Parenting the Parents: The Ethics of Parent-Targeted Paternalism in the Context of Anti-poverty Policies

In Nicolás Brando & Gottfried Schweiger (eds.), Philosophy and Child Poverty: Reflections on the Ethics and Politics of Poor Children and Their Families. Springer. pp. 321-340 (2019)
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Governments often aim to improve children’s wellbeing by targeting the decision-making of their parents. In this paper, I explore this phenomenon, providing an ethical evaluation of the ways in which governments target parental decision-making in the context of anti-poverty policies. I first introduce and motivate the concept of parent-targeted paternalism to categorize such policies. I then investigate whether parent-targeted paternalism is ever pro tanto wrong, arguing that it is when directed at parents who meet a threshold of parental competency. I next explore the factors that affect the degree of pro tanto wrongness of paternalistic anti-poverty policies targeting parents, and provide an account of the conditions under which such policies are on balance permissible, and when they are not. Finally, I illustrate the plausibility and usefulness of my framework by considering a case.

Author's Profile

Douglas MacKay
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill


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