question

. Your parents gave you up for adoption at a young age, because at the time they had you they were young and had little in the way of financial resources. They thought that your being adopted by well-educated parents with financial security would be in your best interests. Thirty years have passed and by some stroke of fortune your biological parents found you, and one of them needs a kidney and you are the best match. Would you give up a kidney for your biological parent in need? Why or why not?

 2. How does English’s contention (see quotation above) compare and contrast with Yutang’s contention that “a natural man loves his children, but a cultured man loves his parents”?

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2.1. Apply one of the ethical perspectives from Kant, Mill and Aristotle to the cultural attitudes about a child’s relationship with his or her parents. (Cf.5)

2.2. How would you use your philosophical/ethical reasoning skills to determine what your moral responsibility is, if any, to your biological parents? Would it be different if it were someone not related to you that were in need? How and why?

3. After completing all questions, analyze a classmate’s post and examine if his or her answer is grounded on a philosophical worldview which is grounded in culture.  Do culture and a resultant philosophical worldview which influence ethical principles ultimately influence his or her ethical decision?

Wadsworth Group/Thomson Learning, Inc., Belmont, CA. 2001.
Christina Sommers & Fred Sommers (Vice & Virtue)

These materials are made available at this site for the educational purposes of students enrolled at Anne Arundel Community College.
They may be protected by U.S. Copyright law and should not be reproduced or transmitted electronically. One photocopy or printout
may be made of each article for personal, educational use.

O n Gmwing Old Gracefully

O n Growing Old Gracefully

Lin Ytrtnng

Lin Y~~ltang (2895-1976) was a novelist and a philosa-
pher. He is the author of a number of books, including
The Importtiace of Liviny (1937) and T h e I#isdom of China
find Intfin (1 95 5).

Lin Yutang describes the Chincsc famtly system’s treat-
ment of old people and contrasts it with Western norms
and attitudes. He notes that we need strong cultural
norms to assure respect for parents, grandpfparer~ts, and
older people in general. “A natural man loves his clddrcn,
but a cultur~d man loves his parents.” Chinese deference
and respect for age contnst sharply with Western attl-
tudes, where we view growing old as almost disgracefd
and expect old pcoplc not to “interfere” in the Fmill’
home life

The Chinew family system, as conceive it, is largely an arrange
nlent of particular provision for the young and thc old, for sinc
childhood and youth and old age occupy half our life, it is lrnportar
that the young and the old live a satisfactory Iit’e. It i s tn~e chat th
yaung are more helpless and can take less care aF themselves, but 0
thc other hand, they can get along better without material cnmfor

than the old people. A child is oficn scarcely aware of ttiaterial hard-
ship?, with the result that a poor child i s often as happy as, i fnut hap-


pier than, a rich c ldd. H e may 30 barefooted, but that is a comtbrt,
rather than a hardship to him, whcreas going barefooted is often
an intolerable hardship for old people. Tlis comes from the child’s

, greater vitality, the bounce ofyoutl-t. He may have his temporary sor-
: rows, but: how easily he Forgcts them. He has no idea af money and

no millionaire compl as the old man has, At the worst, he collects f ~ n t y cigar coupons F ~ I , hying a pop-gun, whereas the dowager col-
I lects Liberty Bands. Rctween the f ~ ~ n of these two hnds of collection

there is no comparison. The reason is the child is not yet incimidatcd
; hy life as all grown-ups are. His personal habits are as yet unformed,

and he is not a slave to a particular brand af coffee, and he takes

whatever comes along. He has very little racial prejudice and abso-
, lutely no religious prejudice. His thoughts and ideas have not fallen

into certain ruts. Therefore, strange as it may seem, old people are
even more dependent than the young because their fears are more
definite and their desires are more delimited.

Something of [his tenderness toward old age existed already in the
primevil1 consciousness of the Chinese people, a feeling that I can


compare only to the Western chlvalty and feeling of tenderness


toward women. If the early Chinese people had any chvdry, it was
manifested not toward women and chrldren, but toward the old peo-
ple. That feeling of chivalry found clear expression in Mencius in
*ome such saying as, “Tlze people with grey hair should not be seen
:arryitlg burdens on the street,” which was expressed as the final
;oaI of a good government. Mencius also described the tbur classes
3f the world’s most helplea people as: “The widows, widowers, or-

1 phans, and old people without children.” Of these four classes, the
first two were to be taken care of by a politicd economy that should
bc so arranged that there wouIc1 be tio ur~married men and women.
What: was ta be done about the orphan? Mencius did not say, SO far as
we know, althougl~ orphanages have always existed throughout the
ages, as well as pensions for old people. Every one realizes, however,
that orpkanagcs and old age pensionr are poor substitutes for the
home. ‘The feeling is that the home alone can provide anythng re-

, sembling a satis&ctory arrangcment for the old and the young. But for
i the young, it is tu be taken for gcantecl that not much need be said,
I sincc there is natural parcntal aFfection. “Water flows downwards and

not upwards,” the Chinese ahayr Fay, and therefore the Bection for
i

685

MORALITY A m THE FAMILY

friends are motivated by lovc rather than by the prospect of repay-
ment. Hence, tak of “owit~g” is singularly nut of placc in Friendshp

For example, suppose Alfred takes Bcatricc out for an expensive
dinner and a movie. Beatrice incurs no obligation to “repay” hm
with a goodnight luss or a retlirn engagement. If Alfred complains
that she “‘owes” hiin something, he is operating under the assump-
tion that she should repay a favor, but on the contrary his was a gn-
emus gesture done in the hopes of developing a frienAhip. We hope
h a t he would not want her repayment in the form of scx or attcn-
tion if this was done to discharge a debt rather than from friendship.
Since, if Alfred is prone to reasontng in this way, Beatrice may well
decline the invitation or request to pay for her own dinner, his at-
tltude of expecting a “return” on his “investment” could hinder the
development of a friendship. Beatrice should return the gesture only
I f she is motivated by Friendship.

Another camman misuse of the “awing” idiom occurs when the
Smiths have hned at the Joneses’ four times, but the Joneses at the
Smiths’ only once. People often say, “We owe them three dinners.”
T b line of thinking may be appropriate between business acquain-
tances, but not between friends. Pcfter all, the Joneses invited the
Sxnith~ not in wrcler to feed them or to be fed in turn, but because of
the friendly contact presumably enjoyed by all on such occasions. If
the Smiths do not feel friendship toward the Joneses, they can decline
future invitations and not invite theJoneses; they owe them nothing.
Of course, between friends of equal resources and needs, roughly
equal sacrifices (though not necessarily roughly equal dinners) will
typically occur, If the s a ~ r ~ c e s are highly out of proportion to the
resources, the relationship is closer to servility than to friendship.’

Another difference between favors and friendship is that after a
friendship ends, the duties offriendship end. The party that has sac-
rificed less owes the other nothing, For instance, suppose Elmer do-
nated a pint of blood that hrs wife Doris needed during an operation.
Years after their divorce, Elmer is in an accident and needs one pint
ofblood. His new wife, Cora, is also of the same blood type. It seems
that Doris not only does not “owe” Elmer blood, but that she should

I C) Thomas E. Will. Jt , “Servility and Self-respect,” Mt~nisl 57 (1 973). Thus, dt~t-
ine ch~ldhaod, most of the sacrifices w ~ l l come from the parents, since they have
rnkt of theresaurccs and the child. ha$ most c~f the nccds. w h e n chdtlren are grown,
the situation is usually revcmurl.

What D o Grown CIdldren Owe Their Parenu?

actually refrain from coming forward if Cora has volunteered to do-
nate. ‘To insist on donating not only interferes with the newlyweds’
friendrh ip, but it beli ttIes Doris and Elmer’s former relationship by
suggeqting that Elmer gave blood in hopes offavors returned instead
of simply out of love for Doris. It is one of the heart-rending fea-
nlrcs of divorce that it attends to quantity in a relationship previousXy
characterized by mutuality. If Cora could not donate, Doris’s obli-
gation is the same as that for any former spouse in need of blood; it
is not increased by the fact that Elmer similarly aided her. It is affected
by the degree to which they are still friends, which in turn may (or
may not) lave been influenced by Elmer’s donation.

In short, ttnlike the debts created by favors, the duties of friend-
ship do not require equal quantities of sacrifice. Performing equal
sacrifices does not cancel the duties of friendship, as it does the debts

w $ ~ v o r s . Unrequested sacrifices do not themselves create debts, but
friends have duties regardless of whether they requested or initiated
the friendship. Those who perform favors may be motivated by rnu-
tual gain, whereas friends should be mocivatcd by affection. These
characteristics of the friendship relation are distorted by talk of
“owmg. ”

3. Parents and Clddren

The relationship between children and their parents should be one
of friendship characterized by mutuality rather than one of recip-
mcal favors. The quantity of parental sacrifice is not relevant in de-
termining what duties the grown child has. The medical assistance
grown children ought to offer their ill mothers in old age depends
upon the mothers’ need, not upon whether they endured a difficult
pregnancy, for example. Nor do one’s duties to one’s parents cease
once an equal quantity of sacrifice- has been performed, a? the phrase
“dischargmg a debt” may lead us to think.

Rather, what children ought to do for their parents (and parents for
children) depends upon ( 2 ) their respective needs, abhties, and re-
sources and (2) the extent to which there is an ongoing friendship be-
tween thein. Thus, regardless of the quantity of childhood sacrifices,
an able, wealthy child has an obligation ta help his needy parents more
than does a needy child. To dustrate, suppose sisters Cecile andDana
are equally Ioved by their parents, even thotigh Cecile was an easy

MORALITY AND TEE FAMILY

child to care for, seldom ill, wMe Dana was often sick and caused
some trouble as a juvenile delinquent. As adults, Dana is a stn1gg1:llng
artist living far away, while Cecile 1s a weal thy lawyer living nearby.
When the parents need visits and fmncial aid, Cecile has an obliga-
tion to bear a higher proportion of these burdens than her sister. This
rm~dts from her abilities, rather than Fronl the quantities of sacrifice
made by the paten& earlier.

Sacrifices have an important causal role in creating an ongoing
friendship, which may lead us to assume incorrectly that it: is the sac-
rifices that arc the source ofobligation. That the source is the friend-
ship instead can be seen by examining c~qes In which the sacrifices
occtrrred but the friendship, far some reason, did not develop or
persist. For example, if a woman gives up her newborn child for
adoption, and if no feelings of love ever develop on either side, it
seems that the grown child does not have an obligeion to “repay”
her tbr her sacrifices in pregnancy. For that matter, if the adopted
child has an unimpaired love relationship with the adoptive parents,
he at she has the same obligations to help them as a natural child
would have.

The filial obligations of grown children are a result of friendship,
rather than owed for services rendered. Sr~ppose &at Vance married
Lala despite his parents’ strong wish that he marry within their reli-
@on, and that as a result, the parents refuse to speak to him again. A5
the years pass, the parents are u n m e of Vance’s problems, his ac-
camplishments, t l ~ t birth of his children. The Jwe that once existed
between them, let us suppose, has been completely destroyed by this
event and thirty years of desuetude. At this point, it seems, Vance is
under no obligation to pay his parentshmtdical bills in their old age,
beyond his general duty to help those in need. An additional, filial
obligation would only arise from whatever love he may still feel for
therr~. It would be irrelevant for his parents to argue, “But look how
much we sacrificed for you when yon were young,” fbr that sacrifice
was not a favor but occurred as part of a friendship which existed at
the time but is now, we have supposed, defi~nct. A more appropriate
message would be, “We still love you, and we would like to rcncw
our friendship.”

I hope this helps to set the question of what children o~ight: to do
for their parents in a new light. The parental argument, “You ought
ta do x because we did y For you,” should be replaced by! “We love

What Du Crown Children’Owe Their Parents?

you and p u will be happier if you do” or “We believe you love us,
and anyone who loved us w o ~ ~ l d cio x.” If the parents’ sacri E~ce had
been a favor, the child’s reply, “I never asked you to do y for me,”
wottld have becn relevant; to the revised parental remarks, this rcply
is clearly irrelevant. Thc child can ci~her do x or dispute one of the
parcnts’ claims: by sl~owing that a love relationship does not exist, or
that love for someone does not motivate doing x, or that he or ~ h t
will not be happier doing x .

Seen in [his light, parental reqtlcsts For children to write home,
visit, and offer them a reasonable amount of emotional 2nd financial
support in life’s crises are weU founded, so long as a friendship still
exists. Love for others does call for caring about and caring for them.
Some other parental requests, such as for more sweeping changes in
the child’s lifestyle or life goals, can be seen to be ins~~pportable, once
& shiR the justification from debts wed to love. The terminology
uffavors suggests the reasoning, “Since we paid for your college edu-
cation, you m e it to us to make a career of engineering, rather than
becoming a rock musician.” This tends to alienate affection even fur-
ther, since the tuition payrnerlts are depicted as investments For a re-
turn rather than done from love, ar though the child’s life goals could
be “bought.” Basing the argument on love leads to different reason-
ing patterns, The suppressed premise, “If A loves B, then A follows
B’s wishes as to A’s lifelong career” is simply false. Love does not
even dictate that the child adopt the parents’ values as to the desis-
ability of alternative Me goals. So the parents’ strongest available ar-
gument here is, “We love you, we are deeply concerned about your
happiness, and in the long run you will be happier as an engineer.”‘
This makes it clear that an empirical claim is really the subject of the
debate.

The function of these examples is to draw out our cansidered
judgments as to the proper relation between parents and their grown
chiklren, and to sllow bow poorly they f t the model of favors. What
b relevant is the ongoing friendship that cxisa between parents and
clzildren, Although that relationship developed partly as a result of
parentalsacrifices for the child, the duties that grown children have to
their parents result from the friendship rather than from the sacrifices.
The idiom ocowing favors to one’s parents can actually be destructive
if it undermine? the roIe of mutuality and lead? us to think in terms
of quantitative xcciprocal favors.

I MORALITY AND THE FAMLY Tr:~ditianal Jewish Fanlily Vdues

I ‘ S T U W QUESTIONS

1. How does English distinguish between duties created by debts
and duties crcxted by friendship?

2. Do you agree with English that filial obligation is iiat ewer
for services rendered, but instead results from friendship? Ham
would Lin Yutang react to this view?

3. In some states, law requires children of poor elderly people to
contribute to their support. Do you think English would a r s e
for or against this? Do you sttpport legislation of’this kind?

4. Can we criticize English for advdcating a “minimalist ethic” ac-
cording to which no duties of self-sacrifice or altruism apply
outside one’s small circle of friends-all people, even family
members, are moral strangers udess one voluntarily “contracts”
an obligation?

5. How might English account for the m o d duty many people
feel to take care of not only their own elderly parents, but needy
elderly people in general?

Traditional Jewish Family Values

Jewish fady. The traditional family is much morc rig-
orously organized, its members’ roles are strictly defined,
and, conscqtlently, the family itself is more important a%
an institution. This results in gea te r intimacy and a
strong sense ofmutual obLgation, for example, to the cl-
derly who are esteemed as authoritative. Members of the
traditional family practice a $reat deal ofrestra~he and for-
bearance, emphasizing duty, rather than righm. Fimlly,
the family sees itself as part of a more general comrnuluv
of Jewish families that is, in turn, parr oFa continuous
tradition and history. The tradieiorul family is religious
and conlmitted co carrying on a Jewish tradition. This,
says Lamm, gives it further cohesiveness.

Lamm argues for the importance of the “benevolenr

* b authority” thatpnrenh exercise, an authoricy all the more
effective because the higher authority ofGod qualifies it.
According to Lamm, a f a d y that lacks a central author-

,Il ity cannot be cohesive. The children ofsuch families tend
to be confused and disoriented. Lamm warns that we are
lasing our sense of commitment to tradition in a wodd
without faith and cannot replace it simply by recogniz-
ing how badly we need it.

Rabbi Norman Larnnr (b. 19271, president of Yabm
University, is the autl~or of T h e Good S o ~ i ~ t y (1974), A
Hedfe of Roses: Jewi~h fm[?kts i ~ f o M d y r i f l p (1 977), and
Torah Urnaddola: The Encounter of Rclkiotlr Learning fld
Wovldly K~owledle in J w i i h Trddi t io~ I 990).

Lamm preqenb an idealized model of the traditionalJm-
ish family and contrats it with the average con temporary

TTihDrrrONAL pwrsa PhMrLV VALV65 F r o ~ ~ ~ J t u i ~ / t G ~ H ~ L ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ s I ~ c I I – ~ I I < I H ~ ~ . Bditcd by Norman L'- zcr, t3 1'173 by Thc Aonnl ofJewish Edttcarton or Grenrcr New York irincerl by F'””
?inn of ‘The Uo.~rd nf Jewisl~ Educrt~on of C;rcnrcr Ncw York.

, . . I a m going to set up a contrast between two arbitrarily de-
, signed models, one of a traditional and the other of a modem Jew-
i s h home. My excuse is that I am not aiming at rociological accuracy , , . but at cbrity of exposition. First, the idealized version of the tradi-

I: tional Jewish home is characterized by a high degree of intimacy, of . –
:Ir love, afdevotion, usually non-demonstrative. The husband normally
‘ is a monogamist and the wife is satisfied to he at home. As opposed

‘ to this, contemporaw parents are more remote. They are encouraged
i),
5,’ to follow their own interes.. The mother is told that she should not
i &W her life to be wrapped up entirely in her children and in her
: home, but should find outside interests. The father, when he comes

I . – back from the ofice, seeks out a peer group or other kinds of in-
c , I, voIv-nts, As a resillt, the parents seek their own pariicidar levels

..

– 0 ‘ interest, or areas of interest, and are removed from the nexus of
!\,,, , the home.

Wadsworth Group/Thomson Learning, Inc., Belmont, CA. 2001.
Christina Sommers & Fred Sommers (Vice & Virtue)

These materials are made available at this site for the educational purposes of students enrolled at Anne Arundel Community College.
They may be protected by U.S. Copyright law and should not be reproduced or transmitted electronically. One photocopy or printout
may be made of each article for personal, educational use.

MORALITY AND THE FAMILY

What Do Grown Children Owe Their Parents?

they have fallen off to deep and then pull down the bed currain and re

tire himself.

Whhdbs:mfp.~5~ wouldp’t-yant:tqb.e an old-man or an old fatheror
,gadfather h C h ?

This sort of thing is being very much laughed at by the prol~m-
i a t e s a U n a as “fkuhlktk3” but there& a c h x U t v & &
makes many old gentlemen __I_–_.._- mland ccli~g __& to it —- and think that m&rn

,- -org to the d o ~ ; The important point IS that every man
as he certainly desires to.

seem5 to assume that
literally independent,

one must admit that we must so plan our pattem.oflife7that t& golden
period lies ahead in old ag~aLdd~.t,b__eh&d3juR~nd~-
5eEe. For if we take the reverse attitude, we are comnittcd wieh-
out our knowing to a race with the merciless course of time, forever
afraid of what lies ahead of us-a race, it is hardly necessary to point
out, which is quite hopelms and in which we are e17cntually dl de-
feated. No one can really stop growing old; he can only cheat him- _— — – self by not admi tdng t-mmce thcr.ejQo
uis tlgh*ay&st nature, one mrght just as w e l l ~ o ~ v olhpgg-
fiiwThe symphony of life should end with a grand-fkde of peace
and serenity and material comfort and spiritual contentment, and
not with the crash o f a broken drum or cracked cymbals.

1. Describe Lin Yutang’s account of how the West and the East
treat their elderly people.

2. Y ~ m g a s h , “How can any one deny that parents who ha*
toiled for their children . . . have lost many a good night’s sleep
when they were ill, have washed their diapers . , , and have speflr
about a quarter of a century bringing them up . . . have the right
to be fed by them and loved and respected when they are old?”
Do you agree with him? Do you feel a moral ohliption to tag

for yous parents when hey are old?
3- How does Yutang distingwkh between debts of friendship and

debts to parents? Do you see a fundamental d8erence bewe*
the two?

I . Does Yutang criticize Western mows fairy? Or does he fail to
understand the hnd of individuahsrn that characterizes human
relations in our society? Some say the price for deference to the
aged is 1 feeling of obligation that may interfere with our rauc

! ‘ of independence. Do you agree with this?

( IWhat Do Crown Children
( i&ve Their Parents?

1 -> ,)me English

C

2 . Jane English (1 947- 1978), who taught philosophy at the
University ofNorth Cadna, Chapel HiU, wrote several
articles and etLted a number of books in the area ofprac-
tical ethics. She died trapjcaUpt 31 in anwrpeditiamn
the Matterhorn. —-

Jane English argues that gown children h w a l
I pbligations. She distinguishes between relations based

on reciprocal favors and relationships of friendship. Both
k involve duties, but EngIish argues thafiiendshi~ a n r i b

duties ought to be the norm mverning the relationship — —
, of grown chrldr–and parents. Filial abI ip ;a t io~sn-~~- . –

I p debt owed for_sea~es_~ende&d. Thus obl igac jo~~qac-

I I ents exist ‘)ust so 1ong.a friendship-exists.”

do grown children-owe theirparents? fdcantend that the an- [ .& — – – —
e h i n g . ” ~~thou&-I agi& &at there are many thing that

EN OWU m m PARENTS? by Jane Endish from khvlng Chrldven by
Ruddick, copyright 1979 by Odord University PIEB, Inc. Used
~veaity Presr, 3nc

691

MORALITY AND THE FAMILY

STUDY QUESTIONS

1. How does English distinguish between duties created by debts
and duties created by friendship?

2. Do you agree with En&h that filial obligation is not owed
for services rendered, but instead results from friendship? How
would Lin Yutang react to this view?

3. In some states, law requires children of poor elderly people to
contribute to their support. Do you think English would argue
for or against this? D o you support legislation of this kind?

4. Can we criticize English for advocating a “minimalist ethic” ac-
cording to which no duties of self-sacrifice or altruism apply
outside one’s small circle of friends-all people, even family
members, are moral strangers unless one voluntarily “contracts”
an obligation?

5. How might Enghsh account for the m o d duty many people
feel to take care of not only their awn elderly parents, but needy
elderly people in general?

Traditional Jewish Family Values


TraditionalJewish Family Values

Jewish family. The traditinnalfamily&m~1chmo~$-
r n e m b u v

instituaon. This results in-greater intimacy and a
strong sense ofmutual ~ b l e , for example, to the el-
derly who are esteemed as authoritative. Members ofthe
traditional f a d y practicGreat deal ofrestraint and for-
bearance. enlphasiring duty, rather than rig$. F i n d s
the family sees itself as part of a more general community
of Jewish families that is, in turn, part of a continuous
tradition and history. The traditional family is religious
and committed to carrying on a Jewish tradition. This,
says L a m , gives it further cohesiveness.

Lamrn argues for the importance of the ” b e e r i t
au&o*” that parents exercise, an authorit, all the more
effective beca~~se the higher authority of God qualifies it.
According to Larnm, a f a a t h a t hcb a central author- #
ity cannot be cohesive. The children of such farmlies tend . —
to be confused and disoriented. L a m warns that we are
losing our sense of commitment to tradition in a world
without fiith anzannot replace it simply by recopiz- #
ine how badlv we need it

Norman h m m

Rabbi Norman Lamm (b. 1927), president of Yeshi%
University, it the author d The G o d So~iety ( 1 9 7 8 A
Hedge ./Roses: Jewish Inrightr into Marridge (197% and
Tomk Uddlrr: 7 % ~ Encounter Rdeious m i n d rd
Worldly Knowledge inJewish Trddifion (1990).

Lmmprescnts anidealized model of the tradi$onalJ*-
kh fMia -. – — a n d 9 n t v n t e m p 3 – — Lin-

T R A D ~ I O N ~ jmw FAMILY v.uurn Protn]cuilk C ~ ~ ~ c i o ~ ~ n ~ s ~ – r d ~ i n g . Edited
No- ,

m. 0 1973 by The B o d ofJewish Edurdon d Orrun NCW York. ~epnntcd
sion of The Board ofJewish Education of Greater New York.

MORALITY AND THE FAbILY

chJ* to do for their parents, I will argue rhat it is inappro-
r-

{riaRandLg~leading ta dcscribe them as thmffsmowed.” I will main-
cajn xh&parats’ vojun_@ry sacrifices, r . a t b $ : x X t 1 m $ r ~ ~ d c b h ~ $ ~
be . – “repaid –.- ” tend to create -_——+– love or “friends&.~’,Ehe duties of g-
children are those of friends and tesult from love between them an$
their parents, rather than being things owed m repayment for the par-
ents’ earlier s a c r i f i ~ e ~ b ~ s , !will oppose those p h d o s ~ p h e ~ w h o ~ e
t h ewg rd-tlrnLwh~&~orobJga&n-.wi~~s. Altl~ . – – ou ghAe
A< debt?metapborisapppuate in some rn~~~rairqirnstanccs, m n ~ -

gument i ~ h e r e l a e i o . n s h ~ i _ s ~ o _ t _ s ~ c h _ a ~ c _ a s e .
Misunderstandings about the praper relationship between parents

and their grown children have resulted from r e I I c c o n ~ h e “owing”
terminology. For instance, we hear parents complain, “You awc&io
gs- to~witb- piano ~ I a y i n ~ n g ~ o p ~ a h i p p i e
lifestyld b e c a u d ~ a & r z e d . f p ~ y J p a y i n g for piano — lessons, –
sqdjng-you to colIe=).” The clzild is sometimes even heard to re-
ply, “Ijidn’t _—- ak to he b m e &=piano lessons, t o – b e s t 0
college).” This inappropriate idiom of ordinary lanpagc tends to be
obscure, or even to.undermineLthe love that is the cox.recttp~d
of m,gbligatiaa

1. Favors Create Debts

There are some cases, othe;~thanliter&clebu w h i c h h l k ~ ~ w –
i s ” though metaphoiica~ is apt. New to the neighborhood, MaK
barely knows his neighbor, Nina, but he aks her if she will take in his
mail while he is gone for a month’s vacation. She agrees. If, subse-
quently, Nina asks Max to do the same for her, it seems that Max has
a moral obli@on to agne (greater than the one he wdd.Jxi!&had
if Nina had not done th- for him), u n ~ y ~ o m ~ r e a s o n if
w , o _ u l d ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ on~Nioa bmforhun.
I will clil this ajuuor: w w L a t B ‘ r reqest, bears -. rorneburddOf —

B, then B incurs an obliprion tueciprou

What Do Grown Children Owe Their Parents?

Contrast a situation in which Max simply goes on vacation and,
to his surprise, finds upon his return that his neighbor has mowed his
p s mice weekly in his absence. This is a voluntaty sacrifice rather
than a favor, and Max has no duty to reciprocate. It wgdd be nice
hr_.& to w~unteer to do SO> butthis would ~~spe_i~&ZZi — w. Ra&rr_than a favor, ~ i d s a c t i ~ w r e . & a
result, she might expect Max ta chat over the back fence, help her

not unjustly treated or indignant, since Max has not failed to per-
,hm a duty. Talk of “owing” would be out of phce in this ca&J

It is sometimes diff~cult to distinguish between favors and non-
, h r s , because friends tend to do favors for each other, and those who
exchange favors tend to become friends. Byt one test is to ask how
Max is nmikkd. Is it “to be nice to Nina” or “because – – – . _ -_ she did _ _. x ‘ f h”? Favors arc frequently paformed by total strmgm without
4ny friendship developing. Nevertheless, a temporary obligation is
mated, even if the chance for repayment never arises. For instance,
apgoaa that Oscar and Matilda, to@ strangar, are waiting in a long
theckout line at the supemarke~@ar, having forgotten the oreg-
mo, ash MatiIda to watch his cart for a second. She does, If MatiIda

OW asks Oscar to return the favor while she picks up s o m e tomato
. ;’ rcc, he is obligated to agree. Even if she had not watched his cart,
-4Wuld be inconsiderate of im to refuse, claiming he was too busy a

dhg the mtguines. He mn, have had a duty to help o t h e d u t
t “owe” it to her, But-ihhe had_dos-tke~.amd~r&rn,

incun an additional obligation to hdp, a n W of &I owl- . j J .
S

, I ~ s t s ~ e r f o r m – equal, reciluwal, canceling

The Duties of Friendship

693

MORALITY AND THE FAMILY

Giends are motivated by love rather thq-by the prospect of repay- – — A – — — –
men — t. HeXe~d&cJf “owing” is singuIardyou_~_d~ta~e in friendship.

For example, suppose Alfred takes Beatrice out for an expens&
dinner and a mwie. Beatrice incurs no obligation to “repay” him
with a goodnight kiss or a return engagement. If Alfred complains
that she “awes” him something, he is operating under the assmp-
tion that she should repay a favor, but on b o ~ m q – s a gen-
erous gesture d o n _ t i n ~ l e & p a ~ i n ~ a f._ien_dshluWe hope
that he would not want her repayment in the form of sex or atten-
tion if this was done to discharge a debt rather than from friendship,
Since, if Alfred is prone to reasoning in this way, Beatrice may well
decline the invitation or request re pay for her own dinner, his at-
titude of expecting a “retum’kn his “investment” cotd$l~inde<&e de~el@&en.lpfa-fr1end~-~~. Beatrice should return the gesture -- only if& is motivated by friendship&

Another common misuse of the “owing” idiom occurs when the
Smiths have dined at the Joneses’ four times, but the Joneses at the
Smiths’ only once. People of-y, “We ow-e-e d h n g , ”
This live of thinkingmavb-eag~oa~iate between busines_sSacqu_@-
tances+-but not betwegn_frignds. After.sd, -the-~o_on_es_esinvited~he
Smiths notjr~order-tofeed&ern or to be fed in turn, bulbecayg af
the fri$n_dly~g@ct~e~Bmab_lLenjoyed .- by -. all —– on such occasions~~f – –

the Smiths do not feel friendship &ward the Joneses, they can decline
future invitations and not invite the Joneses; t h v owe them nothing.
Of course, between friends of equal resources and needs, roughly
equal sacrifices (though not necessarily roughly equal dinners) will
typically occur. If the sacrifices are highly out of proportion to the
resaurces, the relatianshp is closer to servility than to fiiendship.’

Another difference between fay_o~sanbfrien&hip.js thatafter a
‘y–

fiiendshjan,+, the dutles of Mendship end. The party that has sac- —
sificed less owes the other nothing. For instance, suppose Elmer d*
nated a pint ofblood that hs wife Doris needed during an operation.
Years after their divorce, Elmer is in an accident and nee& one pint
of blood. His new wife, Cota, is also of the same blood type. Itseems
Uw Doris not only doer not “OWE” Elmer blood, but that she &odd

‘Cf: Thorn E. Hill,jr., “Servility and Self-respect,” M~~irr 57 (1 973). Thus# dlrr-
hg childhood, most o f the sacrifices will come from the parents, since fiq
most of the resources and the child has most ofthe nee&. When chdhflare pm’
the situation is usually revened.

What Do Grown Children Owe Their Parenel

actually refrain from coming forward if Cora has volunteered to do-
nate. E i n s i s t on donating not only interferes with the newlyweds’ ‘
friendslup, but it belittles Doris and Elmer’s f o r m relationship by
suggesting that Elmer gave blood in hopes of favon returned instead
of simply out of love for Dong It is one of the heart-rend;llgfea-
M S _- of divorce ______ that it I attends to quantity in a relznonrhip .previously

*7_

characterized by mutuality. If Cora could not donate, ori is’s-81i-
‘ptioa is the same as that for any former spouse in need of blood; it
is not increased by the fact that E h e r similarly aided her. It is aEected,/
by the degree to which t h q are still friends, which in turn m y (o#

k

maj not) have been influenced by Elmer’s donation.

, In short, l a n l i k e t h p l bv favors, t h e h t k i of friend-
‘ shp do not rectuire equlLguantiti~f sacrifice. Performing equd

sacrifices does not cancel the duties of friendship, as it does the deb@
of fivon. Unreqyed-sacrifices-ddo_n_ottthemselves .~reate-debts~ but
h-imds have &tier crqrdIess of w h e t k r t h ~ u e s t e d o*tiatf:d
be friendship. Those who perform favorr may be motivated by mu-

grin, whereas Men& should be motivated by affection. x h ~ e
characteristics of the friendship relation are distorted by talk of
4’&!3.’?

k

3, Pmrena and Children

‘@he relatiomhip bemeen children and thdr parenh should be one
dfiiandship characterized by mutuality rather than one of recip-
tocd favog The quantity of parental sacrifice is not relevant in de-

,:krtmning what duties the grown child has. The medical assistance
I , W n chlldsen ought to otfer their ill mothers in old age depends

1 the mothers’ need, not upon whether they endured a mcult
I phgnancy, for example. Nor do one’s duties to one’s parents cease

antity ofsacrifice has been performed, as the phrase
debt” may lead us to think.
children ought to do for their parents (and parents for

s upon (1) their respective ne- . , . e-
e e-ther- o a n r o i g m & –

~huiregardless of the quantity of childhood sacri les ,
child has an obligation to help his needyparents more
y child. To illustrate, suppose sisters Cecile andDana

udy loved by their parents, even thou& Cecile was an easy

MORALTTY AND THE FAMILY

our fr’endshlp.”
I hope this helps to set the question of what children ought do

for their parenu in a new light. The earcntal a r ~ p e n t , ‘ :yoyouought
m dqx-b~capr~_we did y f . u , ” — should-be_pl;lced by. :?!*

child to care for, seldom ill, while Dana was often sick and caused
some muble as a juvenile delinquent. As adults, Dana is a s tngg l iq
artist living far away, while Cecile is a wealthy lawyer living nearby.
When the parents need visits and financial aid, Cecile has an obliP-
tion to bear a higher proportion of these burdens than her sister. This
results from her &ilities>xa_t:her than fi~m-theguantities-offsacrif~

*GZde-b7yfhCparen~ -. earlier. –
Sacrifices have an important causal role in creating an ongoing

friendship, whi .~h~may. lead-us – to~assurne~xr%tt l ) t~~ . the_~~-
sifices that are the source of-on. Tbt.the sourceis the friend- -._ . –.. – – –
‘sh’ip’GsteiZ – can – be – seen by cxamining~ags in which-the sacrifices
occurred but. the friendship? for sameseason,did-not develop or
per6jt, For – – example, — if a w o w gives up her ~ b o r n child hr
adoption, and sf no feelings of love ever develop on either side, it
seems that the grown child does not have an obligation to “repay”
her for her sacrifices in pregnancy, For that matter, if the adopted
child has an unimpaired love relationship with the adoptive parena,
he or she has the same obligations to help them as a natural child
would havd.

The filial obligations ~ f . g ~ . c h ~ d r e ~ _ a ~ ~ a ~ r e s u l t _ o f friendship,
rather — than owed-forsemi_ces~endered. Suppose that Vance masiied
~ o l a z ~ i t ; his parents’ strong wish that he marry within their reli-
gion, and that as a result, the parents refuse to speak to him again. As
the years pass, the parenB are unaware of Vance’s problems, his ac-
complishments, the birth of his children. The love that once existed
between them, let us supp?=@ been completely destroyed by this
event and thirty yean o f I d e r q @ ~ ~ this point, it seems, Vance
under no obligation to pay his parents’ medical bills in their old age*
beyond hs genera duty to help those in need. An addiriond, fdd
obligation would only arise from whatever love he may still feel fa

v
What Do Grown Children Owe Their ~ a r t n 2

4′

YOU and you will be happier if YOU do” orrII.Weebelieve you love us,
&d anyonewho loved us would do x,,” If she parents’ sacrifice h

J mppoa in life’s crises are well founded, so long as a friendslap still
; exists. Love for others does call for caring about and caring for them.

other parental requests, such as for more sweeping changes in
lifestyle or life goals, can be seen to be insupportable, once

I 1;we shift the justification from debts awed to love, The tenninolow

hem. It would be irrelevant for his pacents to a w e , “But look how
much we sacrificed for you when you were young,” for that ucrifia

“, bffavors sukests the reasoning, “Since we traid for vour collem edu-

was not a favor but occurred as part of a friendship which existed at
the time but is now, we have supposed, defuncQA more appr0prbt’
message would be, “We stdl love YOU, md w y w ~ l d like to r e n n

g patterns. The suppressed premise, “EA loves B, thena. follows
to A’s hfelang career” &.simply_ false. Love does not

the child n d o ~ t the oarents’ valuer as to the desir- I ptlity of alternative life goals, the barentr;’ stronmst available ark

function of these examples is to draw out our cansidered

697

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