N. Branden, "The obligations of parents and children." comments

Leif Martyn

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Nathaniel Branden. I.A.D. (Intellectual Ammunition Department): The obligations of parents and children.
Objectivist Newsletter 1(12), Dec 1962, p. 55.
retrieved August 25, 2022 from http://www.proctors.com.au/mrhomepage.nsf/985f14ab922be306482577d5003a2040/2a9525c5206e5f324825789d00418dbd/$FILE/Objectivist Newsletter Vol 1 Nos 1 to 12 1962.pdf


Since the complete article is currently available at the site noted above, my comments can be read in that context - and I'm thinking that a lot of newer readers of OL may have heard of this but have not had the chance to read it in its entirety.

This is probably the oldest known explicit discussion of parenting issues in the Objectivist literature. If there were taped lectures from the period addressing these issues, maybe even in a question and answer format, I am not aware of them and in most cases these would be irretrievable and could not provide any foundation for further work (this is actually a general complaint I have about discussions originating in the Objectivist community, since audiovisual media do not make for a good searchable scholarly record, but I'll work with what I can get...).
It is also worth pointing out that while Nathaniel Branden was instrumental in suggesting, launching, and managing the production of the Objectivist Newsletter, it is also well-known that as "co-editors" both Ayn Rand and Branden reviewed and no doubt edited all the material published therein. And it is also obvious that Rand's credibility was a principal asset of the Newsletter, so it is reasonable to assume that she approved of the general tenor of this article, as well as the specifics.

The focus of this short essay is on the "respective obligations" so there are several assumptions that are, properly, not addressed: that is, we can assume that in the opinion of the editors they would distract from the intent to deliver "intellectual ammunition" on this particualr topic. Those assumptions are, nevertheless, worth identifying and examining.

Consider this statement of principle, and the subsequent line of thought:
"The key to understanding the nature of parental obligation lies in the moral principle that human beings must assume responsibility for the consequences of their actions.

"A child is the responsibility of his parents, because (a) they brought him into existence, and (b) a child, by nature, cannot survive independently. (The fact that the parents might not have desired the child, in a given case, is irrelevant in this context; he is nevertheless the consequence of their chosen actions - a consequence that, as a possibility, was foreseeable.)"

The assumption that I want to identify is the decision to bring a child into existence. In short, why would anyone decide to have children in the first place?  In this passage, and in what follows, this decision is simply assumed. There is, however, an implied foundation, which we'll see later, below.

Before that, however, I want to draw attention to what is probably the central point of the "intellectual ammunition" - that the effort expended in creating and raising a child is not a sacrifice, i.e., the exchange of a greater value for a lesser one.

"If parents forgo other purchases in order to provide for their child's necessities, their action is not a sacrifice, and they have no moral right to regard it as such. One of the cruelest injustices that parents can perpetrate is to reproach a child for being a financial burden or for requiring time and attention, as if the child's legitimate needs were an imposition on them - to complain to the child of the "sacrifices" made for his sake, as if he were to feel apologetic or guilty-to state or imply that the child's mere existence is an unfair strain, as if the child had any choice in the matter."

The focus, again, is on the  principle of accepting responsibility for the consequences of (freely chosen?) actions.

One possible reason for deciding to procreate is implied, below; in fact, with the continual emphasis on benevolence, it may be the only good reason.

"By virtue of their unique biological relationship, parents and child are normally predisposed to feel benevolence toward each other. Parents expect to feel love for their creation. A child wishes to feel love for his protectors. But this biological tie must never be "traded on" - that is, used as a moral blank check, as a substitute for personal value. Parents cannot demand love as a duty - "because we're your parents." A child cannot demand absolution of any irrationality - "because I'm your child." Emotions are not causeless. Love, respect, admiration have to be earned."

"Parents expect to feel love for their creation." This stems, apparently, from the "unique biological relationship" between parent and child, but it may not be a necessary condition: consider the decision to adopt an infant.
My basic point is that the passage also exemplifies the unstated assumptions. What is apparent, though, is that this relationship between parent and child proceeds from, at the least, a benevolent view of the universe, and so must precede the actual creation of the child; that is, such a benevolent view is suggested as a foundation for undertaking the long effort of raising a child. Without such an attitude, the disincentives - the sacrifices, the limitations on adult freedom of choice and action - overwhelm any notion of the value of having a child.

We ought to notice as well the question left open as to how a child ought to earn love, respect, and admiration, when the child is born without any means of doing this. The concluding paragraph sketches out a path for this:
"It is immensely valuable, from the point of view of the child's happiness and psychological development, that he find human beings whom he can love, respect and admire. One of the chief obligations of parents is to offer the child this opportunity. One of the chief obligations of the child - and of all human beings - is to recognize this opportunity if and when it exists."

I think this essay was a good start: I think we need to follow up on the implications. If the key to deciding whether or not to have children in the first place is the possession of a benevolent view of existence, then this ought to be spelled out more completely - dare I say, rigorously?


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