Only Seventeen

Winger Seventeen

There is an issue in philosophy about whether relationships, BY THEMSELVES can be the base of special obligations.

What I mean is that many people believe that we have more stringent obligations to people that we have special relationships to. In other words, we might have an obligation to take care of our parents in old age, but not random strangers.

Some people don’t think we have special obligations, but if we do, and many people do, there is a question of what grounds those obligations. Another way of asking the question is: IN VIRTUE OF WHAT, do I have a special obligation to someone (for this post I’ll be considering parents).

On one view, I have a responsibility to take care of my parents in their old age because of some interaction we had. For example, they raised me, or they created me, or they care about me in a way no one else does. All of these could be plausible reasons that I should help them in their old age, and strangers will not have these relationships to me, and so explain why I do not have that responsibility to them. I will focus on the suggestion that being raised by someone gives us special responsibilities toward that person.

However, under some circumstances, the people who are related to me in the ways above will not be my parents. For example I might have been raised by my grandmother (and so not raised by my parents), or I might have been adopted (and so my parents would not have “created” me). In such cases, the views above would say that I might not have any special duties to my biological parents, say, if they didn’t raise me.

Other views — which I find much less plausible — claim that facts that do not involve my interaction with someone could trigger a special responsibility. A common representative of this type of view might one on which the BARE BIOLOGICAL FACT of parenthood would trigger a special responsibility. On this view, I would have a special responsibility to my biological father, even if I was not raised by him, and even if he did not care about me, etc.

As I said, the issue is not that facts beyond our control can give rise to duties; they easily can, such as when the fact that I’m next to a drowning person obligates me to save him or her. The issue is that how could such a seemingly MORALLY INERT fact like being biologically related to someone, give rise to moral obligations. It would be like saying that the “sitting to the left of” relation could give rise to moral obligations or the “born on the same day of the week” relation could somehow create new moral obligations.

But then I started thinking about a case in which moral obligation do seem to arise simply by virtue of very quotidian natural facts, and my example is the injunction against pedophilia. We could imagine that the wrongness of sexual relations with really young people arises from all sorts of things such as them being traumatizing, or exploitative or abusive, but even if we imagined a caring pedophile who did not injure or traumatize the kid he was having sexual relations with, we would still think its wrong (or would we? No doubt this is a sensitive question, but I wonder what we would think of a morally upright pedophile — is this a contradiction in terms — or would we merely find such a person very disgusting, but in  non-moral way like someone who doesn’t shower regularly).

What this show is that we think it is wrong for someone above a certain age to have sexual relations with someone below a certain age, end of story. We think this even if those relations would, if practiced with someone at the same stage of maturity, be acceptable. The result I think is that the moral prohibition against pedophilia might be an example of a specimen of moral duty that many philosophers don’t think exist, which is one based solely on seemingly morally irrelevant facts like age. If pedophilia is wrong not due to its effects, but simply by nature of the age difference involved, then we could maybe understand why some POSITIVE obligations arise simply out of something as seemingly morally irrelevant of how alike my DNA is to someone else’s.


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