Family Autonomy and Class Fate

Gideon Calder

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    The family poses problems for liberal understandings of social justice, because of the ways in which it bestows unearned privileges. This is particularly stark when we consider inter-generational inequality, or ‘class fate’ – the ways in which inequality is transmitted from one generation to the next, with the family unit ostensibly a key conduit. There is a recognized tension
    between the assumption that families should as far as possible be autonomous spheres of decision-making, and the assumption that we should as far as possible equalize the life chances of all children, regardless of background. In this article I address this tension by way of recent liberal egalitarian literature, and consideration of the different dimensions of class fate. I argue, firstly, that the tension may not be of the a priori nature which liberals have tended to identify – and secondly, that as well as distributive and recognition-based aspects, the notion of contributive justice provides a particularly illuminating way of analyzing what is wrong about class fate, and the role of the family in promoting it.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)131-149
    Number of pages19
    JournalSymposion: Theoretical and Applied Inquiries in Philosophy and Social Sciences
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2016


    • family autonomy
    • contributive justice
    • inter-generational inequality
    • families
    • life chances


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