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« Her life is not a tragedy: Zhuangzi understands this | Main | From seven years of archives: Disability and Social Responsibility »

June 28, 2012


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I'm in favor of the Supreme Court ruling, but I can imagine how a Mencian Republican could make the case that filiality is an important *personal* virtue so it's no good for government to do it for you. One could make a similar case against Social Security: because the government ensures that the elderly won't be destitute, children no longer feel that it is their responsibility to care for their parents, so the parents are treated more poorly and with less respect. I don't buy the argument, but there's certainly a case to be made from within the bounds of Confucian thought.

Hi Sam,

A couple of quibbles:

It seems to me that Roberts’ opinion emphasized that the court was making no judgment on public policy. The court’s job was to adjudicate whether a particular statute was consistent with a particular set of national by-laws; and this wasn’t the sort of case where principles from the constitution raise issues of policy such as you have in mind. If the court did make a judgment of policy here, it wouldn’t be ratifying policy, because the judgment would be beyond the court’s authority.

The Legge reading of 2.6 doesn’t make much sense to me. I think a different reading is generally accepted, partly because the consensus reading takes account of the character 唯 (“only”) and partly because it makes good sense:

Meng Wu asked what filial piety was. The Master said, "Parents are anxious only lest their children be sick."

That is, they don’t have any other worries, such as worries about whether their children will care for them, respect them, and stay nearby.

Sam, if your analysis were correct, wouldn't the ACA allow coverage of children *and parents* on one's own health care plan not only until the age of 26, but 126?

It's a serious question ...

Thanks for the comments...
Carl, yes, the government should not do the work of fulfilling filial obligations for individuals. But the government should, from a Mencian perspective, make sure that the material conditions exist that facilitate individuals in doing their filial duties. If individuals fail to do their duty, even when material conditions are sufficient, that is a moral failing on their part, which would require further education and self-reflection to correct.
Yes, the Confucius quote is a bit of a stretch. I grabbed for it quickly. Might be best to leave it out... But I think the general Mencian point stands. And I think that Supreme Court deliberation is not wholly legally abstract. While the explicit grounds given for a decision are based on jurisprudential analysis, consideration of the broader public policy environment does shape their thinking...
Yes, good point. It may be that ACA is a second best Mencian solution. Better to have a system (single payer?) where access to health care is insured for all: parents as well as children....

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