Political Studies Seminar: 12 April 2019

April 12, 2019 12:00pm

nepUL, together with the Research Group Praxis are organizing the next session of the Political Studies Seminar.

12 April 2019 | 12:00 | Sala Mattos Romão (Department of Philosophy, School of Arts and Humanities – University of Lisbon)


In this session, Riccardo Maria Spotorno (Universitat Pompeu Fabra) will present his latest work on parenting legitimacy


Should children be raised in families or should they be raised by public carers in public well-run orphanages? And if they are raised in families, should they be raised by their biological parents, or only by adults who have got a license that proves their parental competence, or, instead, should they be assigned to the best available prospective parents?

This paper has three aims related to these questions. First, it shows that the state needs to reply to these questions and to take consequent decisions in order to fulfil its duties towards children. Second, it provides a new framework to address these questions: the different child-raising systems that the state can implement determine different unavoidable harms and risks of harm, or different levels of risk of harm, to children and adults. Third, it presents how different existing normative theories on the allocation of harms and risks answer to these questions and it shows that different anti-aggregative views support parental licensing.

In the first section I present the central question of my paper: “According to which system, or criterion, should the state assign children to the legal parental custody of some adults?”. I, then, briefly describe the existing consensus about the dual interest view in parental morality and family justice, according to which we should take into account both children’s and adults’ interests.

In the second section, I present four different possible systems according to which the state can assign children to the parental custody of parents: the Current System, Parental Licensing, a General Orphanage, and the Best Available Parent proposal.

In the third section, firstly I provide a working account of harms and risks of harms as moral wrongs and appropriate objects of concern in public decision-making. Secondly, I claim that the risks parents impose on their children are particularly and distinctively wrong: for this reason the state should be especially concerned about them. Thirdly, I present the different harms and risk of harms both to children and adults that are at stake in the different child-assigning systems. Finally, relying both on empirical evidence and on speculative, but plausible, assumptions, I show how the different child-assigning systems determine different allocations of the different harms and risks I have previously described.

In the fourth and final section, I show how different distributive theories rank the different allocations of risks and harms, and, therefore, which child-assigning system they would choose. I argue that, although it is probably not completely clear that the most plausible distributive theories support Parental Licensing, they clearly prefer it over the Current System. On the other hand, supporters of the Current System seem to be able to justify it only by appealing to aggregative distributive views, which are commonly considered highly implausible and generate general counterintuitive results. I conclude that by framing the current debate between advocates of Parental Licensing and advocates of the Current System in terms of allocation of harms and risks we create a more philosophically interesting debate and we can give new strength to the proposal of licensing parents.


Free attendance.