The Voluntary Life: 278 Three Principles Of Philosophy Applied To Parenting

31 January 2017

278 Three Principles Of Philosophy Applied To Parenting

This episode is about three principles of philosophy applied to parenting:
  1. Children own themselves (all people are self-owners).
  2. Parents have positive obligations towards their children (all individuals are responsible for their own actions).
  3. It is wrong to initiate aggression against children (initiating aggression against anyone is unjustifiable).
Philosophical principles don't provide detailed prescriptions for parenting, but they do give a framework for understanding which parenting practices are ethical.

If a principle is valid, then all its logical implications are valid too, even if those implications challenge widely-accepted practices. In the episode, I show how these principles can be applied to reevaluate many common parenting practices.

Show Notes:

Listen to Episode 278


  1. Excellent podcast.
    I did not have any definite opinions on abortion, but now I have.

  2. Great episode. Thanks Jake!

    I'm not a huge proponent of spanking but at the same time I don't have any particularly moral issue with it either. Let me explain why. If you send a child to their room as a punishment for some behavior you are detaining their liberty which is in itself a form of aggression, even if it's a milder form than spanking. However as a parent you do this because you are cultivating self discipline in your child and helping them to understand boundaries of acceptable behavior which are both extremely important to living an empowered and happy life. You take these actions in the best interests of your child and I would actually argue that to not do so is negligent. Similar examples would be confiscation of property, taking toys away, which is another mild form of aggression.

    Now although I'm not a huge proponent of spanking myself, I would say that done in a calm and controlled manner that causes pain but not physical damage it is similar in kind to a child being sent to their room or having a toy confiscated. These are all forms of aggression, they just vary in degree rather than kind.

    I think a parents primarily responsibility is to teach their children to have self control and self discipline. There are a range of tools they have at their disposal from reasoning, when it's possible, and it's not much of the time, through to rewards and punishments. In a negative light these could be all forms of manipulation (which brings to mind taxes and subsidies and social engineering) but I think they're valid tools in helping to establish good behavior, habits and self discipline.

    Would love to know your thoughts!

    1. Thanks for your thoughts anon. I agree that it is important for children to learn self control and self discipline. However, I was not spanked by my parents, and yet I seem to have comparatively high levels of both self control and self discipline. Since I am living proof that it is possible for children to develop these in the absence of spanking, I don't think it is a valid argument. I'm keen to avoid aggression altogether and approaches like Gordon's Parent Effectiveness Training seem pretty aggression-free to me.

  3. How can you say you shouldn't use psychoactive drugs, but then contradict yourself and say you should do what's in your child's best interest? What if someone believes a psychoactive drug is in a child's best interest? Learning knowledge + emotionally dampened is still better than not learning anything at all + emotionally vibrant. Is it better to be a Victorian intellectual or a noble savage?


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