At first sight, this question may seem absurd, however I would like this question to be scaled down to less intensity. I do not in any way state that I support this, however, out of curiosity this question arose. I do not want to compare this to a systemic suppression; I am opposed to that. I would like to reduce this to the scale of a common household where the suppression of freedom is minimal and only implemented to allow for excellence and an increase in potential. Please note that by suppression of freedom I mean to say that the actions of a certain individual in the family are regulated; certain actions are expected while certain others are prohibited. Specifically I aim to convey the following scenario/example: a father and mother have a 5 year old child. Although at times this child wishes to play, the parents "force" him to complete expected practices (such as music, or other skills they would like their child to take early on) and reward him with a limited amount of reinforcers (either it be games, candy,etc..) With hours of dedication and practice on the required work, the child will develop skills that will later prove quite useful. I have heard many others criticize such limiting behaviours from parents however, one may argue that children at such young ages lack the adequate wisdom to distinguish between what's best for and what is not. On the other hand, one may argue that at the stage of childhood, a child is supposed to have fun and enjoy his childhood, not be forced to do work.

The parents of a child have authority over their child, however, to what extent? Would such restriction of freedom be justified or condemned as being unjust?

References/quotes from philosophers would be appreciated.

  • This is a very broad question, to put it lightly -- is there any chance you can specify this a bit further? I'd also wonder whether you might be able to tell us a bit more about the context and motivations behind your question? (What might you be studying or reading that has made this concern an urgent or important one to you? What have you found out so far? etc.)
    – Joseph Weissman
    Feb 28, 2012 at 4:41
  • 2
    Too broad... Anything can be "justified" from one point of view or another. And in practice—in any system of government or power relationship other than complete and total anarchy—this view is already accepted (i.e., there is a social contract in place which limits freedoms for a potential gain).
    – stoicfury
    Feb 28, 2012 at 8:57
  • I've already narrowed it down to the example of a household. I would like the answer to be in such context, obviously not to be answered generally. Thank you.
    – Outlier
    Feb 28, 2012 at 20:04
  • @Joseph Weissman I find this question to be of importance to me because of the unclear boundary of the moral stance. It occurred to me out of curiosity.
    – Outlier
    Feb 28, 2012 at 20:17
  • It strikes me that the question of to what degree freedom can be justifiably curtailed, even in a context like that of familial relationships, is still very general/vague. Can you tell us a little bit more about what you might be looking for in an explanation? At any rate, I think we are saying it's "broad" because we can easily imagine a book-length text addressing the concern -- see Anti-Oedipus for instance, which takes up this question in some depth. Please consider trying to tell us a bit more about your concern here. (In passing, you may also wish to consider clarifying the headline.)
    – Joseph Weissman
    Feb 28, 2012 at 22:44

2 Answers 2


Speed limits.

Seriously. Our entire system of government, and, in fact, every system of government in this history of mankind, has been predicated on the notion of suppressing some freedoms for the sake of efficiency/superior performance/what-have-you. That's the nature of the social contract.

There are as many different ways of framing this "problem" as there are different philosophers; for a more detailed response you're going to have to narrow down the problem a bit.

  • Define "narrow down". I've already narrowed it down to the example of the household. Furthermore, I've explicitly stated that I don't want to compare this to a systemic suppression (non-governmental). Nothing that I already did not already know was pointed out.
    – Outlier
    Feb 28, 2012 at 20:01
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    I was thinking "narrow down" in terms of a specific school of ethics. Clearly, everyone recognizes that parents can (and, in fact, ought) suppress the freedom of their children to a certain extent; what varies is the degree, and the framework for justification. Feb 28, 2012 at 22:35

I propose that in your example there actually is no "force" involved. Yes, the child has to do what his parents tell him to. However, the same goes for anyone who is living under someone else's roof: if you live in someone else's house, you must live by their rules or they will kick you out. So, the child has traded his freedom to do anything he wants, when he wants in exchange for free meals and shelter.

You might point out that the child doesn't really have the choice to leave the house because the government would force him to return to his parents or place him in a foster home. However, in that case it is the government that is using force, not the parents.

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