Why You Owe Your Parents Nothing


This is a topic that has been on my mind a lot lately, so here we go. First, we should examine what it actually means to “owe” someone. We should not confuse “owe” with “appreciate” first off. To owe someone insinuates that there was an exchange of something that was done as a favor, or done with the expectation of reciprocation.

For example, if someone was to give you ten dollars you are most likely going to assume that they want to be paid back in full. That is, unless it was some sort of gift (quite a mediocre gift if so). If someone acts in a way that benefits you, but does not commit said act with you in mind would you say that they have done a favor for you? For instance, if someone drops five dollars and you find it, I do not believe that it could be said that their act of dropping was done as a favor.

 I would like to assume now that we can agree that owing someone is the result of a act done by someone, to your benefit, and with you in mind.

Now, let’s examine the case of procreation. Whether you are a psychological egoist or not, I would like to posit that the decision your parents made to have a child was 100% selfish. Now stop, do not equate selfishness with being “bad.” I’m very dismayed at the fact that a strong connotation has evolved between selfish acts and wrong/bad acts.

So, did your parents decide to have a child with you in mind? There simply is no entity to even try to commit a favor for. Your parents could not have wanted the best for you, when in fact you did not exist. Your parents could not have had you in mind if there were no you. Simple. How happy or sad were you in your state of non-existence? You were neither.

In a state of non-existence there is nothing you “need.” There is no favor to be done for someone that does not exist. What is the reason that someone would bear a child then? There are a variety of possible reasons, whether it is to add meaning to their life, to be loved, to leave a legacy etc. None of these reasons are necessarily bad per say, but the reasons should be recognized.

You do not owe your parents. It is more arguable that your parents actually owe you. They took it upon themselves to bring a person into existence. This is a world where suffering and pleasure are variables that are constantly morphing and cannot be foreseen pre-conception. The question of whether parents have the right to expect praise should be asked.

Recognize that an act cannot be carried out with a non-existent entity in mind. It was the pleasurable thought of bearing a child that you had in mind in my opinion.



  8 comments for “Why You Owe Your Parents Nothing

  1. February 28, 2014 at 5:56 am

    I fully agree. However, one could make the argument that if you were an accident then they did you the favor by deciding against abortion, doing the good deed of saving your life. But then again, one could argue that point by saying that if they did you that favor, was it really a favor if one isn’t conscious enough to know that there is life to appreciate said favor at the time?
    …I might have confused myself on that one.

  2. eyeontheuniverse
    July 8, 2014 at 2:16 pm

    Maybe, maybe not. Unless you believe all actions are selfish there is room for other motivations. Humans do not appear to have evolved to be entirely motivated to maximize their own happiness (or whatever positive you choose) but to continue the species…so actions are just as likely to be automatic reactions for the good of offspring or the tribe.

    In the case of children, we first have to look at the reality that not all people have children because they even want them. Some have them because they happen to get pregnant and laws or social norms or other beliefs prevent them from stopping the process. Additionally, many people have children because they have a high opinion of themselves and think that bringing their superior children into the world is a benefit to the greater good, or others, as in Singapore or Japan, are encouraged to do so for social stability.

    Yet another group of people believe that it is their duty for spiritual/religious/metaphysical reasons. People from Mormons to pantheists to certain neutral monists believe in different forms of bringing existing consciousness into form for certain reasons. To have a child may be to help reality gain consciousness of itself.

    And then you get to the moral question of what one owes. There may be a lot of different approaches to this, but let’s take a simple rule utilitarian view. If we want to maximize well being is not a rule that says under normal circumstances a child should care for his or her parents likely to bring the greatest well-being about?

    • July 9, 2014 at 2:06 am

      I do believe that all motivations are selfish. For instance, if a mother dies in order that her child may live I would say that the action was selfish in that maybe she couldn’t live with herself otherwise.

      Whatever the reason she did so, it was because in her mind the alternative of letting her child die would have conflicted with her wishes. So her act was selfish in that she did it to appease HER consciousness.

      If maximizing well being is the goal, then yes. You should take care of your parents. But that says nothing about what you owe. From the utilitarian view, you should house a stranger if you realize he has great potential to aid society, but most would agree you don’t owe the stranger anything.

      • eyeontheuniverse
        July 9, 2014 at 2:40 am

        I think you’re making too big of a separation here between humans and other animals and over-estimating the rational motivations of humans. Much, probably most, of what humans do is not consciously goal oriented.

      • July 9, 2014 at 2:58 am

        Richard Dawkins book “The Selfish Gene” goes very in depth as to how even non-conscious life forms act by purely selfish motives. Such as when a bird may take a stray bird into it’s nest. At first it seems like an altruistic action, but if you hold a microscope up to it you see that the reason is because the bird couldn’t differentiate it from its own offspring.

        Of course humans are much much more complex in our motives. But give me a seemingly altruistic action and I believe that it can eventually be shown to be selfish.

      • eyeontheuniverse
        July 9, 2014 at 3:17 am

        Many can at a micro level, but it’s really more like scratching an itch, not the big motives people like to ascribe. I know this is how philosophers think of human behavior; I did philosophy as an undergrad. But it just isn’t supported by the research in psychology, which has a lot more real observations on how the brain works…especially from research in the last couple of decades. Humans are far less conscious and far more reactionary than even was understood in the 70s.

      • July 9, 2014 at 3:30 am

        We are actually both on the same page I believe. I am simply defining selfishness as reactions that are evolutionarily purposed for the prolonging of our genes. Conscious doesn’t have to be aware in order to allow that definition.

      • eyeontheuniverse
        July 9, 2014 at 11:39 am

        To some extent, yes. But I believe humans can act automatically in reactions that are evolved not necessarily for the individual but for survival of the group, particularly of offspring. You are adding a middle level where the mother can’t live with herself if…. I am arguing that that middle level is not necessasry. Humans largely react and then create rational justifications after the fact. Additionally, some reactions may be evolved for conditions that no longer exist or are inappropriate to the situation, so the “reason” will be difficult to identify.

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