Family Autonomy and Class Fate

Symposion: Theoretical and Applied Inquiries in Philosophy and Social Sciences 3 (2):131-149 (2016)
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The family poses problems for liberal understandings of social justice, because of the ways in which it bestows unearned privileges. This is particularly stark when we consider inter-generational inequality, or ‘class fate’ – the ways in which inequality is transmitted from one generation to the next, with the family unit ostensibly a key conduit. There is a recognized tension between the assumption that families should as far as possible be autonomous spheres of decision-making, and the assumption that we should as far as possible equalize the life chances of all children, regardless of background. In this article I address this tension by way of recent liberal egalitarian literature, and consideration of the different dimensions of class fate. I argue, firstly, that the tension may not be of the a priori nature which liberals have tended to identify – and secondly, that as well as distributive and recognition-based aspects, the notion of contributive justice provides a particularly illuminating way of analyzing what is wrong about class fate, and the role of the family in promoting it.

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Gideon Calder
University of South Wales


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