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Parents' Rights and Responsibilities

  1. Harry Brighouse,
  2. Adam Swift

Published Online: 1 FEB 2013

DOI: 10.1002/9781444367072.wbiee727

The International Encyclopedia of Ethics

How to Cite

Brighouse, H. and Swift, A. 2013. Parents' Rights and Responsibilities. The International Encyclopedia of Ethics. .

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 1 FEB 2013


As early theories of rights developed in the seventeenth century, the idea that parents had extensive and strongly protected rights over their children was largely unquestioned. In Europe children were, mostly, treated by the law as the property of parents. But the basic paradigm of the “right” is a right to control over- or non-interference with oneself, and, of course, children are not their parents, nor are they mere extensions of them. They are individuals in their own right, with their own separate interests, which they are, when young, ill-positioned to protect and promote. So it is natural to question whether parents have rights over their children, and, if so, what those rights are, and what responsibilities they have to their children (see Associative Duties). By having a child one alters the environment for other people: one adds another person to the set of people to whom each other person has an obligation. One also alters the environment by raising a child: one can raise it to be cooperative or conflictual, friendly or hostile, someone who respects or harms others. So what responsibilities to other people accompany parenthood?


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