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  1. Harry Brighouse,
  2. Adam Swift

Published Online: 1 FEB 2013

DOI: 10.1002/9781444367072.wbiee722

The International Encyclopedia of Ethics

How to Cite

Brighouse, H. and Swift, A. 2013. Family. The International Encyclopedia of Ethics. .

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 1 FEB 2013


The family is a central institution in most societies. Children are usually reared and socialized by adults, to whom they are related genetically, who live with them, and who have a great deal of power over them. Children usually maintain some sort of close connection with the people who reared them and those with whom they are reared into adulthood; these are usually lifetime relationships even when people stop sharing a home. In most societies property is passed down through the family and, in many, status is as well. Families socialize children: they exert great influence over both the children's prospective well-being and the probability that they will contribute to society and treat other people well. There are too many philosophical debates about the family to cover in a short essay. Some are mainly concerned with the relationship between the family and the state, others with the relationships among family members. Is the family a natural, or a socially created institution? Is it part of a private sphere? Should governments encourage family formation and, if so, what kinds of family formation should they support? How should power over children be distributed between parents and the state? Who should pay the costs of raising children? Do children have rights against their parents (see Children's Rights)? Are there alternative institutions that would be better at raising children, and even if there are, would they be justified? This essay will primarily discuss the justification of the family as an institution for rearing children, and the kind of family that is justified.


  • legal and political;
  • philosophy;
  • practical (applied) ethics