Friday, May 1, 2009

Kibud Av V’Aim

Philosophy issue #3 (issue 1 here, issue 2 here)

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.


mikeinmidwood said...

Im the 10,000 visitor to this site.
I happen to think that the child owes the parent respect, even if the parent leaves the kid in a dumpster to rot, like aristotle said "life is the greatest gift".

Jewish Side of Babysitter said...

Congrats on being the 10,000th visitor!
Yea, I remember learning that even if the parents are abusive the child still has to respect the parent.

הצעיר ס"ט said...

I disagree with Mike here; a child cannot "thank" their parents for engaging in intercourse, since, for the most part, it is done for their own sake. If the parents raise the child, that's already going way out of their way, but still, many times they get a certain pleasure from having a child (Americans care for animals too, not just babies). And all in all I think you overlooked the opnion that says that, as the Mishna in Avot states, the child did not choose to be born. So, while he obviously owes his parents gaditude (and should fulfill the biblical command of respect towards them) he was not consulted on the matter, and was born and raised while they were already his parents (in most instances) which dulls the novelty of it to the child.

Moshe said...

I agree with English, not about children, about taxes.  Why should we pay for something we didn't ask.  I wonder if she agrees with herself about that.
As for children, I hope her children, if she has any, will put her in a home and never visit.

K said...

 I completely agree - grown kids owe their parents respect above all. I've seen instances where if there is a disagreement, the (grown) kid completely cuts off ties and that is really sad and terrible IMO. However, I think MIM worded the comment wrong.....if a parent left a baby in a dumpster to rot, they really haven't been a parent.

Eliyahu Fink said...

I love the idea for this post! 
The Chinuch says the reason we have the Mitzva of Kibbud Av V'Em is to teach us how to respect and honor a life giving force. This is a microcosm of our relationship with GD. 
According to this, we do not respect our parents purely out of Hakaros Hatov (gratitude) to our parents, rather because they gave us life and ultimately GD has given us all life we must practice our respect for life giving forces by respecting our parents. 
It's Hakaras Hatov plus practice!
Therefore, it is not relevent how old the child is...
...we still gotta practice, even when we get older and even after our parents are no longer alive!

Jewish Side of Babysitter said...

yea, that point about the child not asking to be born is part of the theory that there was no contract, so therefore the child doesn't owe anything. I used to think that way sometimes, but then I figured it was an immature way of looking at things. I didn't know Pirkei Avos said that though.

Jewish Side of Babysitter said...

good point, they should make a survey asking people what services they want, and then they pay towards those services, and the one's they don't want they won't get. Although that would make it more business like.
I suppose she thought of herself as a good friend to her children, and didn't have to rely on the obligation part of it, she must of been confident that her children will take care of her because they want to.

Jewish Side of Babysitter said...

I agree with you, although recently I came upon a horrible story of parents being cruel to their children, in that case I think the children have every right to cut themselves off.

Jewish Side of Babysitter said...

Good point, I didn't think of the connection with Hashem part. But I do remember learning that. Now that makes sense why children would have to respect their parents even if they haven't been good to them.

Avi said...

<p style=""><span style="">Hmmm... Interesting post. Obviously I agree with the whole Kibud Av V'aim thing. However, a couple of years ago I was doing some philosophy research on my own, and of course wanted to see both sides of the story. It's very difficult to be an effective debater, or convince yourself of a truth, when you’re only seeing one fragment of a much larger picture; in my case, that of the Jewish side relative to the atheist, Christian, and various other belief systems. So I took out a book from the library called<span> </span><span>What is Atheism?<span style="mso-bidi-font-style: italic;">.</span></span><span> </span>I eventually came across some theories, which at the time I couldn't debunk. The ethical/moral issue. Is murder eternally wrong, and assuming the answer to be yes, where does it originate? So, I called a rebbi of mine, a baal t'shuva, who is very well read in many things, philosophy included. What came next? Don't ask. He yelled at me, which I won't get into why, but he made one very strong point which I haven't forgotten although it was more than two years ago. In Judaism, there is no such thing as morality! Don't shoot me yet, hear me out. If we were to place Hashem under the same microscope that we place man, we'd conclude almost immediately that He is immoral. Mass genocides all throughout Tanach. Yes, everything Hashem does is 'moral' by definition, but in Judaism we can't define morality, because Hashem exists beyond morality. Everything Hashem does is perfect, but it's not 'moral' by our standards in any way. That's why, amongst other reasons such as flawed logic, Jews will never be able to accept theories that exclude Hashem from the morality dilemma. Because how we define morality, or I should say, how society defines morality, disallows Hashem to be in the equation. For example let’s say, that Kant’s logic is flawless. Everything about it is perfect, and we have now solved the issue of how to eliminate G-d from understanding how there could be morality in this world. One would hope that Hashem would still fit into what we call moral. But He doesn’t because of all the apparent immoral things He commanded us to do in Tanach. Therefore, there really is no such thing as morality in Judaism. What Hashem says is right, but not necessarily moral.</span>
<p><span style=""> </span>

auror said...

Wow Avi, I've really been inspired by your post.  Atheism is a scary thing to debate with (watch Christopher Hitchens- he's like glass and it's so unnerving)... we need more people with your insight around college.
And lol Jewishside, I learned Kant's Categorical Imperative in Business Ethics, I have the final on Wednesday- thanks for explaining what it is so clearly ;) What you were saying with the husband and the broken vase... that's one of the weaknesses I learned about Kant's theory. What should one do if he has 2 maxims which conflict in a given situation? In the situation you gave, it would be Always speak the truth VS Always make peace. So the Torah comes along and tells us which categorical imperative takes precedence :)

Jewish Side of Babysitter said...

I know I have so much to reply to, but I'm gonna reply to this first before I forget what I want to say.
I thought it sounded familiar, so I must of learned it by phil 14 too, or maybe core also.
Anyways, I had my phil 6.5 final today, and one of the essay questions worth 10 points was to write 2 things we have learned from the class that has helped us with our personal relationships. So I made believe it was a blog post, and wrote about self authorship from phil issue #2 and about what grown children owe their parents.
O, and I had you know who's final today, and because its an online class we had to show photo ID and say our name to get our test paper, and when I went over to him and said my last name he didn't remember me :( lol, o well. I guess its because when I had him last I used to wear a pony so I guess he didn't recognize me. But he also changed, he used to look better. O, and he said that next semester he's not gonna use blackboard because of all the tzaros.
ahh I could already be typing an e-mail by now. O well. I'll get back to the rest tomorrow morning.

auror said...

Oh lol I only saw this comment now. Yes I am in Brooklyn College, even now during the summer session. Jewishside is the best btw, she knows all the good professors to take and helped me tons!!
Curious, what are you doing on campus if you're not a student there yet?

Jewish Side of Babysitter said...

Thanx Auror, you are too kind! :)

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