Short and Sweet

My research examines moral obligations within families. My focus is on parent-child relationships and the obligations that arise within them. Most of my work has been on the obligations adult children have to their parents, though I have written a little about the obligations parents have to their children and how we should think about parenthood.

A Complete Special Goods Theory of Filial Obligations

My primary research program is developing the special goods theory of filial obligations. This research program continues the work in my dissertation, “A Complete Special Goods Theory of Filial Obligations.” In my dissertation, I make three major claims. First, I argue that two prominent theories of filial obligations, the friendship theory and the gratitude theory, have serious flaws. The friendship theory is flawed because filial relationships are not much like friendships. The gratitude theory is flawed because it has difficulty accounting for continuous duties and many filial obligations are continuous duties.

My second claim is that the special goods theory of filial obligations is the most promising in the current literature. The special goods theory claims that we have obligations to provide our parents with the goods that can only be obtained from a parent-child relationship. Despite the promise of the special goods theory, it has two serious problems. First, it does not explain which goods can only be obtained in filial relationships and why these goods cannot be obtained in other relationships. Second, it does not explain how the ability to provide special goods to one’s parents leads to an obligation to provide those goods.

My third claim is that there are solutions to the problems I identify with the special goods theory. To solve the first problem, I demonstrate that there are unique variations of love, purpose, fun, and other goods that only occur in parent-child relationships. To solve the second problem, I argue that the duty of beneficence can explain why we have special duties to provide special goods to our parents.

Applying My Theory to Real-World Problems

My second research program is applying my theoretical work on filial obligations to real-world problems. Specifically, I’m interested in legal filial obligations and healthcare policy in the United States and Canada. Canada and most of the United States have legal filial obligations. In Canada, at the federal level, §215(1)(c) of the Criminal Code has been used to prosecute children who do not properly care for their parents. Most provinces have additional legislation requiring children to care for their parents. For example, Ontario has §32 of the Family Law Act. The status of filial obligation laws is more complicated in the United States, as each state has its own laws, and a few states have no laws at all. I argue that most filial obligation laws are based on an outdated and colloquial understanding of filial obligations. Many filial obligation laws are based on simple debt theories. I argue that this is problematic because it requires the wrong goods from children. Children owe their parents a continued relationship— assuming the relationship is not toxic—not money or its derivatives.

My approach to applying my theory of filial obligations to healthcare policy is to argue that we need a government funded safety-net to provide care for the elderly when they cannot care for themselves. It is praiseworthy for children to provide their parents with extensive care, and many will do so because they have a good relationship with their parents. However, filial obligations do not require children to provide long-term physical care or expensive healthcare to their parents. In cases where children do not voluntarily provide this kind of care, someone must be responsible for providing it. If children do not have obligations to provide this kind of care, and many parents will eventually need this kind of care, then I argue providing government-funded healthcare is the best solution to the problem.