Committee ChairFeinberg, Joel
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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
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AbstractMy dissertation examines the rights of children in the context of liberal conceptions of justice. The theoretical aspects of the dissertation concern liberal paternalism, autonomy, and the adequacy of Rawls's argument for the lexical priority of liberty. I apply my theoretical conclusions to practical issues of medical decision making for children, compulsory education, parental and state authority, and the age of majority. I begin with an analysis of paternalism in liberal political theory and its justificatory bases in the concepts of rationality and autonomy. On the basis of empirical studies of children's rationality I draw the preliminary conclusion that the age of majority should be lowered to fourteen years. Next, I consider utilitarian justifications for paternalistic treatment of children. I conclude that utilitarianism leads to an illiberal paternalism that would both maintain the present age of majority and call for expanded compulsory education and compulsory parent training. In light of utilitarian objections to rationality-based paternalism I consider whether the scope of liberal paternalism might be expanded to give greater weight to welfarist concerns. I argue against Rawls's lexical priority of liberty and for a more flexible balancing of liberty against welfare within the conception of justice as fairness. Turning to concrete problems, I analyze recent cases in law involving transplantation of organs between siblings, and argue that the nature of intimate relationships provides a ground for the partial compromise of freedom of the person in the context of family medical needs. However, I contend that adolescents should have authority to make their own medical decisions at age fourteen. I consider the proper scope of parental authority to shape the lives and values of children. I consider the justification and scope of compulsory education and propose a non-compulsory incentive system for continued education after the age of fourteen years. On the basis of my earlier argument for balancing welfare against liberty, I claim that it is permissible and advisable to set a higher age threshold for drinking, driving, marriage, and military service than is set for majority generally.