This is a thought experiment that deals with morality and ethics:

Due to low natality governments decide to create schools in which kids are raised by professional caregivers and people trained to do so instead of parents.

Those kids could be conceived in artificial wombs or given away by biological mothers who would receive some help or compensation by the government.

A. How ethical do you think this arrangement would be?

Would it be morally acceptable if those kids were raised with no mental problems and perfectly suitable for adult life?

Are there any psychological/philosophical problems if you were not raised by real parents?

Do kids need that maternal instinct of unconditional love or that's just a myth?

B. Would this be a step towards a "Brave New World"?

What if, in the future, because of the low natality there is no other alternative than this to keep society going?

Would this be a problem for religious people for which a father and mother figure is important?

What if societies of the future evolved into this because of the equal roles of women and men and they found to raise kids difficult, lengthy and expensive?

Why are old people´s homes accepted but a "baby's home" could not?

Isn't this just like just a social taboo like gay marriage or gay parenthood was years ago?

Perhaps it is the bad reputation of orphanages in the past which makes this idea sound creepy?

C. I'm looking for authors and studies (not opinions) who talk about this issue and their most important conclusions.


7 Answers 7


It's hard to find spot-on literature. This is connected with what you are interested in :


Possibly if we had absolute control over food, sex, shelter, if we had some great reconditioning laboratory where the individual could be brought for a year for rigorous study and experimentation, we might be able to undo for him in a year what home nurture had done for him in thirty years. (J.B. Watson.)

Among the evils of "home nurture" is mother love, every reference to which in this book [Watson's] is negative, being equated with smothering, stifling, and infantilising. Much better for babies to be in nice hygienic laboratories, where psychologists can blow air at their corneas and make sure that they develop no irrational fear of snakes. (Theodore Dalrymple, ironically developing Watson's views.)


Sharone L. Maital and Marc H. Bornstein, 'The Ecology of Collaborative Child Rearing: A Systems Approach to Child Care on the Kibbutz', Ethos Vol. 31, No. 2, Theme Issue: The Cultural Construction of Childhood (Jun., 2003), pp. 274-306.


J.B. Watson, The Ways of Behaviorism,1928.

T. Dalrymple, 'Organised squirmings', British Medical Journal, Vol. 345, No. 7882 (10 November 2012), p. 32.

  • Is that second paragraph sarcastic? O_o
    – jpmc26
    Commented May 12, 2018 at 15:13

This answer is almost entirely opinion, if it will be permitted.

Whose morals, whose ethics, whose values do you believe should be passed down to children, taught to them? Should the government just decide what people should believe because it saves on propaganda? The discussed situation is not justifiable unless you allow any means to justify an end and, in that, give up any semblance of a right to determine that end in future even by democracy.

Government has for many years existed to exercise the monarch's right to govern, to serve the people. This is not to master or sculpt the people even if it to sculpt the laws under which the people operate. A government that implements what is considered in the thought experiment has effectively found a way to win the propaganda wars in advance and instil into the population any stigma that they like.

We cannot be naive about government propaganda. Even in free nations, one party wants to do one thing 'for our benefit', and the opposing party wants to do the opposite 'for our benefit'. They do not always directly state that it is for our benefit but, it is just that that they want to convince us of. I am confident that in the majority of cases all either party wants is to win government and to tell us what is for our benefit. There are very few moments of altruism in politics.

A government that implements what is suggested in the thought experiment has crossed a very deeply carved, if not somewhat dusty line. It cannot and must not be permitted for such a thing to occur. A government cannot be allowed to steal the free minds of those that they govern.

A government cannot possibly be trusted with the responsibility and privilege of raising a nation's children.

It can be argued that this standpoint will not be always the most beneficial to the individual in all cases, however, it remains that it most benefits the group.

What parents pass down if they are effective, is summation learning - the benefit of generations of experience, not often perhaps with the detail of the lesson but, the resultant expectation/view/response. The result of generations of experience through successes and failures. Life is far too short for the individual to have to re-learn all of the experiences of past generations. The great variety benefits all.

Giving the next generation a single viewpoint wipes out the accumulated learning of the vast majority.

  • 1
    Both question and answer remind me of something
    – JollyJoker
    Commented May 11, 2018 at 13:25
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    This answer does seem to overlook the all-too-often ignored fact that employees of the State are themselves also people. Or perhaps you agree that PbxMan's thought experiment is fundamentally no different than public education and foster child programs and you think those are unacceptable as well? Commented May 11, 2018 at 14:01
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    @EldritchWarlord public education does not replace the parents but rather supplements them. Unfortunately (in the USA at least) many parent then abdicate their role as co-educators of their own children (ask any teacher how hard it is to get parents to participate in conferences). The very fact that children leave public school and join different political parties demonstrates that public education does not produce the same "groupthink" as the proposed thought experiment outcomes described by Willtech.
    – O.M.Y.
    Commented May 11, 2018 at 20:48
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    @rus9384 What parents are imposing, generally, is the result of generations. The parents are the product of their upbringing the same as their parents were. There is far too little time in life to re-learn all of the lessons of past generations individually. Totally free thought for the next generation is a nice ideal but, many things have already been tried by past generations and found to be sub-optimal even if another individual disagrees with the point. What is imparted by parents is learning summation designed to strengthen the position of their offspring. The great variety benefits all.
    – Willtech
    Commented May 12, 2018 at 1:22
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    @EldritchWarlord Employees of the state, while still being people, act for the state. If all employees follow the same handbook then only the documents lines of reasoning are instructed. That does not invalidate all other views.
    – Willtech
    Commented May 12, 2018 at 22:33

Consider Plato's idea for how (Guardian) children ought to be raised in the kallipolis and all the objections Socrates' interlocutors find with it. Without a nuclear family, Plato thinks children develop familial attachments to their fellow citizens instead, binding individuals to each other and the state in new ways. The myth of the metals serves not only for class distinction and justification, but to convince citizens they are brothers and sisters due to their common mother, the Attic dirt.

As regards your specific questions:

How ethical do you think it would be?

As for my own thoughts, well, Imma suspend judgement on this non-evident matter, but here's what Plato had to say:

Would it be morally acceptable if those kids were raised with no mental problems and perfectly suitable for adult life?

Not only is raising children in this way morally acceptable, it is, in fact, the ideal, most virtuous way, since we are making justice in the individual (and therefore justice in the state) essentially idiot-proof.

Are there any psychological/philosophical problems if you were not raised by real parents?

You can ask any adoptee about this, if by 'real' you mean biological. If you use 'real' to mean a set of nuclear parents -- a mom and dad -- then Plato would say no -- psychological problems arise when you are raised by flawed parents, not through the perfect guardianship and programming of the philosopher-king state.

Do kids need that maternal instinct of unconditional love or that's just a myth?

Myth or no, Plato would argue that the state is better positioned to meet this kind of need.

Would this be an step towards a "Brave New World"?

Some people consider Plato to be a proto-fascist, so yes, maybe.

What if in the future because of the low natality there is no other alternative than this to keep society going?

Plato has thoroughly, if not convincingly, addressed the breeding issue.

Would this be a problem for religious people for which a father and mother figure is important?

Yes, I think the neo-Platonists of the Middle Ages/Renaissance struggled to reconcile Christian thought on parents (and their real/symbolic importance) with Plato's guardian class husbandry and communal child-rearing approaches.

What if societies of the future evolved into this because of the equal roles of women and men and they found to raise kids difficult, lengthy and expensive?

Yes, Plato also addresses this, which is why some people consider him to also be a proto-feminist.

Why old people´s homes are accepted but a "baby's home" could not? Isn't this just like just a social taboo like gay marriage or gay parenthood was years ago? Perhaps is the bad reputation of orphanages in the past which makes this idea sound creepy?

This is an excellent question. There is no reason why group homes for old people ought avoid similar disrepute as group homes for children -- abuse, neglect, and a thousand other human evils are certainly visited upon some of those people, too. Maybe we just care about old people less. Babies and children are cute and seem to have promise, whereas old people, well, I think we (as a society) often just wish they would die already or otherwise go away. Plato thinks old people who have aged out of the breeding program ought to just be able to enjoy the small pleasures of a life well-lived, at the state's expense.

  • In the Netherlands, what you call group homes for old people have been the subject of intense debates for quite a few years now. Many of them have now been closed, also (or mainly) to cut the health-care budget, and replaced with home-care nurses. Since neglect and abuse (intentional or not) occur at home as well, places in group homes are becoming more and more sought-after. Something similar has happened with children's homes -- there are none, anymore, but foster-care has its own drawbacks and now unhappy children sometimes end up in psychiatric wards. Platonic, perhaps. Commented May 12, 2018 at 10:24

Here's one or two objections I have to government taking on this role:

All mammals and many birds are impressed by their parents about their own identity. Reasonably, humans have a need for this.

Parents are related to children by nature and connected to children by their will to be present. It would be difficult to find government agents who satisfy this need like parents do.

Also, humans have always had the right to guard and raise their offspring however they wish (with due regard for government's interest in protecting persons inside government borders). How could government strip parents of this right? (I don't acknowledge surrogacy as voiding parenthood.)

  • I believe the OP was suggesting that such children would be raised by the government out of biological necessity ("Due to low natality ...") rather than "[stripping] parents of this right". For example in China right now their "one child" rule is leading to substantial negative population growth and at some point is projected to have dramatic negative consequences on the availability of the workforce needed to operate existing economies. See brookings.edu/articles/…
    – O.M.Y.
    Commented May 11, 2018 at 20:57
  • @O.M.Y., my thought is that such children would indeed be related to some or other biological parents in absolutely every case. You're right, though, that the OP got around one of my objections by mentioning parental consent for the arrangement. Commented May 11, 2018 at 22:18

Consider looking at real recorded evidence. This is part of the program of B.F. Skinner's broader thought experiment described in his book "Walden Two".

Many people have attempted to construct real communities based on the principles given, and to sort through the principles to see which ones are really OK, and which ones cause problems.

The Wikipedia page on Skinner's book lists many of these attempts, an there is information available on several of them in the form of documentary films, existing communal governance documents, and works of non-fiction about the groups involved.

Some long-lived Mennonite communities in the 19th century handled childcare communally after toddlerhood, so that women could take part in other communal activities. The most famous of these was Amana.

  • I was hoping someone would bring up Skinner (and by implication his predecessor Harry Frederick Harlow). The wire & cloth monkey observations definitely should be considered in this thought experiment, at the very least in determining what form the surrogate parents provided by the government should or should not take. Cold robotic/AI or clinically detached parents would clearly be psychologically harmful based on Harlow and Skinner's work.
    – O.M.Y.
    Commented May 11, 2018 at 21:04
  • Also, your comments on Mennonite communities have strong parallels in many Native American and African tribal cultures from which we get the phrase "It takes a village to raise a child." While such children have known bloodlines, their "parents" are virtually every person in the tribe who are from the previous generations. Adopted (from outside tribes) children have the exact same parents as genetic locals.
    – O.M.Y.
    Commented May 11, 2018 at 21:09

Short Answer: Yes, technically it is possible that this thought experiment can be morally and ethically appropriate to implement, provided that certain key questions are ethically answered (in actions and policies) as part of said implementation. However there is an immense risk of abusive unethical implementations for which there are ample evidential examples throughout history (see below). Having said that, I am personally of the belief that current civilization is incapable of taking the necessary steps to do this ethically due to what I call "nightmare questions" (see below).

Long Answer: In considering this thought experiment one may have to assemble and synthesize a comprehensive answer from many sources that address a number of key questions (some of which are at least partially addressed in other answers here)...

  • Paramount is the question "What is the agenda of the government education of such children?" This certainly would affect many of the questions asked by the OP (such as religious concerns, psychological well being, etc). For some relevant cases you should examine the historically infamous agendas of assimilation by the various "indigenous boarding schools" such as the Indian Residential Schools of the USA and Canada, as well as New Zealand's Maori Native Schools and even Australia's Stolen Generations. User @Willtech's answer quite correctly asks "who's values"? will be used for raising such children and any meaningful answer about the thought experiment must address this issue.

  • If the agenda of such a government-parentage is strictly biological survival (as is implied in the phrasing of the OP's Question, i.e. "Due to low natality [...]") then the morality issue is satisfied since survival is certainly a moral imperative as long as it does not create permanent harm to bystanders the process (i.e. self-defense is considered morally acceptable in most societies). However one must ask: "Why do the children need a government run parentage for upbringing?" Why couldn't such a desperate-to-survive society/government implement a medical program that would radically increase natality and then distribute the offspring to mandatory fosterages through out the population?

  • If on the other hand the objective of this thought experiment is to socially engineer one or more generations then a whole host of questions arises, not the least of which is Who decides? ... Other items include Why is such social engineering considered necessary?, and What will happen to the existing population once the new generation comes into majority? These are the nightmare questions that basically make me believe it is impossible to do this thought experiment ethically.

  • Another key question is What form would such a government "parentage" take? My belief is that the only logical approach would be the tribal model wherein a large number of dedicated caregivers would function as a team-parent and equally function as a collective guard against any abuses of the agenda/objectives for the program. I suggest one place the OP might look for case data on this topic is "It takes a village..., and new roads to get there.", as well as a number of related other works (see this Google Scholar search result for the above article title citations.

  • Actually, theis question must be solved quite soon, by the time we'll be able to produce people artificially. But there are more important questions currently and this is not really an issue right now.
    – rus9384
    Commented May 12, 2018 at 0:52

This was essentially done, although not well, in Romania, when a government policy of encouraging and in some cases enforcing childbirth was combined with widespread poverty, leading to a massive population of orphans, essentially being raised by the government. The program is almost universally considered a complete disaster. There have been numerous studies done on it, mostly related to the long term effects of neglect on children.

A more benign version of this experiment was performed as part of the Israeli foray into communal living called the kibbutzim. Many early kibbutzim raised their children communally. Some children and some parents loved the arrangement, others hated it, but it gradually faded away in most kibbutzim. This perhaps demonstrates the strength of the traditional family structure, which, after all, is nearly universal.

With all that said, it is worth noting that the children in many wealthy families are indeed largely raised by professional caregivers --in Britain at one time, it was quite common for even very young children to be packed off to boarding schools at the earliest opportunity. That experiment is also considered to have had its problems.

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