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Minors: Rights And Children

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Many of the recent examples have strayed from the principles involved. Though recently, AisA asked a question that challenged the principle of the "no right to childcare" stance:

If it is true that the only rights are rights to actions, and the only valid purpose of government is to use retaliatory force against those who infringe these rights, then parents may discard their children at will -- and the government should ignore it. Given this, why would you advocate, as you do, that child abandonment should ever be illegal? Since the child has no right to material support, no rights have been violated and it is none of the government's business.

I am interested to hear JMeganSnow's reply. DavidOdden most recently added a compelling arguement regarding forced acceptance of chosen actions. As I indicated earlier, I agree with the "right to childcare" stance, but I do have to admit that I'm pretty close to the fence on this issue.

I am currently grappling with a question of principle that would arise in an extreme case of the "right to childcare" stance. If a child has a right to food and shelter, does it also have a right to guidance? By this I mean, does it have a right to be taught how to live rationally? (to live in a human sense means to live rationally)

If the child does have a right to guidance, does someone who can prove that he is capable of and willing to offer superior guidance to that child have a right to commandeer the responsibilities of its parents who are otherwise capable of providing for their child's survival?

My knee-jerk reaction is to say that the child has a right to food and shelter but no right to guidance. This sounds "cold hearted." However, if I say that a child has a right to guidance, then it follows that it has a right to the best guidance. And this could lead the sort of "parental raiding" that I alluded to in the previous paragraph. Perhaps they wouldn't have to participate in raiding, but they could obtain a court order to allow the child to go to the school (if it chooses) even if its parents protest. Thoughts?

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For example, if the child is retarded and they can only afford to support one child, it might be in their interest to try again for a child with normal or above normal intelligence. But this would require shrugging off the burden of the retarded child.

Are you familiar with the latest in womb technology? (This is not sarcastic.) Last I knew, there were at least some mental defects that could be detected in utero. If the parents know they can only afford to support one child, would you say they have an obligation to have some level of testing done, and if necessary, have an abortion? Why or why not? If you include among your reasons the expense of such testing and abortion, perhaps you should include as part of your analysis a comparison of those costs to the costs involved in the physical delivery of the child.

I do not think that they should kill him. It might be that someone will come along and adopt the child. But I included "to die" to make it clear that even if no one adopts the child, they may still abandon him.

First let me say that I agree that those who have not voluntarily undertaken any obligation to the child do not owe the child anything. (At least, I assume that's your position.) I'm not sure I agree when it comes to the mother, however. I'm also not sure I disagree, either, which is why I'm interested in exploring your argument further.

When talking about something that can not take care of itself, I guess I just don't see much of a difference between abandonment and pulling the trigger. But, as I said above, I don't think the child's need turns into an obligation on everyone. In the absence of a contract, I'm limiting this to a parent (and perhaps only a mother, I have yet to consider this issue in detail) who either intended to create the child or assumed the risk of its creation. I am now going to consider all the other arguments in the thread before commenting further (unless you respond, of course).

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And since creating the child does not harm him, they have no obligation to the child other than the obligations that strangers would have not to actively harm him.

See, I'm just not so sure about your premise here.

1. By creating a child you are creating something that can not care for itself. It is incapable. For some time after a human is born it is physically and mentally incapable of self-sufficiency. If you disagree, please say so.

2. There are two types of people: those who intend to create their children and those who don't.

3. If a mother intends to create a child, creates the child, knows it will starve without her, and lets it starve, how is this not harm?

4. If a mother does not intend to create a child but does, in many circumstances she may have an abortion or perhaps otherwise terminate the pregnancy. In those situations in which she may terminate the pregnancy, but chooses not to, (insert the starving and dependency stuff), how is this not harm?

5. A mother may take a myriad of preventative actions, some, e.g. condoms, at very low cost. If she refuses to take preventative measures knowing the risk of pregnancy, becomes pregnant, and refuses to terminate the pregnancy, (insert the starving and dependency stuff), how is this not harm?

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My knee-jerk reaction is to say that the child has a right to food and shelter but no right to guidance. This sounds "cold hearted."
When it comes to matters of law and when the state may rightly use force to get a person to do something, it is okay to be cold-hearted. My long-considered conclusion is that a parent should provide food, shelter, guidance, friendship, puppies (within reason), a cultured upbringing, education, a shoulder to cry on in times of stress, and all of that jazz. Only the food and shelter ought to be mandated by law. By their nature, legal rights are "colder" and more limited than the morally good actions that lead to a flourishing life.
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Many of the recent examples have strayed from the principles involved.

Blarg :yarr: they weren't that bad.

Perhaps a better one: taking care of a child is like taking out a loan. Both are consentual agreements. Both legally restrict a person's action beyond what others are restricted by.

I don't think children have a right to childcare... but knowingly taking on guardianship of a child should have legal consequences for breaking the agreement improperly.

By this I mean, does it have a right to be taught how to live rationally?

If the child does have a right to guidance, does someone who can prove...

"Rational" in the Objectivist sense, I'd say no.

"Rational" in a general sense, I'd say the guardian has an obligation - though it's still not a child's right. It's more of a minimal standard; I don't think anyone should be able to supersede the guardianship just on superior qualifications.

See, I'm just not so sure about your premise here.

If a mother intends to create a child, creates the child, knows it will starve without her, and lets it starve, how is this not harm?

I suppose (could be wrong) his was a "non-initiation of force" argument..

Even if a woman intentionally got pregnant, I don't think this creates any obligation on her.

My position is that aiding the child once (allowing conception) doesn't create any further obligations. Anything contrary seems a good samaritan argument.

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My position is that aiding the child once (allowing conception) doesn't create any further obligations.
Suppose you have a dog, which turns vicious, and you decide you don't want to keep it so you renounce ownership of the beast. Can you let it loose, or do you have an obligation to kill it? If you let it loose, do you have an obligation to anyone that it harms?
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I suppose (could be wrong) his was a "non-initiation of force" argument. Even if a woman intentionally got pregnant, I don't think this creates any obligation on her. My position is that aiding the child once (allowing conception) doesn't create any further obligations. Anything contrary seems a good samaritan argument.

My response was to jrs saying "since creating the child does not harm him." I want to know (from you, or jrs, or anyone else) how a definition of "causing" harm does not include the situations I outlined earlier. Perhaps we should proceed one situation by one. Would you say (it sounds like you would, but I would like to find your specific point(s) of contention) that under the following scenario the mother does not "cause" harm?

1. The mother intentionally creates a child.

2. The mother knows the child will starve and die--i.e. suffer "harm" by any reasonable definition of the word--without assistance.

3. The mother refuses to assist--i.e. "abandons"--the child upon birth.

I would agree with your characterization of this argument as "good samaritan" were it not for point 1. Just because you know that children in Africa are starving and you refuse assistance does not trigger an obligation. You had nothing to do with their condition. However, in this case the child would not even exist but for the mother's actions and assuming no intervening acts or some other arguably responsible party (e.g. a rapist). I fail to see how this is not "causing" harm, when the mother creates the very object that will be harmed. Can you expand on this?

Also, can you explain your statement that conceiving (and, I assume, giving birth to) the child is "aiding" it? How is bringing a child into the world inherently helpful?

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If the parents know they can only afford to support one child, would you say they have an obligation to have some level of testing done, and if necessary, have an abortion?

They do not have any such obligation. It might be in their interest to have some testing done to avoid the risks, costs, and emotional trauma that could result from discovering a defect later.

... I just don't see much of a difference between abandonment and pulling the trigger.
I do not see any similarity between doing nothing and actively killing someone.

3. If a mother intends to create a child, creates the child, knows it will starve without her, and lets it starve, how is this not harm?

I think that the burden is on YOU to show that it IS harm.

If life is blessing (benevolent universe premise), then creating it cannot be considered harm to that living thing regardless of the circumstances of being into which it is brought.

What can create a special obligation to another? Only a contract or a tort. Neither apply here.

2. The mother knows the child will starve and die--i.e. suffer "harm" by any reasonable definition of the word--without assistance.

All of us are going to suffer and eventually die. Does this mean that our mothers should not have created us? Your position seems to be based on the malevolent universe premise.

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Accepting that a mother has no obligation to a child she brings into the world, which she could simply leave helpless to die is considered a "Benevolent Universe" premise. Accepting that a mother has some minimal obligation to care for a child until it's at least capable of taking care of itself represents a "Malevolent Universe" premise.

Color me confused. :wacko:

I'm still trying to formulate my argument, but I can safely say at this point, I do not agree with that viewpoint.

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I found a clip on ARI of a radio interview of Andrew Bernstein on the Peter Mac show. The interview is focused on children's rights, and about 11 minutes into it, he addresses the question under discussion.

http://www.aynrand.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=7289

(It's a RealMedia file)

As a short summary, his position is that if a parent chooses to bring a child into the world, knowing that the nature of a child is that it cannot survive without assistance, the parent or parents are morally obligated to provide that assistance until the child can take care of itself. He goes further to say that should the parents fail to provide a minimal amount of care for the child (and he lists elements of that care), that the state should intercede, and that the parents could be guilty of some form of child neglect.

Now, I'm not trying make this so much an argument from authority (if I even could), but rather I am glad to see that a prominent Objectivist shares the same position I do on the matter. I do think that a proper understanding of the logic and reasoning behind this position is important, if it goes any deeper than he states.

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I do not see any similarity between doing nothing and actively killing someone.

Ordinarily I would agree with this point. However, there is a similarity between omission and commission where one has a duty of care (contractual or otherwise) to the "victim." Our dispute in this context is whether such a duty of care exists. If it does, would you agree that there is a similarity between doing nothing and actively killing someone? In other words, even if you disagree with my "premise" that there is a duty of care, do you agree that I am correct when I say that where a duty of care exists, omission and commission are similar?

(I put "premise" is quotes because I don't necessarily take the position that such a duty does exist in this context. That's what I'm exploring.)

I think that the burden is on YOU to show that it IS harm.
Okay. I will gladly formulate this in terms of a rule. One "causes harm" to a being where one

1. creates the being,

2. intends to create the being,

3. can create or not create the being, i.e. has a choice,

4. knows the being is entirely dependent on others for its survival for a period of time, and

5. refuses to support the being to the extent necessary to maintain its survival until such time as the being can support itself; and

6. where starvation, freezing, and death are kinds of harm.

If you have issue with this, then you have this issue with this. You can say I'm wrong, and I'd love to hear why. But I fail to see how I have not carried any burden.

All of us are going to suffer and eventually die. Does this mean that our mothers should not have created us? Your position seems to be based on the malevolent universe premise.

All of us are certainly going to die. But all of us are going to suffer? In other words, suffering is inevitable? I can not see how I have said any such thing. I also can not see how, if it is in fact your position that "all of us are going to suffer," that that position is not based on a malevolent universe premise.

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What can create a special obligation to another? Only a contract or a tort. Neither apply here.
Would you explain that, with respect to torts? It sounds like you're saying that the tort act itself creates the obligation, and that there was no obligation in case the deed is not done. How do you claim that tort should be defined? In what way is child abandonment not a tort?
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Suppose you have a dog, which turns vicious, and you decide you don't want to keep it so you renounce ownership of the beast. Can you let it loose, or do you have an obligation to kill it? If you let it loose, do you have an obligation to anyone that it harms?

Hmm! Personally, I'd say yes if the dog turns before you decide to renounce ownership. Perhaps not to have to kill it, but at least some sort of obligation to prevent it from harming others.

I'll have to think about the consequences of that, though :lol:

Also, can you explain your statement that conceiving (and, I assume, giving birth to) the child is "aiding" it? How is bringing a child into the world inherently helpful?
From my perspective, if lapsing into non-existence is inherently harmful for the child, then being ushered into existence is inherently beneficial.

I found a clip on ARI of a radio interview of Andrew Bernstein on the Peter Mac show.

Thanks :) I'll have to download a player (I think) but any additional perspective, particularly from a "thinker," is good as far as I'm concerned.

do you agree that I am correct when I say that where a duty of care exists, omission and commission are similar?

I'd agree.

I've got some things to do (like sleep :D ) so I'll get back to Groovenstein's main argument later.

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Hmm! Personally, I'd say yes if the dog turns before you decide to renounce ownership. Perhaps not to have to kill it, but at least some sort of obligation to prevent it from harming others.
The point, which I hope you'll see when you think about this more, is that actions result in obligations, even once you've decided to wash your hands. When a female has sex (old style) with a male, things can happen and the female may need to decide whether to have an operation. If she does, the consequences are fairly mild. Compared to, say, the consequences of having to copy with a fetus carried to term. There is still an obligation, which is tougher than it was 8 months before, but not one that is infinite.
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I decided to refrain from my increasingly incoherent posts for a bit.

IAs a short summary, his position is that if a parent chooses to bring a child into the world, knowing that the nature of a child is that it cannot survive without assistance, the parent or parents are morally obligated to provide that assistance until the child can take care of itself. He goes further to say that should the parents fail to provide a minimal amount of care for the child (and he lists elements of that care), that the state should intercede, and that the parents could be guilty of some form of child neglect.

This is approximately my viewpoint as well, but I would reword it slightly: "Should the parents refuse to provide care or provide for care, the state can legally intercede." In the case of simple failure there isn't a criminal act involved; if it is an innocent failure they'll find some other method, if they don't, that's a refusal and a whole 'nother kettle of fish. I say this because I don't think you should be held criminally accountable if your kid gets home early from school and injures himself by falling off a trampoline, which could be considered a failure to provide for the safety of said child. Likewise if your child comes down with pneumonia and you can't afford medicine; you've failed to provide for your child's health and well-being. Are you a criminal? Does the state owe it to you to relieve your poverty?

If you say that the state should intercede this becomes "the state must intercede" and then you have the infinite-dependants problem. Every state, especially one financed by voluntary contributions, has limited resources. No law should specify what the state should do, but only what it can do. It's been shown pretty well on all accounts that if you leave it open for the government to do something, it WILL do it, with a vengeance. The can prevents it from being used as a justification for expanding government power.

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From my perspective, if lapsing into non-existence is inherently harmful for the child, then being ushered into existence is inherently beneficial.

Hmm. Interesting point. I'll have to stew on this one and see how it interacts with the benevolent universe premise as well as other things we have discussed.

I'd agree. I've got some things to do (like sleep :lol: ) so I'll get back to Groovenstein's main argument later.

Yes, I make sense somewhere! :D Go ahead and sleep, man. Ask Odden, sometimes I go fiscal quarters between responses.

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No law should specify what the state should do, but only what it can do. It's been shown pretty well on all accounts that if you leave it open for the government to do something, it WILL do it, with a vengeance. The can prevents it from being used as a justification for expanding government power.

A bountiful post, Jennifer. I'd like to address the "can" idea because I'm not sure I understand it and have some concerns about its implications.

Do you think there should be any standards governing the use of this discretion? If so, do you have any ideas for what they might be? This dilemma interests me because standards create a strange phenomenon. Their presence seems to turn the question (or at least part of it) into a "should," but their lack--i.e. the more discretionary the "can" is--potentially makes application more arbitrary.

Perhaps you could clarify the second and third sentences I quoted. It seems like having "can" doesn't address the concern of your second sentence, because that leaves options open and perhaps makes application more arbitrary. I also fail to see how "can" precludes use as a justification. In today's political environment, I think "can" leaves the door open plenty for people to squeeze in there. Maybe I'm misunderstanding you?

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If you say that the state should intercede this becomes "the state must intercede" and then you have the infinite-dependants problem.

I don't think it's unreasonable to assume that he would take context into account, and that "should" would not be adequate to apply to all cases. It seemed he was referring to more serious levels of neglect and/or abuse.

However, he made no bones about the idea that should the parents totally neglect those basic needs he listed, that the state should either force the parents to provide for that need (if they even can), or the state should attempt to find people willing to provide for those needs. This suggests to me, that if for no other reason than his sense of life, he thinks we should not be leaving helpless children out in the streets to die or become feral.

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Accepting that a mother has no obligation to a child she brings into the world, which she could simply leave helpless to die is considered a "Benevolent Universe" premise. Accepting that a mother has some minimal obligation to care for a child until it's at least capable of taking care of itself represents a "Malevolent Universe" premise.

The reason this looks bizarre is that you are reversing the premise and the conclusion.

If one's own Life is always a positive value, then creating it cannot be considered to be doing harm, regardless of what happens later.

I found a clip on ARI of a radio interview of Andrew Bernstein on the Peter Mac show.

Unfortunately, I do not have a sound-card in my computer. So I cannot listen to interviews or speeches. Is there a text version?

... where a duty of care exists, omission and commission are similar?

As a general principle, yes. But there is no such duty in this case.

I will gladly formulate this in terms of a rule.

.....

But I fail to see how I have not carried any burden.

You have formulated an arbitrary rule. That does not prove anything. How does your rule follow from the Objectivist Ethics?

I also can not see how, if it is in fact your position that "all of us are going to suffer," that that position is not based on a malevolent universe premise.

You would be extremely unusual person, if you had never suffered a cut finger for example.

The question is what is important? Our opportunities, successes, and happiness? Or our losses, failures, and sadness?

The fact that I am acknowledging that suffering exists does not mean that I think that it is important. On the contrary, my point is precisely that it is NOT important. It is the good things in life that matter.

YOU were the one who said that "the child will starve and die--i.e. suffer 'harm'". I was just pointing out that this does not differentiate that child from the rest of us.

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If you say that the state should intercede this becomes "the state must intercede" and then you have the infinite-dependants problem. Every state, especially one financed by voluntary contributions, has limited resources. No law should specify what the state should do, but only what it can do. It's been shown pretty well on all accounts that if you leave it open for the government to do something, it WILL do it, with a vengeance. The can prevents it from being used as a justification for expanding government power.
If there is a law against murder, should the state's effort to identify and punish a murderer be optional? I can see that any given prosecution might be optional in the sense that a decision must be made whether there is sufficient evidence to proceed to trial. But surely the state's attempt to find and punish the criminal cannot be optional. Wouldn't the same apply to a law against child neglect?
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I think that if the parents are dissatisfied with their child, e.g. if it has a birth defect, then they may ethically abandon it to die and have another child instead.
In this and subsequent posts you make the libertarian error of assuming that any action that does not involve the initiation of force is moral. That notion is false.

Refraining from initiating force is not the standard of morality. The standard is the life of man, a rational being, and what his nature as a rational being requires. An inherent part of that nature is that man enters the world with a rational faculty, but without the knowledge of how to use it and without the physical ability to act. Just as man the adult has rights, vis-à-vis other men, determined by his nature as an adult, so a child has rights, vis-à-vis those who created him, determined by his nature as a child. The child’s right vis-à-vis his parents is the right to a minimal level of material support until he reaches a defined age.

If you deny this, then please answer the following questions: Why would the nature of man the adult be a legitimate source for defining his rights in relation to other men, but the nature of man the child be ignored in defining his relationship to those who created him? If the requirements of an adult rational being are relevant, how can the requirements of an infant rational being be irrelevant? Justify why one case is treated one way and the other case is ignored.

The proof that there is an obligation on the part of the parent to support the child is the same as the proof that there is an obligation on the part of every adult to refrain from initiating the use of force. Both obligations are valid and stem from the same source: man's nature as a rational being.

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The reason this looks bizarre is that you are reversing the premise and the conclusion.

The reason it looks bizarre to me is because it is bizarre. It is in essence saying, children DO NOT have rights.

Unfortunately, I do not have a sound-card in my computer. So I cannot listen to interviews or speeches. Is there a text version?

I did not notice any text versions.

I would summarize your position as follows: children do NOT have a right to life beyond that which a parent is willing to accept in proxy for them, which they can at any time refuse for any or no reason. A choice to create and give birth to a volitional being, knowing it cannot act on it's own to further it's life or values, does not come with any form of responsibility to that being, implied or otherwise.

Is that more or less correct?

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As a general principle, yes. But there is no such duty in this case. . . . You have formulated an arbitrary rule. That does not prove anything. How does your rule follow from the Objectivist Ethics?

The duty is precisely the issue I have not resolved here. The "rule" I laid out addressed only the causation question. Isn't causation a question of metaphysics rather than ethics?

The fact that I am acknowledging that suffering exists does not mean that I think that it is important. On the contrary, my point is precisely that it is NOT important. It is the good things in life that matter.
This makes sense.

YOU were the one who said that "the child will starve and die--i.e. suffer 'harm'". I was just pointing out that this does not differentiate that child from the rest of us.

I think you may be misinterpreting that remark. You had originally said that creating a child does not harm him. I made that remark in the context of laying out a scenario in which I thought that creating a child did harm him. Insofar as differentiating that child from the rest of us, the remainder of that sentence you quoted does so. Notice that it says "will suffer and die . . . without assistance." (emphasis added) Most adults, at least in America, do not directly depend on others for their short-term survival.

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