- In Search of Just Families: A Philosophical View by Chanda Gupta
The title of this short book expresses both its ambition and its limits. Gupta seeks to do two things: First, she attempts to canvass the important problems of justice raised by the family, both ad extra, in relation to the larger social and political order, and ad intra, in the interrelations of its members. Second, she seeks to correct "dichotomous," "binary," and "oppositional" methodological and ontological approaches to social reality. These include profamily versus antifamily, naturalism/essentialism versus social constructivism, collectivism versus liberalism, objective versus subjective, facts versus values, reason versus emotion, and an ethic of right versus an ethic of care.
What Gupta offers in the place of these dichotomies is variously identified, not entirely coherently, as "fluxist and pluralist," a "mixed ontology that seeks to combine naturalism, more generally realism, with constructivism," a "nonimputationist" version of "constructive realism," an "open-ended ideal-typical model," and a "pragmatist-pluralist" and "evolutionary" epistemology.
Perhaps not surprisingly, her conclusions about the family are rather indefinite. She aims to defend a "reconciliatory pro-family viewpoint that refrains from resorting to exclusivism." But in her effort to avoid "exclusivism" she excludes virtually all of the features that are recognizably "typical" of the family as a distinctive human association, including marriage, monogamy, exclusivity, and kinship. And although at times she assumes that the family has something to do with the reproduction and rearing of children and so also sex, so that it has a "real natural [or bio-]base," she never makes clear what this connection is, and how it avoids "exclusivism."
Ultimately for Gupta the family is a unit of "intimate collective living" that has something to do with "connectedness and collective caring," and her defense of the family thus rests on the human "need for a primary group, which is primarily an affective unit where the few individual members are bound together by intensely intimate emotional relations." [End Page 138]
The book begins with a useful preface in which Gupta summarizes each chapter of the book in so much detail that the chapters themselves sometimes seem redundant or repetitious without significantly advancing the argument. In the following six chapters she highlights and then critiques various oppositional binaries. Even if these binaries are oversimplified, they are useful in bringing clarity to the core issues.
Chapter 1 ("Family: Haven or Prison") summarizes the binary profamily and antifamily arguments. Here and throughout Gupta acknowledges the risks and realities of injustice in family life (family as "prison"), while defending the claim that human beings require a "haven from a heartless world," a "domestic space that enshrines intensely intimate, emotional relations of love" and is insulated from "the shocks encountered in an inimical, impersonal public world." Both groups, Gupta asserts, wrongly rely upon an essentialist view of the family characterized by heterosexuality and monogamy, whereas the "ideal-type" model makes possible the benefits of domesticity without the costs.
In chapters 2 ("War Against the Family") and 3 ("Two Voices of Liberalism: For and Against the Family") Gupta considers the ad extra arguments against the family by comparing and critiquing collectivist and liberal arguments against the family. The collectivist arguments, which seem to be rooted in an extreme and one-sided "ethics of care," are divided into classical utopian (Plato's Republic) and modern anticapitalist (Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels). The liberal arguments, on the other hand, are rooted in an extreme and one-sided "ethics of right." Both ethical approaches, Gupta suggests, are required for a complete ethical picture (she develops this idea in the last chapter). She offers John Rawls as one way of how this might be done—although in an oddly placed postscript to the chapter she expresses a preference for Amartya Sen's "comparative justice" over Rawls's ideal theory.
In chapter 4 ("Family and the Subjection of Women") Gupta turns to ad intra arguments against the family from feminism. (Remarkably, she virtually ignores the questions of justice involving parental authority over children). Her object here is to contrast, and...