Saturday, August 5, 2017

Jean Kazez's "The Philosophical Parent"

Jean Kazez teaches philosophy at Southern Methodist University. She is the author of Animalkind: What We Owe to Animals and The Weight of Things: Philosophy and the Good Life.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The Philosophical Parent: Asking the Hard Questions about Having and Raising Children, and reported the following:
Page 99 is the first page of chapter seven: “Whose Child is This?” Here’s how the chapter begins:
You’ve decided to have a child, conceived and gestated her, and given birth. Now what? You hold your child, gaze upon her in awe, feed her, kiss her—her, the child you gave birth to. It’s so important that you do all these things with the right child that every baby wears an identification bracelet in the hospital nursery, and mix-ups are regarded as a total fiasco.

Are mix-ups really a fiasco? Most people think so, including the very rare person who is involved in one. Sue McDonald and Marti Miller were both born in Wisconsin in 1951, and raised in the same small town. Mary Miller, who gave birth to Sue, suspected a mix-up when she brought her new baby home from the hospital...
I tell this story, which I heard on a 2008 episode of This American Life, to broach the question why parents have a right to bring home and raise their biological children. The Miller family did a perfectly good job of raising Marti; the McDonald family did a perfectly good job of raising Sue. But everyone was terribly upset when the mix-up came to light. The situation violated the norm that says biological parents ought to know which child is theirs, and should have the prerogative to bring that child home.

But why is that the norm? The prerogative-to-raise part of the question becomes particularly acute in a better-off-elsewhere situation, a situation in which there is one baby, a set of biological parents, and also a much better equipped set of prospective parents. Why is it up to the biological parents, assuming they’re not unfit, whether they raise the child?

As simple and fundamental as the question is, there isn’t agreement among philosophers about the answer. Some think that biological parents don’t actually have special prerogatives—that we assume that they do only out of a sort of “blood bias.” I examine that idea in chapter 8, but in Chapter 7 I present my own position, which centers on the idea that, to their creators, children are “second selves but separate.” The basic idea can be found in Aristotle, but I expand on it and argue that it helps us understand parental prerogatives, including the prerogative to raise the child you’ve brought into the world.
Learn more about The Philosophical Parent at Jean Kazez's website and the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue