The ethics of family relationships

Date of Completion

January 2009


Ethics|Sociology, Individual and Family Studies




This essay proposes a family relationship account of familial obligations, which holds that family relationships are in their nature ethically significant and that this ethical nature generates our familial obligations. Since the family is considered a social unit which normally involves an intense and long-term protective, supportive, and cooperative relationship among its members, we generally think of family relationships as necessarily including some basic mutual company, sharing, care and aid. And this nature of family relationships requires us to make appropriate responses to our family members' needs, interests, or problems. ^ In the first two chapters of this essay, some influential theories on family morality in the recent philosophical literature are critically examined. One common problem of these theories is pointed out that they misrepresent the nature of family relationships in their attempts to found familial obligations on voluntary undertakings, the debt of gratitude, or friendships, etc. Chapter 3 is a dialectical examination on Confucian family ethics. I analyze the basic characteristics of Confucian family ethics, explore its strengths and weaknesses, and highlight the insightful perspective it provides for the philosophical investigation on family relationships. In the last chapter, the ethical nature of family relationships and its connection with familial obligations are carefully explored and articulated. Several clarifications about the family relationship account of familial obligations are made. And some responses to possible objections are provided. Finally, I point out that the family relationship account, which draws our attention to the ethical nature of our family life, bears a great capacity to explain the complications in family morality. ^