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It is clear that the proper purpose of government is the application of retaliatory force. This presumably includes the application of force, by the police and law courts, against parents that are negligent in raising their children [1], since by having children, parents are implicitly accepting a certain obligation.

Now, with the children rightfully removed from the care of negligent parents, what is the government to do with them? Clearly, it is not the government's role to raise them. And it is also clearly not the government's role to force anyone else to raise them. So, in an Objectivist society, what would be done with these children that have been "rescued" from their parents, where no one else volunteers to raise them?

In practice of course, charities will almost certainly exist to do so. But how do we reconcile the child's right to its life with other individuals' rights to their lives if no charity/relative volunteers? There are no conflicts between rational men, but does this represent a potential conflict between rational men and children that have not yet fully developed their rational faculty?

[1] What this negligence includes, and how it can be objectively determined, is probably a separate issue/question on its own -- can negligence be objectively determined short of physical harm and can negligence causing mental/cognitive harm be objectively determined?

asked Feb 27 '11 at 10:55

Raman's gravatar image

Raman ♦

edited Feb 28 '11 at 11:07

We already have Departments of Social Services, Family court systems and Foster care networks which work (reasonably effectively) in dealing with neglected and abused children cases. There is a lot of common law which has been worked out over the years on these issues. I think you could study the existing system to see (and suggest improvements) for any "what if" scenarios you wanted to examine.

(Feb 27 '11 at 14:14) Joe Egan Joe%20Egan's gravatar image

@Joe -- the question is asking for the correct principle to be applied rather than addressing specific scenarios. Also note that the existing case law/system is a product of a flawed philosophy in which "society" is implicitly on the hook for any and every child, which I don't think is correct.

(Feb 28 '11 at 11:20) Raman ♦ Raman's gravatar image

In an Objectivist society (which would include benevolence), this would not be a problem. I think this question amounts to a life-boat scenario. There WILL be volunteers and charities in an Objectivist society just as there are in our current society.

(Feb 28 '11 at 11:32) rationaljenn ♦ rationaljenn's gravatar image

@rationaljenn: yeah, I think you're right -- the lifeboat scenario does apply here.

(Feb 28 '11 at 11:36) Raman ♦ Raman's gravatar image
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I would like to address the part of the question asking about the nature of the negligence. In a piece I wrote exploring the issue of abortion, I explained that

all positive obligations arise by choice in a rights-respecting society. We are not sacrificial animals; socially, we are best characterized as contractual animals with the capacity for living productively by reason and dealing with others by persuasion and trade. Thus we can and routinely do choose to accept obligations to others in the course of pursuing the tremendous values possible to those living in a proper, rights-respecting society. It is important to note that undertaking obligations does not mean any limitation or ceding of one's inalienable rights; indeed, adopting positive obligations is an expression and affirmation of rights. And one can violate another's rights by failing in one's (necessarily voluntary) positive obligations.

Consider that people can explicitly adopt responsibility for helping others, as with police and firefighters: in a free society of course these people have no automatic duty to protect or rescue anyone. But once they agree to do so, it becomes a rights violation to then arbitrarily withhold protection and rescue efforts as needed to their clients. (Unless doing their jobs would mean sacrificing their own lives, of course. While accepting such a job could entail agreeing to engage in extraordinarily risky activity, it cannot require outright suicide.)

And people can also implicitly adopt responsibility for caring for others: If Bob decides to take Mary for a ride out to sea, he does not have the right to then order her off his boat to her death. That would be murder because Bob chose to bring Mary -- another person -- into a state of vital dependence on him. Mary's rights would be violated by then arbitrarily removing his support and thrusting her into mortal danger rather than delivering her safely from the dependent condition he created. (And note that such withdrawal of support would be a rights violation no matter whether she was threatened by his explicit design, depraved indifference, or mere recklessness.) Bob is responsible for Mary's welfare until the dependence he invited has ended.

With this principle in hand, I argued that it is specifically the chosen act of taking another person (in this case creating another person) into a state of vital dependence that brings about the kind of obligations we hold parents to:

[In electing to create the baby,] the mother [and perhaps the father, via contract] thereby adopts responsibility for the person she brings into a condition of vital dependence. Like the boat captain, she is not free to then arbitrarily kill or neglect her charge; that would be a clear violation of a person's rights. She has chosen to shoulder the responsibility of supporting [it to the point of] independence, and this is a serious obligation she can and should be held to. [This] clarifies the source of the essential mission of parenthood: raising a child to full independence -- i.e., to a person capable of living by our species' distinctive means of survival (conceptual thought, rationality), pursuing and producing the values needed to survive and flourish as a human. Additionally, it highlights the basis of and basic standard for any government intervention in the rearing of children: a parent sabotaging the ability of a child to ever achieve such independence.

There may be a great many specialized departments and agencies involved in implementing the three broad institutions of a proper government (police, courts, national defense) -- and it would be perfectly legitimate and unsurprising for there to be an agency focused on objectively identifying and resolving these rights-violating gross failures in parenting.

answered Feb 28 '11 at 13:42

Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

Greg Perkins ♦♦

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Asked: Feb 27 '11 at 10:55

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Last updated: Feb 28 '11 at 13:42