How important is family? Family comes first is an old maxim, if a parochial one. No-one is asking anyone to sacrifice their children by limiting that, but I wonder whether our moral duties only really exist inside the family structure, outside obvious law breaking. I can't think how, so has anyone defended the claim that all duties are an grounded in - begin with and are an elaboration of - the family structure?

3 Answers 3


I can make a counter argument to the effect that morals evolved to ensure that a naturally protective tendency that existed within individual families was extended across families for the benefit of a society collectively. It seems a relatively common instinct among the higher animals for parents to invest effort to protect and nurture their offspring. Perhaps morals evolved because extending those instincts beyond family boundaries was beneficial. If you consider Christian morality as being fairly typical, then you might attach weight to the fact that many aspects of it apply to interactions between families as much as they do to interactions within them. And some aspect- such as the condemnation of the coveting of the oxen of one's neighbour- are explicitly extra-familial in their intention.

  • hey marco. if you like my question,s can yuo upvote a few, please. i am banned otherwise!
    – user66697
    Feb 8 at 22:26
  • 1
    Sure! Expect to see some upvotes shortly. Feb 8 at 22:36
  • oh wow, thanks haha
    – user66697
    Feb 8 at 22:38
  • +1 You and the scientific community. The OP should read en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Altruism
    – J D
    Feb 23 at 13:47

Justice seems to me to come most naturally in the family and clan. Nietzsche talked about master morality vs. slave morality. I think more primitive and foundational is “parent morality”: Imagine a trans-valuation of values from highly rational parents who have discovered that one of their children has managed to enslave their weaker sibling. Now suppose an outside power conquers both slave and master cultures, and in an effort to keep the peace between the two, adopt neither the slave nor master moralities (the “parent power” is not an avenger), but will instead impartially create a new “parent morality” with its notions of balance and fairness, if for no other reason than to keep the peace. Because practical justice usually requires altruism, and because parents are not always perfect, that “parent” power may not necessarily be viewed as just, but both slave and master cultures could continue to hold on to their old moral systems, and view the parent as the new master. But ideally, both the slave and master cultures will learn the new parent morality and its intuitions of fairness, perhaps the weaker cultures and individuals appealing more often to it and the stronger being more rebellious. The old masters will now gain a new empathetic perspective on slavery, which should ideally bring them closer to also understanding justice. Or let’s say that a stronger previous alpha male returns to the group who is the parent of both the current alpha male and the beta-types, and who resents the way the current alpha-male is treating the others. Because the current alpha male is his offspring, the new stronger alpha-male will not want to unduly harm him. What will they all learn? (This is a reality, not just a myth made up by the beta-types). And is what they “learn” just social conventions or principles of reason, or both? Justice is more effectively empowered by believing it is grounded in reason. Even if it is only social convention, that convention is better accomplished if we believe instead that justice is grounded in reason. And since there is sufficient objective uncertainty in the matter, we are pragmatically justified in so believing. The new parent morality would have much in common with the master morality, insofar as the parent is the new master, but also with slave morality insofar as the slave’s interests are now more respected. The old resentment becomes just indignation. Revenge becomes justice. The greed conceit and aggression of the old master is now accompanied with guilt (deprivation of moral interest with respect to one’s own responsibility), and the altruistic behavior of the slaves is accompanied with peace of conscience (fulfillment of moral interest with respect to one’s own responsibility), but in both cases only in proportion to which the parent sees that such feelings are in the best practical interest of both children. The parent approves of guilt and peace of conscience only in proportion to which justice within the family is maximized. The parent wants both to be fair, prudent, proud, ambitious, assertive and respectful and neither to be greedy, conceited, aggressive or slavishly altruistic within the family because the parent has the interests of both at heart. The parents will want to distribute responsibility and benefits to the two children equally, not because they favor the weaker children’s interests over those of the stronger, but because they care about them equally (impartially). For an ideal parent, uniqueness only makes the child more loveable and does not become grounds for disrespect. The ideal parent cares about the soul of the child, that it is disposed to treat the other children with a virtuous will, which virtue pre-empts any special powers or wisdom they have, and gives them purpose, worth and meaning. The new parent morality cares about the interests of both the slave and the master offspring. This means the parent does externally impose rules, but not rules that do not take into account the uniqueness and essential natures of each and every child. The purpose, worth and meaning of the rules is going to be to maximize their interest fulfillments and minimize their conflicts (justice). It is not going to be empty reason but reason regarding interests. The parent knows and empathizes with both children equally well, so that the rules are designed with the hope of allowing them to flourish equally well. The parent or clan leader develop or discover concepts such as impartiality and proper proportion, rational principles in themselves. They may want to redistribute power and wisdom among their offspring, but not because they despise power or the powerful, nor because they think that weakness or the weak alone are good. If myth develops from this, then divinity may become the metaphysical parent. But the key question here is, which morality is the “best” or the most purposeful, worthwhile and meaningful? How do we determine that? Using reason from an impartial empathetic perspective (like that of the parent)? If not, then how? Does rational argumentation regarding interests replace the parent? So how does the rational parent resolve the problem when the interests of the slave and master children, or the values and virtues desired for them, conflict? They can only try to impartially weigh-e the interests themselves against each other.


The gene comes first. Family is valued because family members share genes. Community is valued because, historically speaking, others in our community were likely to be genetic relations. So moral behavior towards others in the family and community was a way of promoting our genetic self-interest.

You might enjoy this discussion between biologist Richard Dawkins and philosopher Peter Singer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GYYNY2oKVWU.

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