Here’s a question I have never thought about before:
What do grown children owe their parents?
Jane English claims children owe their parents nothing. That it’s only out of friendship that children will give to their parents. So if there’s a good connection, then the children will want to help their parents just like helping anyone else they care about. English says it’s because an obligation can only exist when there is a contract. Since parents had children without the children’s consent, then it is not a contract, so there is no debt to be paid back. Rather the parents have done a favor.
Christina Sommers, on the other hand, claims that children owe their parents respect no matter what. If parents provide the basics to their children when they are young, then the children at least owe the basics back to their parents. Aristotle says parents gave the children the gift of life and that is the greatest gift of all, without parents they wouldn’t exist, so children owe their parents for that.
Emanuel Kant’s theory is concerned with the motives and intentions of a person rather than the consequences that come out of it. Since a person has control over their intentions but not the consequences. Kant breaks down our actions into two categories, the hypothetical imperative and the categorical imperative. The hypothetical imperatives are the desire-based motives that have nothing to do with morality. Therefore, if a person wants something then they do the action to obtain what they want. The categorical imperative on the other hand, does have to do with morality; they are reason-based motives, for which a person is morally responsible. Therefore, a person ought to do something no matter if they want to do it or not.
An important part of Kant’s theory is, to “act only according to that maxim which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law”.
Now here’s where my Jewish opinion comes in.
I think Children to owe their parents, so I disagree with Jane English. I agree with Christina Sommers that children owe their parents respect, after all it is called “Kibud”. I remember learning Hilchas Kibud Av V’Aim a while ago. Where it was discussed whether a child has to pay for something the parent wants. Example: if the parent asks the child to do something for them, and the child would have to pay a fare for transportation, then the parent should pay for the transportation, unless the child is able to walk and avoid the fare.
Now with Kant’s theory on motives, it reminds me of “Kavannah” and how Hashem decides if a person should get “schar or Onesh”. From what I remember, Hashem punishes a person only if they had the intention to do bad. However, Hashem gives reward to people for good, no matter if they had the good intention or not.
Now about Kant’s two different imperatives, Kant says there are some actions that have nothing to do with Morality. But if you look at it the Jewish way, everything can be connected to morality. Even the simple act of eating or sleeping becomes moral if you have a moral intention. An example being, a mother sleeps with the intention of having energy to raise her children. With the intention she has elevated her action to become a holy one, and not a mundane one.
About acting only by actions that you can rule on others, sounds like “do not do unto others that which you wouldn’t want done to you”. It makes sense, however, in Jewish law we know there is no absolute rule, there are always exceptions and Kal V’Chomers. Even in the case of lying, there are times when you are supposed to lie. Hashem lied to Avraham for the sake of Shalom Bayis. I once heard that if the wife broke a vase by mistake, and her husband will get angry at her for it, then she is allowed to say the child broke it, so that the husband shouldn’t get angry at her. This is assuming that the husband will not get angry at the child, since he would understand that children tend to be more clumsy and break things easily.