Obligations to the elderly and generational equity
University of Melbourne Author/sTHOMPSON, JANNA
AffiliationArts: Department of Philosophy
CitationsThompson, Janna (2003) Obligations to the elderly and generational equity.
Access StatusOpen Access
Working Paper 2003/2
Do grown up children have obligations to their parents? Do the younger members of a society have obligations to their elders? Most people think that the question in both cases is answered by an appeal to the benefits which those now old conferred on the young: that children owe benefits to those who brought them into the world or brought them up; that the young of a society owe benefits to those who subsidised their upbringing and education. The obligation, in other words, is perceived to be one of reciprocity between people in different age cohorts or family generations. What distinguishes these cases is the existence of a considerable gap in time between receiving the benefit and making the return. I am going to present and argue for a different approach to answering the above questions. I will argue that grown children have obligations to their parents and, more generally, the young to the old, not because of benefits received but because they have good moral reasons to participate in an intergenerational moral practice which requires the young of each generation to fulfil obligations to their predecessors. The view I am going to present construes duties of the young to the old as truly intergenerational responsibilities – and not as cases of delayed reciprocity. The people of each generation fulfil obligations to their elders and reasonably expect to be cared for in their turn by their children or other members of younger generations. I will argue that this way of looking at the matter not only avoids difficulties associated with other attempts to justify obligations to the elderly. It also provides a procedure for determining what these obligations are. In so doing it is in a good position to contribute to recent public debates about generational equity as well as to answer questions about family responsibilities for the aged. An approach to these issues which derives responsibility for care for the elderly from a conception of intergenerational obligation
KeywordsObligations; grown children; elderly; families; intergenerational responsibilities; reciprocity; gratitude; entitlement to benefits; subject centred' approach; duty of care; fiscal sustainability; duty of justice
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