Engelhardt on the Family


Tristram Engelhardt, Jr. offers erudite and compelling arguments for the view that all families should try to realize the traditional family. Although I tend to agree with him from my personal standpoint, I doubt that this view can be justified to those with whom we are in reasonable disagreement about the family. I make three critical points. First, though Engelhardt stops short of saying that the state should encourage people to form traditonal families, or discourage those who do not, some state perfectionists might do so. From the perspective of public reason, it is unjust for the state to favor some conceptions of the good over others, if these conceptions are all reasonable. Moreover, those whose conceptions of the good are not favored would feel that they are disrespected. Second, insofar as Engelhardt thinks that all families should try to realize the traditional families, the traditional family would not be a good to those who do not like children. Moreover, it would be difficult to persuade those who have decided not to have children for reasons of career, burden, or more altruistic concern. Third, against Engelhardt’s stance against the “egalitarian aspirations” of liberalism, I argue that too often women sacrifice their possible careers for the sake of the family, even should they hold advanced degrees from prestigious universities, or professional qualifications. This kind of injustice is too uncomfortable to ignore.

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