What is a Family? Considerations on Purpose, Biology, and Sociality

Public Affairs Quarterly 1 (33) (2019)
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There are many different interpretations of what the family should be – its desired member composition, its primary purpose, and its cultural significance – and many different examples of what families actually look like across the globe. I examine the most paradigmatic conceptions of the family that are based upon the supposed primary purpose that the family serves for its members and for the state. I then suggest that we ought to reconceptualize how we understand and define the family in an effort to move away from these paradigmatic conceptions. This approach requires that we examine the way(s) in which the family has been defined descriptively – that is, how families have been defined historically – in an effort to determine what a normative theory of the family might look like. The goal of this inquiry is to define a family in terms of what it ought to be – a goal that moves our understanding of the family to a new conceptual landscape. I then present my own account of familial relations that aims to capture a normative understanding of the unique primary purpose that the family serves for its members.
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