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Brighouse and Swift on Parental Partiality

It is widely thought that people have morally weighty prerogatives to act partially toward particular others. Indeed, the permissibility of partial relationships between individuals is a touchstone of liberal – including egalitarian liberal - thinking. These relationships appear inegalitarian in deep ways. The parties to partial relationships may exclude others from the mutual benefits their association yields and have special responsibilities to one another that give them the right, and sometimes the duty, to further one another’s interests in ways that may interrupt equality. Our focus in this paper is the relationship widely thought to be the most powerfully protected of all: that between parents and their children. We do not believe that parents must be permitted to pursue their children’s best interests regardless of the inequalities that pursuit may induce between them and others. The behavior described is excessive, not legitimate, parental partiality. Our aim in this paper is to provide a normative account of the familial relationship that explains why.

Harry Brighouse and Adam Swift (2007), “Legitimate Parental Partiality,” unpublished paper. Available here.

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