Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Samantha Brennan


Until recently little philosophical attention has been paid to ethical issues arising within the family. This has changed in the past few decades, and a growing body of literature has developed on the obligations that exist within families. However, one area of family ethics that remains under-theorized is the nature of children’s obligations to their parents. What, if anything, do children owe their parents? And, on what parts of the filial relationship are obligations based?

My argument runs along three major lines that correspond to the chapters of this dissertation. In the first chapter, I claim that the two dominant theories of filial obligation, the friendship theory and the gratitude theory, have serious flaws. Both theories fail to account for a significant part of the filial relationship.

In the second chapter, I argue that special goods theories of filial obligations are the most promising in the current literature. Special goods theories claim that we have obligations to provide our parents with those goods that can only be obtained from a filial relationship. I then argue that there are two important problems for which current formulations of the special goods theory do not provide solutions. First, we need to know what special goods can only be obtained in filial relationships and why these goods cannot be obtained in other relationships. Second, we need to know how the ability to provide special goods to one’s parents leads to an obligation to provide those goods.

In the third chapter, I argue for my positive thesis and develop a complete special goods theory of filial obligations. I begin by proposing solutions to the two major problems for existing special goods theories I outlined in the previous chapter. First, I demonstrate that there are special goods attainable only in a parent-child relationship. I argue that love, purpose, fun, and several other goods have unique variations that occur only in parent- child relationships. Second, I argue that we have a duty of beneficence to provide our parents with special goods.

In the fourth chapter, I address several worries and questions about my special goods theory.