Families, argue Harry Brighouse and Adam Swift in their new book “Family Values”, are a “problem” for proponents of the egalitarian ideal. “One does not have to favour anything as far-fetched and widely discredited as equality of outcome,” they write, “to be concerned about the unequalising influence of family background.”
It’s clear that children born into different families have unequal life chances. But, Brighouse and Swift observe, there is disagreement among political philosophers and social theorists about “how much, or what aspects, of that inequality count as unjust.” After all, it is surely reasonable for parents to assume that they have the right to do things that benefit their children and not others. But are there ways of conferring advantage on their children that parents don’t have a right to engage in? For example, is there a difference, morally speaking, between sending your children to an elite private school and reading them bedtime stories or helping them with their homework? This is among the questions that Brighouse and Swift consider in a book that is analytically rich and—to liberal egalitarians, at least—philosophically and politically provocative.