Willing Parents: A Voluntarist Account of Parental Role Obligations

Elizabeth Brake

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

29 Scopus citations


This chapter is about the moral basis of parenthood. It begins by noting that parental rights and obligations are to some extent conventional. Both the content of parental obligations and their assignment to particular individuals depend on social and legal institutions of parenthood. This poses a problem for the causal account of parenthood: the variability of parental obligations and their assignment underscores the difficulties the causal account has with defining the relevant notion of cause and with fixing 'procreative costs'. If the causal account understands parental obligations as compensatory obligations issuing from moral responsibility for a child's existence, it cannot, it is argued, account for the extent of contemporary parental obligations. In this way, the causal account yields an impoverished conception of parenting. The chapter argues that parental obligations are better understood as institutional role obligations, which paradigmatically arise through voluntary undertaking. On the basis of understanding parental obligations as role obligations, the chapter argues for the strong voluntarist thesis that voluntary acceptance is a necessary condition for acquiring parental obligations. The chapter addresses objections that voluntarism cannot account for commonly accepted cases of parenthood, and argues that voluntarism has desirable implications: it makes the paradigmatic parents willing parents, and it allows for radical rethinking of social and legal institutions of parenting.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationProcreation and Parenthood
Subtitle of host publicationThe Ethics of Bearing and Rearing Children
PublisherOxford University Press
ISBN (Electronic)9780191595547
ISBN (Print)9780199590704
StatePublished - Oct 1 2010


  • Causal account; morality
  • Institutions
  • Parental obligations
  • Parental rights
  • Parenthood
  • Role obligations
  • Voluntarism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities


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