Moral Debt of Children

It is a widespread view that children are morally “indebted” to their parents.  Especially in traditional epochs and societies this notion is interpreted very literally, underpinning a system very like one of “bonded labour” with numerous onerous duties incumbent on the children and correspondent enforceable rights on the part of the parents. As Hedwig Dohm (1831–1919) explains: “The mother feels sure of her right of possession. She saw in her daughter someone indebted to her for life. She is the creditor, her daughter the debtor.” (Dohm, Die Mütter)

A similar relation of indebtedness is assumed by one of literature’s best-known  àPerpetrators of Existence: Balzac’s Père Goriot, who, even on his deathbed, raises himself effortfully upright and cries: “Bring me my daughters! They owe me their lives! They are mine!”

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