Question Number Four:
Does Vance have a moral obligation to help his aged parents financially, despite the opposition of his partner Lola? (Ruddick and English)
Ethics is the study of human conduct or in other words the study of moral behavior. All human beings use ethics in their daily actions and decisions, but few have the opportunity to probe into the core of ethics. When Socrates said in 399 B.C., “The unexplained life is not worth living” he was encouraging man to examine his way of life and ways of moral decision making. Ethics not only aims to discover the rules that should govern a moral life, but the goods one should aim to acquire in their life time. Ethics aims to explain why and how man acts the way he does and to shape the way man lives and acts; Some philosophers say that reason is the criterion for making moral judgments, others say that duty and obligation rule moral decisions. (Whitlock, 28)
William Ruddick, arguing for the Life Prospects Principle, states that the parents are obligated to provide life-prospects, or life possibilities, for a child. (Houlgate, 247) These prospects are to be within grasp of the child’s reach and considering possible future life changes that could affect both he child and the parents. When Vance married outside of his parents chosen familial religion, Vance deviated from the chosen parental path. Riddick maintains that by narrowing the choices for Vance, they alienated him when he chose to marry outside of the religious boundaries set for him.
Moral obligation, in Vance’s case, is a battle between loyalty to himself, his religion, his parents’ wishes and his wife, as well as his own children. All relative characters within this web of questions regarding morality are based on a variety of moral principles which attempt to conceptualize man’s intuitive morality. The question is a difficult one, but by considering the bed of moral relativism on which it lies, and by thinking about it in the separate moral mentalities of egoism, utilitarianism, and Kantianism, one can, hopefully, come up with an adequate answer.
The Kantian viewpoint argues that there is a “categorical imperative” by which all morality is judged. Kantianism gives two forms; the first argues that one should not act in a way which one would not want others to act in at the same time. The second says that one should care not to treat others merely as means, but also as ends in themselves. The argument against using people for selfish ends defines both Vance’s parents and his wife in his situation.
Liberties, freedom from governance by those in authority are important to children and adults. This Ruddick states, drives it’s value from the value of lives, reflecting a natural law emphasis that people will grow, love and live as they want, flourishing and failing as they go, however not alienating their basic rights as human beings to make choices. (Houlgate,250)
If Vance were to go to Ruddick and ask his advice on the matter, I speculate that Ruddick might tell Vance to “follow” his heart and mind, and to try to keep both his parents, wife and self from the most amount of conflict possible.
Jane English, on the other hand, firmly believes that a grown child “owes” his parents nothing. (Houlgate,267)
Maintaining that when a parent fulfills their own obligation of rearing a child, the child then has a choice on what they may or may not do for and with their parents, as an adult. English states that owing and favors do not come into play in the realm of parental obligation as well as friendships. She maintains a stance that argues the actual expected duties of a grown child fall only into the category of free will and not owed debts. (Houlgate,268-269)
I agree with English that “favors create debts, which is why her philosophy does not extend to family or friends. Who does Vance owe his loyalty to? I would say only himself, and from that, dedication and contentment will extend to his wife, children and parents. There is conflict between what he feels he owes his parents, the betrayal he feels at their disowning him because of his marrying choices, his bond and trust with his wife and examples set for his grown children. He doesn’t actually “owe” any of these players anything, with the exception of owing himself some personal satisfaction and peace of mind regarding his decisions. I am of the belief that both his parents and his wife were selfish to put him in a conflicting situation.
True, it has been said for thousands of years, “Honor thy father and mother, never forget the benefits thou hast received.”(Pike, 169) By “not forgetting the benefits received” from one’s father an mother, is one obligated for the rest of their life to still obey? Are the parents obligated to loan money to, or buy a house for, their grown child who is 40 years old? There are no obligations once adulthood is reached. There is respect, and choices and freedom to help financially or not to, regardless of the past relationship between parents and child.
As English states on page 268, friendship, as well as family, should be based on mutuality, not the exact repayment of favors through time. Can a child repay a parent for kissing their skinned knee as a small child, or teaching them how to ride a bike? Can a parent repay the happiness given to them inadvertently throughout their child’s life; a smile, a hug, a good grade? No, nor is it necessary.
Each story of history behind a child and parent is determined based on availability, resources and current life satisfaction rate. To sum it up, Vance needs to be honest with his wife, but he is not obligated to do so. Vance needs to assess his estranged parents’ financial situation and make an intelligent, not emotional, obligational response, according to his own personal belief system.
We honor no person but ourselves and our deity, if we have one, as when the end comes, we will not stand judgment for repaid favors, or patronizing dutiful obligations.
I, too, understand hoe conflict can emerge from one’s heart in parental matters. Like many people, I have had a colorful background, with an addicted mother and vicious step-father. Love and honor weigh on one side while resentment and independence weigh on the other side of my heavy heart. There comes a time in an adult’s life where he must choose himself over his wife and parents.
The question of moral relativism is central to this scenario. Whose theories are right, or is there no right answer due to the age-old free will versus determinism debate? Ruddick is educational, but self-directed, whereas English is concrete with her points on parental guidance plus financial obligation equaling unnecessary guilt.
Myself, I would create a midpoint, where I can help my parents, a little, understand my wife’s viewpoints a little better and bury the hatchet once and for all, for the sake of my own deserving peaceful existence.
Houlgate, Laurence. 1999. Morals, Marriage and Parenthood. Wadsworth Publishing Compnay, Belmont, CA.
Pike, Albert. 1906. Morals and Dogma. The Robert’s Publishing Compnay, Washington D.C..
Whitlock, Duane L. 1988. Critical Thoughts and Notions. Omega Publishing, Danville, CA.