David O'Brien


It is a precept of commonsense morality that parents have permissions to be partial toward their own children in various ways: they are permitted to act in a variety of ways that favor the interests of (only) their own children. But how are such permissions to be reconciled with more general principles of justice? In this article, I discuss this question as it arises for one kind of liberal egalitarian theory of justice. Given their robust commitment to an ideal of equality, such theories face prima facie difficulties in accommodating the commonsense permissions of parental partiality. After sketching the contours of the apparent conflict between equality and parental partiality (§2), I survey some of the ways in which some writers have attempted to reconcile equality and parental partiality, and I criticize these reconciliation proposals, which in different ways subordinate a concern for equality to a concern for parental partiality (§3). I then suggest a different direction for reconciliation, which (conversely) subordinates a concern for partiality to a concern for equality (§4). This alternative reconciliation strategy, I argue, deserves to be taken seriously by liberal egalitarians; whether it is the most plausible way to reconcile equality and parental partiality depends on one’s view about the moral weight of people’s interest in parenting.