Has Philosophy Affected Your Parenting? Or Vice Versa?


Philosopher-parents: how, if at all, has philosophy affected how you parent? And how, if at all, has being a parent affected your philosophical views? And is there wisdom about parenting to be found in the history of philosophy? 

Matt Beard, an associate lecturer at the University of Notre Dame Australia, has started a four-part series about the philosophy of parenting at The Philosopher’s Zone, a program from the Australia Broadcasting Company. (The first installment features guests L.A. Paul of the University of North Carolina and Travis Rieder of the Berman Institute of Bioethics at Johns Hopkins University.) The introduction to the series states that when Beard, about to become a parent, looked to the philosophers he had studied for thoughts on parenthood, “the result was bleak”:

Matt was used to consulting wisdom built up over two millennia for guidance. No such luck with parenting—unless you’d like to take Plato’s advice to abolish the private family; or to follow Arthur Schopenhauer’s firm belief that it’s an act of sheer cruelty to bring children into the world. So Matt decided to make the philosophical journey himself—surely there must be something out there? 

It seems that there’s plenty of contemporary philosophical work on questions relating to parenthood. For example, there’s work on procreative ethics, such as Rivka Weinberg’s The Risk of a Lifetime and the recent collection, Permissible Progeny, edited by Sarah Hannan, Samantha Brennan, and Richard Vernon; philosophical work related to the quality of children’s lives, such as The Right to Be Loved by S. Matthew Liao, and the volume, The Nature of Children’s Well-Being, edited by Alexander Bagattini and Colin McCleod; and work on the political dimensions of the family, such as Family Values by Harry Brighouse and Adam Swift. Perhaps most on point for Beard’s inquiry would be The Philosophical Parent: Asking the Hard Questions about Having and Raising Children by Jean Kazez. (This is far from a comprehensive list; recent article and book suggestions welcome.)

One striking thing about parenting is just how little progress seems to have been made in it, given that humans (homo sapiens) have been doing it over and over again for over 200,000 years. This is not to say there hasn’t been any progress (reductions in rates of child mortality, abuse, etc.), but given that human parenting has happened over 100 billion times, you’d think we would have gotten it down by now. And we haven’t—even granting reasonable disagreement over what to expect of it. Any honest and half-decent parent will admit that it is hard to know whether you’ve figured parenting out; even if a parent ends up with “good results” we don’t know if it was because or in spite of how we parented, and we don’t know how much was owed to luck.

Our condition is one of remarkable ignorance in light of all the experience. So I suppose that’s something parenting has in common with philosophy.

 

René Magritte, “The Spirit of Geometry”

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Arthur Greeves
Arthur Greeves
3 years ago

The very notion that parenting is an endeavor that admits of “success” is part of the problem. Being a parent is simply having a relationship with certain special obligations. If you fulfill the obligations part, what really matters is having a good relationship with your child. To think of relationships in terms of “success” (to paraphrase Anscombe) is an indication of a corrupt mind. If a child grows up and experiences depression or poverty or what have you, poor parenting MAY be at fault, but those things happen to children with wonderful relationships with their parents too.

The language of “success” inevitably misunderstands what a parent is for.Report

Dennis Arjo
Dennis Arjo
Reply to  Arthur Greeves
3 years ago

I’m not too sure about this. Parents do have special duties to their children, and among those, I would think, are duties to see to their current and future thriving. Essential to the former is learning how to navigate well the complex social world of which children are a part; essential to the latter is acquiring habits of mind and practice that enable adults to manage their own affairs, provide for themselves and those who depend on them, and take part in public life. Put bluntly, part of parenting is socializing children. Unless we think there’s nothing parents can do to contribute in better or worse ways to their children’s socialization, it certainly seems parents can be more or less successful at parenting.Report

Arthur Greeves
Arthur Greeves
Reply to  Dennis Arjo
3 years ago

My experience is that children have a rather smooth time navigating their social world, if they have stable attachments to their parents and other adults. Perhaps it is hard to accomplish this, in contemporary society, especially with the atrocious nature of many schools. (30 students, 1 teacher = moral and intellectual violence to children.)

But quite apart from that, I was not denying that parents had special obligations, and I agree that these must be met by parents. This is a matter of non-maleficence. My point was that non-maleficence will not give anything like a guarantee that children will thrive. Thus, if you say parenting can be “successful”, you are claiming that it can be successful despite the fact that a “successful” parent might have children who fail to thrive. That’s a bit like saying that I can be successful in business even though my business shuts down.

Measuring parental success in terms of the success of children only makes parents feel guilty. It may be a statistical correlation, but it is not the type of thing you can judge individuals on.Report

Dennis Arjo
Dennis Arjo
Reply to  Arthur Greeves
3 years ago

Well, I agree there are no guarantees of success, and the point about overestimating how much of a difference parents can make and parental guilt is well taken. But neither of these show parents can’ be successful to greater or lesser degrees. Parents can do all that can reasonably done to protect and nurture their children’s health and still have something horrible happen. But that doesn’t mean that they cannot in general do a better or worse job of protecting their children’s health, or that they cannot claim success when their children are healthier and safer in part because of choices they made as parents. They should do their best here, and way more often than not it will make a difference.

The better analogy would be that you can be a better or worse business person even if your business may very well fail for reasons beyond your control. A failed business doesn’t count as a success, but good business practices surely contribute to successful businesses–hence the phrase “a successful business person.” Perhaps we can agree on this: good parents do what they can to increase the likelihood that their children will thrive.Report

Arthur Greeves
Arthur Greeves
Reply to  Dennis Arjo
3 years ago

Agreed.Report

Lisa
Lisa
Reply to  Arthur Greeves
3 years ago

It does not depend on the child’s success–but it does involve success at approximating some ideal behavior in one’s own actions. It involves successful execution of tasks, and it involves skills, and self-control managing one’s own emotions. It requires attention to the challenges of mastering a number of organizational, interpersonal & strategic challenges. It continually makes me wish I had all the virtues (if indeed there are such things).

This seems far more challenging that merely socialization–since it requires a fully loving relationship with a person whose qualities or characteristics you do not choose, as in most voluntarily assumed relationships. Even with involuntary relationships there is sometimes the option of stepping away when things are going very badly. With a child, this is never an option.

You are also dealing with someone who is hardwired to be hugely impacted by most of the things you do, say, and feel (or do not do, say, or feel). This sensitivity to the parent lessens quite a bit as the child grows.

Philosophy has had too many influences over my parenting to list, and there is a feedback loop between parenting and bits of philosophy. One example–I try and encourage my children to take responsiblity for their own actions as much as possible–even while recognizing they probably aren’t in control of many of their actions. Parenting will always make you see things about being human–since you are in the process of watching someone become a full person. .Your child’s personality is a product of random and arbitrary causes that push them this and that way, and their mental states look obviously connected to circumstances and their physical condition in a way that our own mental states almost never do to us. You are going to know that they probably hit their brother because they haven’t napped, etc. You take the objective stance with them in order to prevent future meltdowns, and to not inappropriately blame creatures whose brains aren’t fully developed. But if you don’t get them to grapple with seeing themselves as fully responsible for who they are and what they did, they won’t learn that this is a possibility. .They have to be held responsible for their actions before they can actually become anything close to genuinely responsible. At some point, you have to see yourself as an agent, not just a plastic sack floating on the breeze. You might as well start early. To really live like this, though, a person has to be ready to forgive others and themselves for mistakes–so that is another intense lesson for the parent.

You’ll also see them try to navigate all the social hierarchy & humans-as primates situations. Depending on how committed to egalitarianism you are, you might raise the idea that social hierarchies are usually based on totally arbitrary grounds that people will be ardently attached to but which cannot be defended upon examination. Of course, you then have to mitigate that point by letting them realize that sometimes social norms require acting as if the hierarchy truly matters, and it’s not hypocritical to go along (or it is–but life may require some hypocrisy).

Speaking of hypocrisy–a child is a mirror that will always reflect your own hypocrisy and many other failings back to you. Eventually, they may even learn to explain to you what your failings are. So it is like philosophy in that you get better with criticism and self criticism (usually) but you are never nearly good enough at it.Report

Jessica
Jessica
3 years ago

Are there any philosophical arguments for the moral permissibility of having biologically related children (rather than adopted children)?

As I contemplate having children in the near future, I have been surprised to find basically nothing defending the idea that it’s OK to have biological children. All of the considerations that philosophers give for thinking that parenting and having children is morally defensible seem to be considerations that do not support having *biologically-related* children over having non-biologically-related children (bracketing concerns about the costs associated with adopting, which, of course, are prohibitive for many). There is a piece in the “Permissible Progeny” volume, but it’s extremely tentative in its conclusion.

I would be very interested to hear considerations supporting this idea here, or references to other works!Report

Rick
Rick
Reply to  Jessica
3 years ago

I don’t know of any (because I know very little about this literature, so forgive me if you’re not interested in this comment—just an idea I had!), but I wonder if one place to start for such a defense would be defending the idea that people are (generally) assets, rather than burdens.

At some level of population size one could probably make an argument for ensuring genetic diversity, as well, but I assume that there is nothing about the current human population as a whole that would ground this. Perhaps recent immigrants to (e.g.) Iceland would have a special duty to reproduce biologically than native Icelanders would not.Report

Urstoff
Urstoff
Reply to  Jessica
3 years ago

Why wouldn’t it be ok? That there’s something better that you could do than X does not automatically make X morally impermissible (or else spending any money beyond basic subsistence on anything that’s not charity would be morally impermissible).Report

Jessica
Jessica
Reply to  Urstoff
3 years ago

Maybe I should have put the question this way: I’m looking for reasons *in favor* having a biologically related child rather than an adoptive child (supposing a person wants *a* child, and has the means either to adopt or to procreate). Though I take your point, that “there’s something better that you could do than X doesn’t make X wrong.”Report

Joona Räsänen
Joona Räsänen
Reply to  Jessica
3 years ago

Jessica, and others, you should check a recent book by Melissa Moschella. ‘To Whom Do Children Belong? – Parental Rights, Civic Education, and Children’s Autonomy’. Not sure if it has much material regarding the adoption vs. procreation debate but it seems to have lots of interesting stuff on the topic of parenting.Report

AA
AA
Reply to  Jessica
3 years ago

Maybe try “Genetic Affinity and the Right to ‘Three-parent IVF” by Owen Schaefer?Report

Arthur Greeves
Arthur Greeves
Reply to  Jessica
3 years ago

You might as well question the moral permissibility of gardening. Life is beautiful!Report

Jessica
Jessica
Reply to  Arthur Greeves
3 years ago

Supposing life is beautiful (in the relevant sense), I still don’t see how this supports having a biologically related child over an adoptive child.Report

Arthur Greeves
Arthur Greeves
Reply to  Jessica
3 years ago

There are a number of reasons here, including practical ones that weigh very heavily with many people: it is much easier, quicker, and less expensive to have your own biological child. (It also exposes one to less state interference). There is also a particular value both to the child and to the parent in having a biological connectedness, a resemblance, and a blood tie. I think such a connection is a characteristic good experienced by human beings, and it is not something to be cast aside as irrelevant. That said, I think adoptive parents are making a heroic choice in many cases, precisely because adoption is harder and (perhaps) somewhat less likely to be intrinsically rewarding. Children need good parents!Report

Neil
Neil
Reply to  Jessica
3 years ago

There is a small literature, though I haven’t looked at in a loooong time. I’m sure that there’s more recent stuff.

“Are You My Mommy?” On the Genetic Basis of Parenthood.
Avery Kolers & Tim Bayne – 2001 – Journal of Applied Philosophy 18 (3):273–285.

Reproductive Cloning and a (Kind of) Genetic Fallacy.
Neil Levy & Mianna Lotz – 2005 – Bioethics 19 (3):232–250

Cloning and Adoption: A Reply to Levy and Lotz.
Carson Strong – 2008 – Bioethics 22 (2):130–136.Report

Travis N. Rieder
Travis N. Rieder
Reply to  Jessica
3 years ago

Hi Jessica,

Tina Rulli wrote her doctoral dissertation on this topic at Yale, and has published several papers on it since. I wrote a paper partially responding to her and a similar argument made by Daniel Friedrich. In short, Tina thinks that prospective parents are obligated to adopt rather than procreate (if it weren’t out of one’s reach for, say, financial reasons). I argue that the case for adoption is even stronger than she lets on (she focuses on our capacity to ‘rescue’, but I note that creating a child is morally risky for other reasons as well), but that we might not get obligation out of it, since forming one’s family is arguably not the proper target of a positive obligation.

Perhaps you’d find these arguments interesting!Report

E
E
Reply to  Travis N. Rieder
3 years ago

Thanks for sharing. Are you also by any chance aware of related pieces directed toward a more general, non-expert audience?Report

Mark McCormick
Mark McCormick
Reply to  Jessica
3 years ago

Because they share the same genes, children are more likely to have common traits, capabilities, and limitations with their biological parents. Therefore, biological parents are likely to be better parents to their biological children. They will better understand their child’s capabilities and limitations and be better able to foster their integration and success in society.Report

Daniel Groll
Daniel Groll
Reply to  Mark McCormick
3 years ago

Mary: do you know of any empirical evidence that supports your view? My (admittedly amateurish) understanding of the relevant social science is that parents in what Susan Golombok terms “modern families” — lesbian couples, gay couples, surrogacy families, donor conception families — are as good, if not a little better, than parents in “traditional” families where both parents are genetically related to their children. As she puts it in the conclusion to her excellent book *Modern Families*:

“Although children in lesbian, gay, solo mother and assisted reproduction families are indistinguishable from children in traditional families in terms of psychological well-being, there appear to be differences between these family types in quality of parenting. Contrary to expectations, these differences generally reflect a higher, rather than a lower, quality of parenting in new family forms.” (Golombok, 2015, 193)

This doesn’t speak directly against your claim since there are often genetic ties in these “modern families”. But it does, I think, put some pressure on your claim. The takeaway I get from Golombok’s work is that the genetic link itself has very little to do with the quality of parenting or the well-being of the children and that other factors are overwhelmingly more significant.Report

Sol
Sol
Reply to  Daniel Groll
3 years ago

The Cinderella Effect may be relevant: humans who live with children are apparently less likely to physically harm or kill biological children than non-biological ones. This effect is often discussed in evo psych. I’m not sure just how good the data is or whether an evo psych explanation is warranted, but it is something empirical to think about.Report

Will Wilkinson
Will Wilkinson
Reply to  Jessica
3 years ago

One thought is that being the the legal guardian or custodian of a child is sufficient for being a parent, but it falls short of providing the typical experience of *parenthood,* the desire for which drives many people to become parents. For most women, parenthood involves pregnancy, childbirth, and often nursing, all of which are often experienced as deeply emotional and meaningful, and these experiences are carried into her emotional attachment to her child. For men it’s different, since they may or may not be around during gestation and birth, but for many of us, a sense of attentive care and protection for partners pregnant with “our” baby, as well as assistance in childbirth and immediate participation in bonding and attachment, is a profoundly meaningful and valuable experience. And as others have mentioned, seeing aspects of yourself in your genetically related child is deeply fascinating, and can even be an illuminating source of self-knowledge, and is one of the reasons many people want to parent biological offspring. Adoptive children provide a different experience of parenthood with its own unique sources of meaning and value, but it is manifestly not the experience of parenthood most people who raise children are seeking.

One possibly interesting angle on this question might come from asking why assortative partnering it is permissible. Why is it okay for people with PhDs or high incomes to pair off with similarly privileged people? Why is the tendency to do this so strong in the first place? (One of the most striking consequences of increased gender equality and female labor force participation has been increased socioeconomic self-segregation in marriage. Gender equality makes it easier to match like with like, which increases socioeconomic inequality.) I think the best answer to why people tend to prefer to match with partners with similar interests, cultural backgrounds, and levels intelligence, status, and achievement, etc. might have something to do with why most people who want to be parents want biological children rather than adoptive children. In which case, I suspect that if biological rather than adoptive kids aren’t okay, then assortative partner choice isn’t okay, either. No argument to offer here, just a hunch. But if that were the case, I’d start to worry about the relevance and authority of morality to actual, biological human people. If the true moral principles turn out to say “It’s wrong to partner with anyone from the class of people you find yourself most attracted to, and if you want kids, it’s wrong to have biological rather than adoptive ones,” few normal human beings will ever be able to see morality as authoritative. Generally, the fact that nobody is likely to believe a proposition is irrelevant to its truth, but I’m not so sure there can be true but unbelievable moral truths. It’s hard to see the practical point of morality if it’s not usable. But it also seems weird and wrong to say that if we’re just biologically incorrigibly bad, then moral truths aren’t really truths unless they’re acceptable to incorrigibly bad agents.

I dunno. That’s a thicket. Cool question, Jessica. Thanks.Report

Fiona Woollard
Fiona Woollard
Reply to  Will Wilkinson
3 years ago

Matthew Liao’s excellent book on the right of children to be loved (mentioned above) has a section discussing the right to parenting biological children – which he argues is a basic human good.Report

Alison
Alison
Reply to  Jessica
3 years ago

Jessica – Anca Gheaus has written on exactly this.Report

RA
RA
3 years ago

I’m not a parent, but have spent a lot of time thinking about whether I would like to be one.

Right now, as for most of my life, I lean quite strongly to the ‘no’ side. What has philosophy contributed to this? Philosophy can cultivate analytical thoroughness, but this isn’t always beneficial–there is also a hint of intellectual paranoia in philosophical thinking (“But /do/ I know this is my hand?’). This can then seep into our major life decisions, not least involving those that involve creating people.

What I find gives me such pause when thinking about becoming a parent is that the decision is profoundly sui generis: there is nothing else i can do in this world that will create another subject who will experience its life from an irreducibly first-person perspective. (And also notice that creating life is in at least one way more radical than taking it, since an act of creation can’t possibly be analyzed in terms of the desires of the subject being created, as the act of killing can be for the subject being killed).

That is a profound power to exercise over someone, and I often wonder how reflective people don’t pause more when they do exercise it. This isn’t to say I believe they shouldn’t have children; far from it. It’s just to say that I wonder how they managed to reconcile themselves with it. Perhaps this is a part of their life where they decided reflection should stop…I’m not sure.

Life is almost always a risk, rarely a gift. But maybe that’s just the intellectual paranoia talking again, I’m truly not sure.Report

Clifford Sosis
3 years ago

Here are a few excerpts from What Is It Like to Be a Philosopher? interviews:

“Having children led me to take an interest in how they saw and understood the world, and of course in their ethical development. I became involved, to a modest extent, in the philosophy for children movement, ordering some of the books aimed at young children written by Matthew Lipman. I read and discussed them with my own children, as well as taking them to the children’s primary school and trying to stimulate some interest in philosophy for children there.” ~ Peter Singer

“My kids have helped make me more patient, more tolerant, more aware of my limits, but having them has not, as far as I can tell, affected my philosophical views.” ~ Justin Weinberg

“I would say that the wonder that kids have keeps me fresh. Kids are natural philosophers. They come into this world ignorant of all of the metaphysical, epistemological, and ethical assumptions contained in the culture into which they are born. So, they ask all kinds of questions that cause one (or, at least, me) to examine philosophical issues afresh. On how my philosophy influences my approach to raising kids, I think I am more careful than I otherwise might be about imposing upon them my own version of anything (such as what is important, how life should go, what is a fact, what is true). At the same time, I think my fundamental concern with the ethical has made me particularly concerned about raising ethically sensitive kids. I want them to be thoughtful about how the way they approach things affects themselves and others. I want them to be kind, and I want them to be truthful. So, a large part of my parenting has been about explaining to them why I think it is important to be kind and honest, both to themselves and others.” ~ Tina Fenandez Botts

“Well, I guess it could. It didn’t change mine.” ~Graham Priest, on whether kids changed his philosophical outlook

“My views haven’t changed as much as my emotions. For a long while, I could and did live angrily inside. Growing older, being married, having a child, and really trying to open myself up has made me, I think and hope, a better person, but in some senses more burdened. My racial views are more critical than ever because I know more, but affectively, I am quicker to take up competing positions before I take up anger, even when it’s justified. It’s tiring, but that’s what it means to be brown in America if your view of a good life is not only to acquire stuff but to acquire temperance.” ~ Chris Lebron

“My daughter Alice was born in Oxford in 1993, and my elder son Conrad in Edinburgh in 1996. Not as a result, my first marriage broke up in the years 1998-2000. From 2000 on, I was living in Oxford, from 2001 with Ana, who became my second wife, while they remained in Edinburgh with their mother. Much of my non-professional life revolved around spending as much time as I could with Alice and Conrad, in Edinburgh, Oxford and elsewhere. I don’t deceive myself with the idea that it’s enough to spend only short periods with children provided that it’s ‘quality time’. Having quality time with children depends on also spending large quantities of ordinary time with them too, so that you are all easy and comfortable together. In any case, children want parents to be there, in the background. They want the non-quality time too. I will always feel the loss, to me and to them, of the large parts of Alice and Conrad’s daily growing up that I missed. In 2005, Ana and I had a son, Arno, whose growing up I have been present for. In one way or another I’ve been living the life of a family man since 1993, albeit in part the life of a broken-family man. I’m often traveling, not only for work. Ana’s immediate family lives in Belgrade, so we often go there (I usually give a talk in the philosophy department too). Her extended family has a house on Korcula, an island in the Adriatic between Split and Dubrovnik, more Venetian than Balkan in spirit and looks. We gather there every summer. We swim from rocks less than fifty yards from the house, under the city walls. We go to Lumbarda for its sandy beach and fish restaurant in the remains of a Roman villa. Round the offshore islands a sea-battle took place nearby in 1298 between the Venetians and the Genoese, reputedly the one in which Marco Polo was captured; one island was also the local leper colony. In the background stands the mountain of Sveti Ilija, falsely reputed by pleasure-loving Dalmatians to be an exhausting climb. When we can, we also travel as a family to the Scottish Highlands; it was satisfying to go with all three of my children up Beinn Dorain two years ago, and Ben More on the island of Mull (mentioned in Kidnapped) last year.” ~ Timothy Williamson

“While in Ann Arbor we adopted our two children, Isaac and Zina. Isaac was born in Ft. Worth, TX and we adopted him at 4 weeks old. Zina was born in Lansing, MI and I was at her birth and we brought her home from the hospital when she was a day old. Both adoptions are open: we know the birth families and have regular contact with them. They are all part of our huge, complicated, loving, family. We moved to Cambridge when Isaac was 4 and Zina 2, and they grew up here. Isaac is about to graduate from Howard University in Washington DC with a BA in sociology. Zina is working on a degree in psychology and works in an Afterschool (& Summer) Program through the Cambridge Public Schools. They are amazing people doing really important work. I admire them so much. We’ve never encouraged [the kids] to go in to philosophy. Our kids are very different from us and we love that. We learn so much from the differences and it puts our nerdy philosophical form of life into perspective. Of course if they wanted to do philosophy, that would be different. But we want them to follow their own passions. My personal life has definitely shaped my philosophical interests and my views. One paper of mine that demonstrates that clearly is “You Mixed?”. It is about the complicated identity that I developed in raising Black kids. Issues of race, gender, class, identity have been complicated in my life, and reflections on my life have made a big difference to the sort of work I do.” ~ Sally Haslanger

“I balance research and teaching mostly by first making sure I’ve done what I need to for my students, and then using the remaining portion of my time for research, with something carved off for family time and downtime. It’s really easy to let work eat up all your time in academia, so I think it’s important to figure out some things that are important to you—kids, exercise, whatever—and carve out time for them, no matter what. If something doesn’t get done, it doesn’t get done; you have to have a life. Sort of like saving for retirement—you can always use the money now, but that way poverty lies, so you just need to commit. But then, some things really do need to get done, like a conference talk, so it’s hard not to make exceptions now and then. But those exceptions can really creep up on you, and end up being the norm. The trick is keeping them to a minimum. I can’t say I’ve really mastered that trick.” ~ Dan Haybron

“I have a four year-old daughter, and she is objectively the cutest and most fun person in the universe. These days, she is obsessed with ancient Egypt, so we spend a lot of time running around the living room pretending to be Cleopatra or Anubis or whatever.” ~ Joshua Knobe, on what he does to unwind

“I met my first wife, Connie, in my first year of college. She was a freshman at Kalamazoo College too. After my first year, I transferred to Wayne State University, back in Detroit. I also got married that summer, and my first child was born during my sophomore year – my son Al…The thought of a child on the way caused a change in me. Suddenly, I was serious about school – and I really enjoyed my classes. I had a scholarship at Wayne too, but I had a family to support. I worked work-study jobs – at a mental health outpatient clinic and some recreation centers for kids – and I had other jobs on weekends and some evenings: I worked in a scrap yard and a small market, and I did some bricklaying, house painting, and the like. I was a very busy guy. Connie worked as a legal secretary while I was in graduate school, which definitely helped pay the bills.” ~ Al Mele

I’m sure I’m missing a few…Report

Clifford Sosis
Reply to  Clifford Sosis
3 years ago

Sorry, realized I left out some important stuff Lebron told me…

“You learn exactly how much patience you don’t have; you face the lies you’ve told yourself about your virtues – you deconstruct yourself and, if you’re sincere about being a good parent and person, you rebuild, one habit at a time. This finds its way into the work in a few ways. One, I think more closely about accessibility – I have something I want to say, I think it’s helpful, but am I being clear? Second, the idea of making the world just a little better takes on a new valence. You move past the romance of thinking big thoughts to the reality that if you do what I do in my work, the ideas matter not only now, but have mattered since the first Africans were chained up and dragged here. It’s not a game.”Report

John Schwenkler
3 years ago

My first child was born just as I was starting work on my dissertation. My wife is a philosophy PhD as well, and the nausea and vertigo from pregnancy derailed her own dissertation work for several years. My second was born just as I was finishing my dissertation and getting ready to move and start my first tenure-track job. We’ve had four more children since then, including one who was stillborn at 8 months in utero. Incredibly, my wife finished her dissertation at some point along the way and was hired into a TT job of her own, which she left in large part because it was too difficult for us to handle all the kids and our simultaneous careers. Less incredibly (because it is easier for me to escape), I published some things and got tenure.

My students ask me all the time whether my house is filled with people talking about philosophy. It’s not, but I suppose that my wife and I have very philosophical ways of arguing about who’s going to do the dishes — and our kids have surely picked this up. How else has philosophy affected our parenting? We are both Aristotelians, so we conceive of our child-raising in terms of flourishing and the virtues. (Myles Burnyeat’s “Aristotle on Learning to Be Good” is a favorite in our house.) We want our kids to wonder about things, and to have a self-generated desire to understand themselves and their place in the world.

How has parenting affected the way we do philosophy? Mostly by teaching us to do it on the fly and in the midst of lots of noise and other chaos.

I agree with the comment above that “success” is the wrong metric to apply here. Humans haven’t gotten better at music, poetry, dancing, or sculpture during the past few thousand years, either. Nor I think have we gotten better at philosophy.Report

Tom Hurka
Tom Hurka
Reply to  John Schwenkler
3 years ago

No progress in music in the past few thousand years? Did Plato play the blues?Report

John Schwenkler
Reply to  Tom Hurka
3 years ago

There’s been a proliferation of new musical styles, yes. But I don’t know if that counts as musical progress, any more than producing Descartes and Wittgenstein means that philosophy has progressed since Plato.Report

Dennis Arjo
Dennis Arjo
Reply to  John Schwenkler
3 years ago

Interesting. I think it’s rather obvious that in a number of ways we’ve gotten better at parenting, or at least we know a lot more about how to take care of and educate children and so are better position to parent well, all else being equal. We know how to keep children safer in cars and in homes, we know how to feed them in healthier ways, and so on. We’ve learned to discard once common parenting practices that were in fact bad for children. Simply by knowing more about the world we’re able to avoid inadvertently teaching children a lot of pernicious nonsense–surely that’s progress.Report

John Schwenkler
Reply to  Dennis Arjo
3 years ago

It’s a fine line to draw, perhaps, but I would count these as things that we’ve gotten better at in virtue of which we are able to parent better. (Compare the way that the invention of musical notation makes it easier to write good music, or that the invention of the printing press contributes to poetry and philosophy.) What I meant is that there aren’t (very many) things *about parenting* that we today know, or know how to do, better than they did back then.Report

Matt
Reply to  John Schwenkler
3 years ago

I am perhaps a bit less sure that all of our practices of keeping kids safer, in both cars and homes, is for the best than Dennis Arjo is (turning parents in chauffeurs, as the over-broad use of car seats has, seems to me to have some significant drawbacks, for example) but certainly there are some advances in parenting – that beatings are now not common, where they once were, seems like a pretty significant improvement, even if we don’t think that every single instance of corporal punishment is always wrong. (I leave that aside.) Similarly, the decrease (though not yet elimination) of explicit gender stereotyping in parenting seems like a significant and real improvement, capable of increasing the flourishing of all children. (Surely, this is a massive improvement from common practice in ancient times. I really don’t see how anyone could rationally deny that and still be taken seriously.)Report

John Schwenkler
Reply to  Matt
3 years ago

I rather doubt whether explicit gender stereotyping really has decreased significantly. It’s all the rage here in football country, anyway.

On beatings too, I expect that the shift in attitudes has been limited to select segments of the population, but I’m much more confident that there’s been real progress here.

On the other side of the balance I could point to the many ways that (to my eyes) children are systematically neglected and abused in a capitalist, individualistic, hyper-industrialized society that dissolves social and familial bonds, leaving families as atomic units in which parents must either care for children themselves or contract this care out to paid professionals, and whose systems of education and entertainment of the young tend to serve no ends beyond increasing production and consumption.

Anyway what I said in the comment you’re replying to was that “there aren’t (very many) things about parenting that we today know, or know how to do, better than they did back then”. That’s compatible with — indeed, it carries the implication that there have been — some points of genuine progress. A decline in corporal punishment would be among those.Report

Dennis Arjo
Dennis Arjo
3 years ago

I don’t know that being a philosopher directly affected my parenting, but being a parent had pretty significant effects on what kinds of philosophical questions I find interesting and worth pursuing. I became much more receptive to work focusing on the centrality of relationships (Confucianism and Care Ethics in particular) in our lives as well as work in moral education and ethical issues in parenting. Having an initial background in analytic philosophy of mind and language I got into all of this enough that I ended up writing a book on parental authority. Since you asked for sources I’ll engage in a bit of self promotion: Paradoxes of Liberalism and Parental Authority (Lexington: 2017).Report

Urstoff
Urstoff
3 years ago

I can’t say that philosophy itself has affected how I parent, or that having a child affected how I view philosophy. It seems, rather, that how I parent comes from personal values and personality traits that are also the source of why I like philosophy.Report

Sol
Sol
3 years ago

Parenting is strange. We all want some basic good outcomes for our kids— health, happiness, financial security, moral decency, among other things— and we have very little idea about how to actually help our kids attain these things. Or even just how much “good” parenting matters. If parenting should not be judged at present in terms of success or failure, it’s only because no one knows how to succeed. The real causes of apparent failure or success remain more or less mysterious. Maybe some day psychologists will figure it out and then just maybe we won’t fumble our way through raising kids quite as much as we always have.Report

Jordan
Jordan
Reply to  Sol
3 years ago

See Arthur Greeves’ remarks above about “success” in parenting; I think they’re spot on. We ought not judge parents in terms of success and failure, not because we just happen not to know how to succeed, but because the basic question of success and failure is ill-formulated.

Future psychologists “figuring out” parenting such that all parents are “successful” is a decent setup for a dystopian novel, not a hopeful prospect for the future.Report

Sol
Sol
Reply to  Jordan
3 years ago

I saw and I disagree.

Also, would it be dystopian if nutrition researchers eventually nailed down the best diets to attain specific goals— such as longevity, weight loss, or increased energy? No. A government mandating that all citizens follow diet X could be dystopian, but simply knowing which diets are good and which diets are bad for a given goal seems pretty innocuous.Report

Sol
Sol
Reply to  Sol
3 years ago

I should say I’m not primarily hoping that one day we’ll be in a position to blame parents who are out of step with the verdicts of a future developmental psychology. I hope that one day we will know more about just what it takes to better the physical and mental well-being of children and the adults they will become.Report

Arthur Greeves
Arthur Greeves
3 years ago

I do want to mention that I consider unconditional love to be the sine qua non of parenting. Many parents who want successful and thriving children predictably brutalize their children by indicating that parental love is conditional on the children behaving in certain ways.

Indeed, this is a way that parenting has affected my approach to philosophy and ethics. In response to my experience of parenting and being parented, I have become convinced that unconditional love is at the center of the good life, even though it is certainly not the only thing needed.Report

Amy Olberding
Amy Olberding
3 years ago

“Matt was used to consulting wisdom built up over two millennia for guidance. No such luck with parenting—unless you’d like to take Plato’s advice to abolish the private family…”

Yeah, or unless you actually get your head out of the western canon and look elsewhere… say… China? There are probably other places, but China’s a start. I really wish that before any philosopher gets to say, “Gosh! There’s nothing written about this!” they have to take just one glance outside their tired canon.Report

Dennis Arjo
Dennis Arjo
Reply to  Amy Olberding
3 years ago

On this note, let me recommend Erin Cline’s Families of Virtue: Confucian and Western Views on Childhood Development.Report

Nicolas Delon
Nicolas Delon
Reply to  Amy Olberding
3 years ago

Off the top of my head, I can think of a over a dozen philosophers or philosophically inclined psychologists who wrote a little or a lot about parenting and/or parent-relevant pedagogy in the Western canon and its legacy: Augustine, Montaigne, Locke, Rousseau, Diderot, Wollstonecraft, Kant, J.S. Mill, Engels, Freud, Dewey, Piaget, Dewey, Wittgenstein, Gilligan, Kittay, Gopnik… I’m certainly overlooking a bunch.Report

Nicolas Delon
Nicolas Delon
Reply to  Amy Olberding
3 years ago

I realize this may sound like a reply to Amy Olberding, but I was responding to Matt’s alleged lack of luck. Looking elsewhere is no doubt equally important.Report

Maja Sidzinska
3 years ago

1. This couldn’t possibly have something to do with philosophy (historically, but not just) being men’s work, and parenting (historically, but not just) being women’s work, that is, be related to the gendered demographics of philosophy and parenting, respectively?

2. (Analytic) philosophers don’t even know what pregnancy is: https://www.southampton.ac.uk/assets/imported/transforms/content-block/UsefulDownloads_Download/E13065820B804133816196D2A525E89B/Kingma%20BUMP%20ERC_StG_2015%20B2FINAL.pdfReport

Arthur Greeves
Arthur Greeves
Reply to  Justin Weinberg
3 years ago

Point taken, Justin. I was the first person to bring up the word “success”. I do think that any notion of progress in a practice like parenting involves us in the notion of success, however, since progress would appear to just be predictably achieving the good results you’re talking about — and “succeeding” in doing so. I guess I bristled at that notion simply because parenting does not, in my observation, admit of predictable results. With the Socrates of the Meno, I think that this is not a matter of our not knowing which practices are the right practices, but rather a matter of this sort of thing not admitting of rule-like regularities — except, as I said above, for the rule of non-maleficence. And as a parent, I can say that simply not psychologically harming your child is quite the task in itself!Report

Fernando Teson
Fernando Teson
3 years ago

Yes, in this way: being a father has helped me solve the meta-ethical problem of identifying true moral principles. When I contemplate action I ask myself if I could act without embarrassment in front of my children. If the answer is no, then the maxim on which the act is putatively justified is false. And vice versa.Report

Jean Kazez
3 years ago

Thanks for mentioning my book, Justin. The book tries to help actual parents think through all sorts of parenting dilemmas, from before conception onward. First question: should I have children? I think the arguments there (if convincing!) could help people decide to have children, despite various misgivings (environmental, anti-natalist, adoption-oriented, etc.).

I recently had the experience of finding a philosopher helpful, as I thought about an actual parenting problem. I was trying to figure out if I really ought to be involved in helping my college-age children deal with certain issues. On the one hand, maybe my parenting job really ought to be finished by now. On the other hand, I’m still the parent of those children….. Reading a paper of Rivka Weinberg’s on parental obligations to adult children helped me decide that I do still have a parental role that I ought to be fulfilling. I wrote about this here: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-philosophical-parent/201708/parenthoods-endReport

DocRPretired
DocRPretired
3 years ago

Skipping negatives and such, my training in philosophy led me to teach my son about every religion (I am an atheist) by taking him to various churches of various denominations, rather than to embue him with my views. I also taught him to question things and think critically (which he did not always do, but that’s the way it works, but now he is a truly objective critical thinker). When he was old enough we talked both sides of issues, both sides of politics, and issues that we in philosophy deal with, such as what is meaningful, what would you stand up for even to die for, equality for all, and such… (Much when on fishing trips to Minnesota and in the cabin at night sharing food and drink — when he was over 21). I treasure those conversations and my wife and I are so proud of our son and his ability to see what is important, all sides of issues, be a good and compassionate person that I have to say being a philosophical family, if you will, made this all possible.

And I dare say my now 36 and a truly fine human being, with his own opinions.Report

S
S
3 years ago

Ever since I had kids I don’t trust philosophers who don’t have kids and write on impartiality. It’s not just that I think non-parents who demand impartiality are missing something but that non-parents who praise partiality in things like friendship are as well.
I don’t like to say this under my name because, given the various reasons people do or don’t have children, I know it upsets and hurts
people in unhelpful ways
, but I don’t think the thought is any more (or less) controversial than very fashionable claims about race and gender derived from standpoint epistemology.Report

Joe
Joe
Reply to  S
3 years ago

” I know it upsets and hurts people in unhelpful ways”

And this, I think, is a major failing in our intellectual culture. We are academics, we are supposed to follow the truth where it leads us. Virtually no-one denies (or ought to deny) that first-hand experience of some phenomenon gives one better insight into its ethical significance, ceteris paribus of course. This means that it ought to be perfectly acceptable to suggest, purely ad hominem, that lack of parenting experience renders one’s views on impartial ethics less justified than they otherwise could be. We must get better at recognizing that contingent facts about our life experience can have normative implications for our philosophical views, as the standpoint epistemologists have correctly insisted. This should not be something that meets with hurt feelings and defensiveness.Report

ajkreider
ajkreider
Reply to  Joe
3 years ago

I agree with this, but would feel more comfortable if it went in both directions. It ought to be perfectly acceptable to suggest that parenting experience (that I have) renders one’s views on partiality less justified than they otherwise could be. People may, for instance, want to feel better about the disproportionate giving to their children. We must get better at recognizing that contingent facts about our life experiences can put us in a worse justificatory position regarding our philosophical views. . And I think this holds for the other standpoints often discussed in standpoint epistemology.Report

S
S
Reply to  ajkreider
3 years ago

Yes, sorry I wasn’t entirely clear. I didn’t mean to imply that in virtue of having kids I gained some special awareness of why impartiality was possible. Rather, I gained an awareness of just how large the difference is between the kinds of impartial moral theories I find intellectually most compelling and my new ‘gut’ moral instincts. I think the reference to standpoint epistemology may be misleading in that it implies I came to some true view on impartiality which I lacked before. Rather, I came to see the shape of a problem in a way I never had done before.Report

Heath White
Heath White
3 years ago

I was already inclined to this, but being a parent reinforced my view that impartial ethics cannot possibly be the whole story. It also led me to take an interest in all the ways the school system imparts (inflicts) questionable philosophical views on children, and to consciously teach my kids better views. (Exhibit A: the difference between “fact” and “opinion.”)

No doubt there’s more.Report

Samir Chopra
3 years ago

Bunch of relevant posts here as I often find myself returning to this theme: https://samirchopra.com/tag/parenting/Report

B
B
3 years ago

I ask my daughter, 5, philosophical questions all the time. She thinks only persons are real. She once asked me, “how come we’re all alone?” “We’re not all alone. I’m standing right next to you.” “But you’re in there, and I’m in here.”Report

Kate Norlock
3 years ago

I’m so surprised at the line in the pulled quote that “Matt decided to make the journey himself.” The canon may offer little help, but as every feminist knows, the 20th century turn in philosophy to previously under-considered matters of the implicitly feminine “private sphere” has resulted in a lot of really wonderful company today. Sheila Lintott’s Motherhood: Philosophy for Everyone and Lon Nease’s and Michael Austin’s Fatherhood: Philosophy for Everyone are accessible and enjoyable collections. The works of Amy Mullin, Nel Noddings, Eva Kittay, Samantha Brennan and Robert Noggle (Taking Responsibility for Children!), Harry Brighouse, and so very many have been a regular freshet of insight that I’ve deeply appreciated over the years. I’ve always felt well-accompanied. I’m really boggled at the idea of finding nothing in philosophy on parenthood. That’s so not how I think of philosophy at all.Report

Brian Huss
Brian Huss
3 years ago

If not for my daughter I probably would never have realized that the sentence (though perhaps not the proposition), “Today is opposite day” approaches the status of being a logical falsity.Report

Alan White
Alan White
3 years ago

Thanks for this very rich post and thread. My only contribution is that I thought having children was not for me–and now, too late, I strongly believe I was wrong.Report

Alison
Alison
3 years ago

Like Kate Norlock I am surprised, because at least when it comes to mothering there is a tonne of literature. Perhaps it shows that if you think ‘parenting’, you may come up short, because we’ve only recently thought of it as gender-neutral parenting rather than mothering. And given that it remains women who do most of the parenting, the term ‘parenting’ may still hide as much as it illuminates. I would also point out that lots of the mothering literature might not always have been classified as ‘philosophy’. And not all of it’s within ethics or applied ethics or meant to be normative. There is lots of work looking at how we interpret being mothers, mother-child relationships, and at the idea of ‘the maternal’ (with the last sometimes seen as something in which fathers can share). Julia Kristeva has a great deal to say about motherhood, for instance. I wonder if this is one of those cases where someone says ‘I looked at the work that calls itself philosophy on its sleeve and that doesn’t talk about parenting [which would be because that wasn’t seen as part of philosophy] and so ‘ – no surprise here – ‘I found it didn’t say much about parenting’. a.k.a. mothering. I’m not endorsing the reality that mothers have usually done the bulk of child-care by the way – but the social fact has shaped the ways the discussion has taken place.Report

Alison
Alison
3 years ago

Finally I should mention that there is a tonne of psychoanalytic literature on these topics as well, much of it more or less philosophical.Report

Alison
Alison
3 years ago

As I see that book suggestions are welcome, ahem, just to mention my own book Feminism, Psychoanalysis and Maternal Subjectivity (2011).Report

apostdoc
apostdoc
3 years ago

I realize this is not quite the response you’re looking for, but:

Studying philosophy taught me how much about the world I don’t understand and still have to learn, which in turn reinforced my decision not to have children, because the obligations that would be involved in being a parent seemed incompatible with my learning the things I wanted to learn. (I’m not claiming that they would be incompatible for other people—just that, in virtue of my own psychology and way of organizing my life, they are for me.)

Also, on a more banal note, loving philosophy made me choose to be an academic, and choosing to be an academic added some pretty strong financial reasons not to have children.Report

Wesley Buckwalter
Wesley Buckwalter
3 years ago

Young parent with no idea what I’m doing but three quick thoughts: (1) Some of the basic skills I’ve tried to develop as a researcher may have helped, perspective, focus, critical thinking, isolating variables, that kind of thing; (2) Specific things I’ve read in philosophy and psychology have not helped and probably only shallowly inform my decisions; (3) parenting has slightly changed my opinion of academic ethics because it is not the place I would want my child going for guidance in some matters if I was gone.Report