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Evaluation Of Jane English

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An Evaluation of English's What Grown Children Owe Their Parents

By Goh Jialing Caryn

In her article, Jane English proposes a theory that grown children owe nothing to their parents on the basis that the parent-child relationship is one which leans toward friendship and not indebtedness. According to English, the moral obligation grown children hence have towards their parents is no more than the kind we have towards friends or loved ones.

She illustrates the two similar, but distinct, relations with the use of several scenarios. In my essay, I will analyze and break down some of these examples or counter-examples by clearly establishing the strength of inference hence validity, as well as the premises and conclusion.

English's main argument can be structured simplistically as follows: all parent-child relationships are friendships, no friendships incur debts, and therefore no parent-child relationships incur debts.

P1: All P are F

P2: No F incurs debts

C1: No P incurs debts

By Categorical Syllogism, her argument is deductively valid. Hence, accepting the all the premises commits us to accepting the conclusion. By accepting English's conclusion that grown children owe nothing to their parents and hence have no responsibility to support (financially or otherwise) the aged folk of society, we would be provoked to question then, where does this responsibility fall? Clearly, the goverment or society as a whole cannot be held accountable for their needs since this would create a vicious cycle of heavy taxes and a stifled economy. For this responsibility to fall solely on the shoulders of community welfare organizations and the government would be one that is too heavy to bear. Grown children definitely have a role. Also, Chinese traditional values instilled in ourselves since young include that of filial piety. This is reflected in the Maintenance of Parents Act which makes it mandatory for all citizens to bear responsibility for our parents. Hence, we have found the basis for us to challenge English's premises and reject her conclusion.

English stipulates that all parent-child relationships can be likened to friendships. Friendships, according to her essay, are characterized by mutuality and not reciprocality. Also, friends are motivated to help each other because of love, and not prospect of repayment. This argument can be briefly summarized as follows:

P1A: All P are L.

P2A: All F are L.

P3A: All P are F.

This is akin to saying that all men are human, all women are human and hence, all men are women. This argument is clearly invalid. Besides providing reasons of love and mutuality, English has not given enough support to her claim of likening the bonds between parent and child to that between friends. Apart from consideration of the time and experiences shared, there is also the biological bond between a parent and child that renders it a class above friendship. Hence we have evidently challenged the first premise of her main argument, that all parent-child relations can be liked to friendships.

Now, let us move on to challenging her second premise: that a debt is not incurred. Using the example of Max and Nina, she illustrates how talk of owing is apt only when a debt is incurred, and a debt can only be incurred out of a favor. Max goes on vacation and finds upon his return, to his surprise, that Nina has mowed his grass twice weekly in his absence. English stipulates that this is a voluntary sacrifice, much like the ones that parents make for their children to spend time and effort in their upbringing, and not a favor, one which begs another in return. She contrasts this with the alternative situation that if Max had asked Nina to help him mow his lawn and she'd obliged, Max would hence be indebted to Nina and would "owe" Nina a favor for that of hers.

The crux here is that in situation A, the initiative was entirely Nina's whereas in B, the initiative was that of Max's as he had sought Nina's help. We would have to accept that children do not owe their parents a moral duty as parents have not done their children a favor by bringing them up well, and it is merely a voluntary sacrifice that cannot demand to seek returns.

The most significant difference would be that in Max and Nina's case, doing each other favors e.g. moving the lawn, taking out the garbage are all simple acts which can be subjected to agreement or objection from either party. In mothering a child however, it is a long and arduous journey which cannot, unlike in Max and Nina's case, be appealed to the consent of the child party. It is impossible to ask a pre-borne child, if he or she would like to be brought up by the parents. In English's example,



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