the form of Max's ralung out her garbage, or sue M u . Nonethelcss, since Mu ought to pez5orm one act of similar nature and amount of ~ a c d ~ ~ . ~ in return, the term is suggestive. Once he reciprocates, the debt ' "di~harged'-that is, their obligations rmrt to the ~ ~ n d i t j o n ''W were in before Max's initial request.

What Do Grown Children Owe Their Parents?

Contrast a situation in which Max simply goes on vacation and, to his surprise, finds upon his return that his neighbor has mowed his p s mice weekly in his absence. This is a voluntaty sacrifice rather than a favor, and Max has no duty to reciprocate. It wgdd be nice hr_.& to w~unteer to do SO> butthis would ~~spe_i~&ZZi — w. Ra&rr_than a favor, ~ i d s a c t i ~ w r e . & a result, she might expect Max ta chat over the back fence, help her

not unjustly treated or indignant, since Max has not failed to per- ,hm a duty. Talk of "owing" would be out of phce in this ca&J

It is sometimes diff~cult to distinguish between favors and non- , h r s , because friends tend to do favors for each other, and those who exchange favors tend to become friends. Byt one test is to ask how Max is nmikkd. Is it "to be nice to Nina" or "because – – – . _ -_ she did _ _. x ' f h"? Favors arc frequently paformed by total strmgm without 4ny friendship developing. Nevertheless, a temporary obligation is mated, even if the chance for repayment never arises. For instance, apgoaa that Oscar and Matilda, to@ strangar, are waiting in a long theckout line at the supemarke~@ar, having forgotten the oreg- mo, ash MatiIda to watch his cart for a second. She does, If MatiIda

OW asks Oscar to return the favor while she picks up s o m e tomato . ;' rcc, he is obligated to agree. Even if she had not watched his cart, -4Wuld be inconsiderate of im to refuse, claiming he was too busy a

dhg the mtguines. He mn, have had a duty to help o t h e d u t t "owe" it to her, But-ihhe had_dos-tke~.amd~r&rn,

incun an additional obligation to hdp, a n W of &I owl- . j J . S

, I ~ s t s ~ e r f o r m – equal, reciluwal, canceling

The Duties of Friendship



Giends are motivated by love rather thq-by the prospect of repay- – — A – — — – men — t. HeXe~d&cJf "owing" is singuIardyou_~_d~ta~e in friendship.

For example, suppose Alfred takes Beatrice out for an expens& dinner and a mwie. Beatrice incurs no obligation to "repay" him with a goodnight kiss or a return engagement. If Alfred complains that she "awes" him something, he is operating under the assmp- tion that she should repay a favor, but on b o ~ m q – s a gen- erous gesture d o n _ t i n ~ l e & p a ~ i n ~ a f._ien_dshluWe hope that he would not want her repayment in the form of sex or atten- tion if this was done to discharge a debt rather than from friendship, Since, if Alfred is prone to reasoning in this way, Beatrice may well decline the invitation or request re pay for her own dinner, his at- titude of expecting a "retum'kn his "investment" cotd$l~inde<&e de~el@&en.lpfa-fr1end~-~~. Beatrice should return the gesture — only if& is motivated by friendship&

Another common misuse of the "owing" idiom occurs when the Smiths have dined at the Joneses' four times, but the Joneses at the Smiths' only once. People of-y, "We ow-e-e d h n g , " This live of thinkingmavb-eag~oa~iate between busines_sSacqu_@- tances+-but not betwegn_frignds. After.sd, -the-~o_on_es_esinvited~he Smiths notjr~order-tofeed&ern or to be fed in turn, bulbecayg af the fri$n_dly~g@ct~e~Bmab_lLenjoyed .- by -. all —– on such occasions~~f – –

the Smiths do not feel friendship &ward the Joneses, they can decline future invitations and not invite the Joneses; t h v owe them nothing. Of course, between friends of equal resources and needs, roughly equal sacrifices (though not necessarily roughly equal dinners) will typically occur. If the sacrifices are highly out of proportion to the resaurces, the relatianshp is closer to servility than to fiiendship.'

Another difference between fay_o~sanbfrien&hip.js thatafter a 'y–

fiiendshjan,+, the dutles of Mendship end. The party that has sac- — sificed less owes the other nothing. For instance, suppose Elmer d* nated a pint ofblood that hs wife Doris needed during an operation. Years after their divorce, Elmer is in an accident and nee& one pint of blood. His new wife, Cota, is also of the same blood type. Itseems Uw Doris not only doer not "OWE'' Elmer blood, but that she &odd

'Cf: Thorn E. Hill,jr., "Servility and Self-respect," M~~irr 57 (1 973). Thus# dlrr- hg childhood, most o f the sacrifices will come from the parents, since fiq most of the resources and the child has most ofthe nee&. When chdhflare pm' the situation is usually revened.

What Do Grown Children Owe Their Parenel

actually refrain from coming forward if Cora has volunteered to do- nate. E i n s i s t on donating not only interferes with the newlyweds' ' friendslup, but it belittles Doris and Elmer's f o r m relationship by suggesting that Elmer gave blood in hopes of favon returned instead of simply out of love for Dong It is one of the heart-rend;llgfea- M S _- of divorce ______ that it I attends to quantity in a relznonrhip .previously


characterized by mutuality. If Cora could not donate, ori is's-81i- 'ptioa is the same as that for any former spouse in need of blood; it is not increased by the fact that E h e r similarly aided her. It is aEected,/ by the degree to which t h q are still friends, which in turn m y (o# k maj not) have been influenced by Elmer's donation.

, In short, l a n l i k e t h p l bv favors, t h e h t k i of friend- ' shp do not rectuire equlLguantiti~f sacrifice. Performing equd

sacrifices does not cancel the duties of friendship, as it does the deb@ of fivon. Unreqyed-sacrifices-ddo_n_ottthemselves .~reate-debts~ but h-imds have &tier crqrdIess of w h e t k r t h ~ u e s t e d o*tiatf:d be friendship. Those who perform favorr may be motivated by mu-

grin, whereas Men& should be motivated by affection. x h ~ e characteristics of the friendship relation are distorted by talk of 4'&!3.'?


3, Pmrena and Children

'@he relatiomhip bemeen children and thdr parenh should be one dfiiandship characterized by mutuality rather than one of recip- tocd favog The quantity of parental sacrifice is not relevant in de-

,:krtmning what duties the grown child has. The medical assistance I , W n chlldsen ought to otfer their ill mothers in old age depends

1 the mothers' need, not upon whether they endured a mcult I phgnancy, for example. Nor do one's duties to one's parents cease

antity ofsacrifice has been performed, as the phrase debt" may lead us to think. children ought to do for their parents (and parents for

s upon (1) their respective ne- . , . e- e e-ther- o a n r o i g m & –

~huiregardless of the quantity of childhood sacri les , child has an obligation to help his needyparents more y child. To illustrate, suppose sisters Cecile andDana

udy loved by their parents, even thou& Cecile was an easy


our fr'endshlp." I hope this helps to set the question of what children ought do

for their parenu in a new light. The earcntal a r ~ p e n t , ' :yoyouought m dqx-b~capr~_we did y f . u , " — should-be_pl;lced by. :?!*

child to care for, seldom ill, while Dana was often sick and caused some muble as a juvenile delinquent. As adults, Dana is a s tngg l iq artist living far away, while Cecile is a wealthy lawyer living nearby. When the parents need visits and financial aid, Cecile has an obliP- tion to bear a higher proportion of these burdens than her sister. This results from her &ilities>xa_t:her than fi~m-theguantities-offsacrif~

*GZde-b7yfhCparen~ -. earlier. – Sacrifices have an important causal role in creating an ongoing

friendship, whi .~h~may. lead-us – to~assurne~xr%tt l ) t~~ . the_~~- sifices that are the source of-on. Tbt.the sourceis the friend- -._ . –.. – – – 'sh'ip'GsteiZ – can – be – seen by cxamining~ags in which-the sacrifices occurred but. the friendship? for sameseason,did-not develop or per6jt, For – – example, — if a w o w gives up her ~ b o r n child hr adoption, and sf no feelings of love ever develop on either side, it seems that the grown child does not have an obligation to "repay" her for her sacrifices in pregnancy, For that matter, if the adopted child has an unimpaired love relationship with the adoptive parena, he or she has the same obligations to help them as a natural child would havd.

The filial obligations ~ f . g ~ . c h ~ d r e ~ _ a ~ ~ a ~ r e s u l t _ o f friendship, rather — than owed-forsemi_ces~endered. Suppose that Vance masiied ~ o l a z ~ i t ; his parents' strong wish that he marry within their reli- gion, and that as a result, the parents refuse to speak to him again. As the years pass, the parenB are unaware of Vance's problems, his ac- complishments, the birth of his children. The love that once existed between them, let us supp?=@ been completely destroyed by this event and thirty yean o f I d e r q @ ~ ~ this point, it seems, Vance under no obligation to pay his parents' medical bills in their old age* beyond hs genera duty to help those in need. An addiriond, fdd obligation would only arise from whatever love he may still feel fa

v What Do Grown Children Owe Their ~ a r t n 2


YOU and you will be happier if YOU do" orrII.Weebelieve you love us, &d anyonewho loved us would do x,," If she parents' sacrifice h<d been a favor, the child's reply, "I never asked you to do y for me," would have bees relevant; to the revised parental remarks, this reply is clearly irrelevant. Fhe hechild can either do x or dispute one of the parents' claims: by sht%&~~ that a love relationship does not exist, or that love for someone does not motivate doing x, or that he or she 'will not be happier doing xi-? , Seen in this light, parena requests for children to write hate, !visit, and offer them a reasonable amount of emotional and financial

J mppoa in life's crises are well founded, so long as a friendslap still ; exists. Love for others does call for caring about and caring for them.

other parental requests, such as for more sweeping changes in lifestyle or life goals, can be seen to be insupportable, once

I 1;we shift the justification from debts awed to love, The tenninolow

hem. It would be irrelevant for his pacents to a w e , "But look how much we sacrificed for you when you were young," for that ucrifia

", bffavors sukests the reasoning, "Since we traid for vour collem edu-

was not a favor but occurred as part of a friendship which existed at the time but is now, we have supposed, defuncQA more appr0prbt' message would be, "We stdl love YOU, md w y w ~ l d like to r e n n

g patterns. The suppressed premise, "EA loves B, thena. follows to A's hfelang career" &.simply_ false. Love does not

the child n d o ~ t the oarents' valuer as to the desir- I ptlity of alternative life goals, the barentr;' stronmst available ark

function of these examples is to draw out our cansidered