Philosophers’ insights on the family in the light of contemporary challenges: an enlightening contrast

Prof. Ana Marta González, University of Navarra

When speaking of family, it is not always easy to navigate between the descriptive and the normative levels. Family is not just something that happens; it is also something that we do in relation with others, and we do it in the midst of many social constraints guided by certain implicit cultural ideas and values.

Indeed, we live out our family life guided by certain notions of the distinctive features of family relations, and take those constitutive features as a reference point for measuring our actual behavior.

While there are as many ways of raising a family as there are practical ways of applying those notions, doing family always requires taking the broader social and cultural context into account, because no family is a self-sufficient society: work, food, health, education and everything involved in addressing all our basic needs require families to depend on society at large. Yet, at the same time, society relies on families insofar as they nourish basic pro-social attitudes that strengthen the social fabric and solidarity among genders and generations.[1]

By definition, families exist beyond themselves, giving and receiving in lively relation with the rest of society. The challenge is found in identifying how this relationship can strengthen both family and social bonds instead of weakening them. Drawing on mainly philosophical sources, I argue that confronting that challenge requires strengthening family’s reflexivity and agency, so that it discovers itself as the original source of human relationality, in charge of making this particular contribution to society.

More than a group of individuals: A new social subject...

A family is more than a group of individuals each pursuing their own individual interest. It is certainly more than “an emotional compensation” for the hardships of modern life, as nineteenth-century industrial society began to see it.[2] Families are not self-enclosed realities. Rather, they constitute original social subjects with a specific structure and a specific social contribution to make, that cannot be sufficiently appreciated from a merely functional point of view.[3] While families were thought to be the key to reproducing the existing social order for many years, this is no longer the case: far from seeing themselves in charge of preserving and reproducing social values, families often see themselves as embedded and driven by more powerful social and cultural forces, which originate beyond their reach in a public space that is usually dominated by economic considerations.[4]

This is not to say that family has lost its social value, but only that its social value should not be viewed merely in functional or economic terms. As a matter of fact, families represent the initial institutional expression of human relationality, where such relationality is first experienced as stable and natural, as freely guaranteed, and this is precisely the source of families’ most original contribution to social life.

Indeed, although families’ substantive contribution to society becomes somehow apparent whenever a child is born, if only because he will, in due time, contribute as an active citizen to society at large, the family’s potential contribution to society is already present even before the newborn sees the light of day in the kind of relationships that family members develop with each other, insofar as they are marked by donation and reciprocity. Thus, a childless couple is not just a pair of individuals that, depending on their antecedent individual interests, happen to do some things together – something that could also be true of many associations without therefore constituting a family; every family, childless families included, constitutes an original social subject marked by a community of life and, as such, provides society with a distinctive reference point regarding specific features of human coexistence.

Specifically, for their members, families represent a relational reality made up of irreplaceable people linked to one another through bonds of reciprocity that provide a reference for human relationships in general. It is within a family where human beings first learn what it means to be in relation with others, what giving and receiving and, thus, the meaning of reciprocity.

The latter does not mean that all families follow the same pattern. Family size, as well as greater or lesser dispositions toward bearing and taking care of children and the elderly, can be indicators of the different lifestyles exhibited by different families, with more or less potential to develop pro-social attitudes and thus with more or less potential to constitute a resource of those very attitudes for society at large.[5]

Yet, for better or for worse, families provide society with styles of human coexistence simply because their members have a life in common: while remaining different people, they nevertheless share in the ordinary and extraordinary events that constitute their individual biographies. That sharing and reciprocal caring can certainly be more or less intense, and can take many different forms depending on a variety of circumstances – sex, age, distance, health, character, culture, etc. Yet, it cannot be absent without threatening the reality of family life.

One might object that describing family by way of sharing and reciprocal caring is also true of many friendly relationships since friends also care for each other and share their lives in many respects. This is no mere accident; family members ideally develop friendly relationships. However, family relationships are structured around generation, in the sense of procreation, in a way that friendly relationships are not.

Friendship between relatives – Aristotle writes – while it seems to have many species, nevertheless always appears to be derived from paternal friendship: a parent is fond of his child as being a part of himself, and children are fond of a parent as being their originator (...) A parent... loves his children as himself, since what has come from him is, as it were, another self, which is other through its separate existence; children love their parent as being that from which they spring. And brothers love each other since they spring from the same parents; their identical relation to their parents produces the same result for each, which is why people talk of the same blood, the same stock, and so on. They are therefore in a sense the same thing, though in different bodies. Both a common upbringing and similarity in age contribute greatly to friendship, since ‘the same age makes a comrade’, and people with the same character become companions. This is why the friendship of brothers is like that of companions. And cousins and other relatives are akin through their relation to brothers, since this relation amounts to their descending from the same parents. They come to be more closely or distantly related through their nearness to or distance from the original ancestor.[6]

Approaching family life through the lens of generation does not merely allow us to clarify the distinctive features of family relationships when compared with other types of friendly relationships;[7] it also allows us to explain why we can still speak of family bonds in absence of friendly relationships, as regrettably is sometimes the case. However, in order to understand the characteristic dynamism of family life, and the deficiencies involved in non-ideal cases, it should be considered in the context of the free reciprocity characteristic of friendship.

... structured around generation

Unlike other types of friendship, family relationships are structured around the actual possibility of begetting new human beings. At the same time, it is worth noting that in Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle views family relationships as intrinsically emerging from a particular kind of friendly relationship, for which sexual difference is a requisite. Thus, after having spoken of different sources and types of friendship, he writes:

The friendship of man and woman also seems natural. For human beings naturally tend to form couples more than to form cities, in as much as the household is antecedent to the city, and more necessary, and reproduction is more widely shared with animals. With other animals, the community extends only to this point, but human beings live together not only for reproductive purposes but also to supply what they need for life... They supply one another’s needs... by putting their own talents into the common pool... Children seem to be another bond, which is why childless people separate more quickly; children are a good which is common to both and what is common holds things together.[8]

The fact that Aristotle frames the issue of begetting children within his book on friendship is not insignificant: human procreation is not just a natural fact, but has an intrinsically ethical dimension to it. He uses the word “natural” to describe this kind of friendship only because he takes it in a teleological sense; in other words, he makes sense of it in light of a complete account of the human good. Indeed, he is primarily interested in the meaning of the rather common tendency “to form couples more than cities”. Despite recognizing a similar tendency in other animals, he highlights a significant difference between them and humans. Animal communities extend until reproduction is accomplished; by contrast, “human beings live together not only for reproductive purposes but also to supply what they need for life”. Indeed, as is apparent from this text, he sees the tendency to form couples in connection with the satisfaction of daily needs and, ultimately, in light of the human good, which for him emerges only in the realization of our social and political nature. It is only in light of the human good, so understood, that human reproduction begins to make sense to him. Thus, he sees community between man and woman as established “to supply one another’s needs... by putting their own talents into the common pool”. In saying this, he is obviously stressing the friendly quality of such a relationship because some sort of sharing or community is proper to every form of friendship. The difference lies in that, in this case, the unifying dynamics of friendship comes together with, and particularly resonates in, sexual inclination, making this community intrinsically open to the generation of a new human being, who becomes a common good in the strictest sense of the term.

In this context, it is important to recall that Aristotle distinguishes several forms of friendship, depending on the dominant reason for establishing and preserving community, namely utility, pleasure or character. While only the latter provides stable ground for a friendly relationship to prosper, there may be reasons to think that friendship between man and woman can also be sustained by pleasure and reciprocal utility. However, Aristotle highlights children, rather than pleasure or utility, as an additional reason for strengthening the relationship between man and woman.

Aristotle stresses that every child creates a new bond between the couple. This is so because a child brings a number of ethical requirements that in principle can only be met under certain conditions that reinforce common life. Kant’s approach to the matter supplements the Aristotelian perspective with the idea that the child is endowed with personal dignity and entitled to treatment as an end in herself, and not just as a means for someone else’s ends. Accordingly, she becomes a source of obligations for her parents and relatives. Her natural need for care, nurturing, and education is not merely an empirical fact, but also an indicator of personal needs that naturally appeal to the people surrounding her, calling for an adequate response. As Kant puts it,

Children, as persons, have by their procreation an original innate (not acquired) right to the care of their parents until they are able to look after themselves, and they have this right directly by law (lege), that is, without any special act being required to establish this right... From a practical point of view it is a quite correct and even necessary idea to regard the act of procreation as one by which we have brought a person into the world without his consent and on our own initiative, for which need the parents incur an obligation to make the child content with his condition so far as they can. – They cannot destroy their child as if he were something they had made (since a being endowed with freedom cannot be a product of this kind) or as if he were their property, nor can they even just abandon him to chance, since they have brought not merely a worldly being but a citizen of the world into a condition which cannot now be indifferent to them even just according to concepts of right.[9]

In other words, in begetting a child, a couple simultaneously engenders a number of shared obligations and responsibilities that Kant details in the same place.[10] Certainly, to the extent that the child is seen as the fruit of reciprocal donation, and is herself an object of love, those obligations and responsibilities will not be primarily seen as burdens, but rather as natural expressions of love. By its nature, love makes the moral obligations implicit in caring for other human beings not only lighter and bearable, but also joyful.

Love is a mystery. From an impartial perspective beholden to a restricted account of reason, it could be regarded as nonsense; as Aristotle points out, “love is like an excess”, which is why it “arises naturally toward an individual”.[11] As a passion, love drives the lover beyond himself. This explains why Plato characterizes it in Phaedrus as one of the four forms of theia mania, divine madness.[12] Interestingly, Socrates deems this madness preferable to a “reasonable”, pragmatic approach, of which the sophist Lysias argued in favor, because the latter simply expels any enthusiasm from the soul.[13]

In recognizing the divine nature of love, Socrates acknowledges that no one can adequately explain its origin, even if we all admire its effects. The fact that, in the Platonic account, the ecstatic nature of love is accounted for as a reminiscence of the ideal world and is sparked by the sight of beauty surely does not explain all types of love, particularly when marked by complete gratuitousness. St. Paul’s words remind us of this kind of love: “It is proof of God’s own love for us that Christ died for us while we were still sinners” (Rm, 5, 8). Yet, in both cases, love presents itself as the experience of some excess; whoever experiences it becomes “mad”, i.e., acts in ways that exceed usual standards of reciprocity.[14] Why is this so? Perhaps, the “excessive” nature of love, its disturbing effects upon our nature, corresponds to the reality of our human condition, which, on the one hand, is marked by an infinitude of reason, but, on the other, is confined in space and time. Aquinas describes the human soul as “quidam horizon et confinium corporeorum et incorporeorum”.[15] Welcoming and echoing the infinite requirements of reason within the physical limitations of a bodily nature cannot but have those maddening effects. Still, humanity is not confined to pure intellect or matter alone.

Two important consequences follow from this: on the one hand, as Pieper writes, the passions of the soul cannot be silenced without risking our humanity, without reducing it either to dry rationality or to the brutality of instinct.[16] On the other, our very finitude requires structuring our responsibilities; in this sense, the need for justice is a consequence of our limited nature, confined in space and time, and thus unable to factually provide the kind of infinite response to each and every human being that, according to Lèvinas, we all, in principle, deserve.[17] In view of our limitation, we cannot but structure our moral response; interestingly, this structure is generally supported by our natural feelings such that we usually feel greater obligation towards those closest to us. Proximity puts us in a better position to experience the full meaning of personal relationships, and thus of love.

We get a first glimpse of how these ideas can naturally work together when we look at the family. The moral dynamics of family are grounded in the excessive nature of love, which conceals the obligations of justice implicit in the procreation of every human being, obligations between the couple and toward their child.

Indeed, far from being purely external to love, justice can be seen as constitutive of all sorts of love for human beings, including friendly and familial relationships.[18] This is why Aristotle could say that, “when men are friends they have no need of justice, while when they are just they need friendship as well, and the truest form of justice is thought to be a friendly quality”,[19] but it also explains why he notes that, “how a man should live in relation to his wife, and in general how one friend should live in relation to another, appears to be the same question as how they can live justly”.[20]

Justice is a virtue as dynamic as the community it constitutes. Yet, as Plato suggests,[21] the proper source of that dynamism is not to be found in justice, but in love. Indeed, while justice is – or at least should be – constitutive of every human relationship, it is love that explains the original dynamics of family relationships: the fact that these relationships are marked by reciprocal donation and not merely by individual advantage is due to the creative, generative nature of love. Indeed, as Diotima says to Socrates in Plato’s Symposion, “love... is not, as you imagine, the love of the beautiful only – What then? – (but rather is) the love of generation and birth in beauty”.[22] As a creative force, love carries in itself a desire for fecundity that transcends its own subjects, bringing them beyond themselves. For Diotima, the ultimate source of love is the desire for immortality.[23] A child, which perpetuates the love of her parents, is the most prominent expression of the transcendence proper to love.

Ultimately, the kind of giving and receiving that broadly characterizes family relationships is grounded on the characteristic transcendence of conjugal love, which, by definition, is a type of love open to and morally responsible for the generation of a new human being. It is the kind of love that marriage used to provide a sanction for. For sure, as Barbara Herman puts it, commenting on Kant’s doctrine of marriage,

Marriage does not do the job of love. Human love – the concern for the life and well-being of another – is responsive to the particulars of individual need and interest. Marriage introduces rules of care and support that are, by the nature of rules, without such sensitivity. But human love will also not do the job of marriage, for the need to which the lover responds may itself undermine autonomy. The rules are not so much to restrain or oblige action as to construct moral regard. That is, they make the sexual interest in another person possible only where there is secure moral regard for that person’s life, and they do this by making the acceptance of obligations with respect to that person’s welfare a condition of sexual activity”.[24]

Rules of justice cannot explain the dynamics of love; yet, they can protect love against its own frailties. In Herman’s words, they “construct moral regard”; they remind us of the personal nature and dignity of those who we love. In Aristotelian terms, they remind us of the insufficiency of utility and pleasure as the foundation of this particular kind of friendship. In this regard, the fact that, from a sociological point of view, marriage is increasingly viewed less as the “foundational act” of common family life[25] and more “as the consecration of a commitment already lived” raises questions as to the psychological path leading up to marriage in contemporary times. At any rate, it does not seem to have altered the fact that most people still view marriage as providing the most adequate context for raising a child, simply because marriage is meant to secure a context of reciprocal donation, which is deemed necessary for human education.

Indeed, as indicated above, reciprocal donation is the original source of the trust and cooperation that ideally marks family relationships. In absence of the “excess” proper to conjugal love, nobody would venture into raising a family. Likewise, were it not for the “excessive” nature of fatherly and motherly love, nobody would undertake the burdens involved in educating and caring for children. Expanding those kinds of trusting and cooperative relationships beyond family borders, thereby pointing at the ultimate meaning of justice in relationships, is one of families’ most significant contributions to the larger society. From this perspective, families can be viewed as sources of humanization, not merely ad intra, but also ad extra, of the family unit.

Societies after families

Reciprocity-based relationships can be preserved and institutionalized in the family because of the latter’s intrinsic reference to generation: family relationships are structured around the possible generation of a new human being. Reciprocal donation thus provides the basic dynamism found in the family’s different relationships, including the conjugal relationship, but also the paternal and fraternal ones as well. Interestingly, the different types of relationships found within the family originally provided the model for the kinds of relationships that we find in the political realm.

Thus, Aristotle associates the paternal relationship with monarchy, and the fraternal relationship with the republic: “The community of a father and his sons – he says – has the form of a kingship, since a father cares for his children”. The fact that he also speaks of corruption in those political regimes[26] is indicative of the respective corruption that can impinge upon family life. “Among the Persians”, he notes, “the rule of the father is tyrannical, since they use their sons as slaves”.[27] A similar critique is implicit in his account of the Barbarians, who, themselves lacking a ruling element, treated their wives as slaves, missing the difference nature makes between females and slaves.[28]

In his view, political regimes are corrupted every time political agents subordinate political action to their own individual advantage, i.e., instead of looking for the common good, they seek for their own interest. To a certain extent, something similar could be said of family life, namely it is corrupted every time family members subordinate family life to their own individual advantage, defined independently of the good of the family.

At the same time, Aristotle distinguishes rather sharply between family life and political life: while the former revolves around necessary goods, the latter requires having basic needs satisfied or, as Hannah Arendt put it, freedom from necessity.[29] This is why family life represents a condition for political life – one cannot engage in free activities unless she has resolved her basic daily needs. This should not be interpreted merely in materialistic terms; although the economy represents an important dimension of family life, family is primarily made up of relationships that meet the human need for giving and receiving, in other words, the human need for love.

This latter consideration could explain why Aristotle thinks of family life as closer to natural needs than political life and why he says that man is more a conjugal than a political being. Human beings are driven to constitute families earlier than to constitute political units. On this first basis, they go on to constitute villages, which Aristotle considers a continuation of family relationships, and thus, almost equally natural. Aquinas summarizes his thought on this point, stressing the relationship between homes and daily needs: “nihil aliud est domus quam quaedam communitas secundum naturam constituta in omnen diem, idest ad actus, qui occurrunt quotidie agenda”,[30] and the composite nature of villages in terms of the “communication” of different homes: “communicatio ex pluribus domibus[31] that follows naturally from generation: “cum multiplicatio prolis sit naturalis, sequitur quod communitas vici sit naturalis”.[32] Children growing up together in the same neighborhood often constitute an occasion for developing this sort of community.

Political units are also natural, yet, in order to assess their naturalness, we need to look at the ultimate reason for our social inclination, i.e., we need to take nature mainly in a teleological sense. It is only by living in political units that human beings are in a position not merely to live, but also to live well,[33] not only to satisfy life-needs, but also to prosper and develop their freedom, to cultivate themselves and the world in dialogue with others beyond the immediate family circle. Political units do so insofar as they provide not only the material, but also the legal, conditions that make a virtuous life possible; the sovereign sign for this kind of sociality is language, which, as Aristotle explains, makes communication about good and bad, justice and injustice possible. Sharing in this communication constitutes the home and the city.[34]

Interestingly, Aristotle points out that we discuss good and bad, justice and injustice, both in families and in political units. Indeed, it is within the family where we first learn a language to discuss those things, even if language itself entails a reference to a greater society. This is just one of the reasons why family life can be explained through its contribution to political life: Families contribute to political life not only because they provide for their members’ daily material needs, but also because they provide the requisite moral, linguistic, and cultural resources for constituting political units, and are a primary model for human relationships. While families certainly get those resources from society at large, they make them accessible to newborn members insofar as they naturally wrap them up in a climate of affection and reciprocity.

Compared with families, political units are natural mostly in a teleological sense since the moral resources that originate in the family are further shaped in the political realm, which, in turn, provides the broader context for every human being to flourish in his or her humanity, and ultimately to search for truth in freedom and dialogue with others. This means that reason is bound to play a greater role in the constitution and sustenance of political communities. In this context, Aquinas compares the inclination to political life with the inclination to virtue: “In every human being there is a natural inclination to civil community, just like there is an inclination to virtues. Yet, just like virtues are acquired through human practice... cities are instituted through human industry”.[35]

The kind of “humana industria” required to constitute political units explains why Aquinas’ commentary to Aristotle’s Politics is articulated around the Aristotelian dictum, “ars imitatur naturam”.[36] Yet, what is the object of imitation if not the kind of conviviality that we find in the family? And how far can we imitate that conviviality beyond the family context in absence of the natural dynamics that sustain family life?

The answer we give to this question will depend on how we envisage human nature and the natural principle. Do we think that nature and the natural principle intimate a higher intelligibility, as Aquinas does, or do we think of nature as the mere contingent product of physical and psychic forces? In the first case, nature does not merely provide a principle and even a model for art,[37] but represents an invitation to transcend and seek insight into that higher principle, and perhaps to project a similar dynamism beyond family borders. This, I contend, is the case, when we recognize the transcendent or ecstatic nature of love, and see ourselves simply as mediators between its original source and its ultimate end.

Yet, what happens when one thinks of love merely as a natural passion and nature as a casual equilibrium of forces?

What does politics imitate?

Although the ancient idea of ars imitatur naturam was still in force when David Hume developed his social theory, its underlying understanding of nature had already been deprived of its metaphysical significance along the lines sketched above. Very much like Aristotle, Hume thinks that the precarious condition of human nature can be overcome only through the advantages derived from society, provided human beings are aware of them. He insists that such awareness is not the fruit of study and reflection, but rather evolves quite naturally within the family.

In a rather naturalistic approach, which at first skips the ethical context highlighted in Aristotle and Kant, Hume regards the family as directly supported by two direct passions, namely, “The natural appetite betwixt the sexes, which unites them together, and preserves their union, till a new tye takes place in their concern for their common spring”.[38] In other places, he somewhat qualifies this approach, noting that human beings’ appetites have no natural limit, but derive them from love, duty or expediency;[39] likewise, in his famous essay against polygamy and divorce, he not only praises love and friendship (“Destroy love and friendship; what remains in the world worth accepting?”),[40] but also refers to marriage in terms of “mutual consent”.[41] Nevertheless, he also extends the word marriage to other species.[42] At any rate, Hume considers that concern for the common spring,

becomes also a principle of union betwixt the parents and offspring, and forms a more numerous society; where the parents govern by the advantage of their superior strength and wisdom, and at the same time are restrain’d in the exercise of their authority by that natural affection, which they bear to their children.[43]

This paragraph illustrates the “homeopathic principle”, which Christopher Berry coined in his characterization of Hume’s social theory.[44] It means that paternal authority and affection balance each other out so that parental rule does not degenerate into some sort of tyrannical rule. Such natural balance represents the basis for custom and habit to do their work, and for domestic society to reach its characteristic stability:

In a little time, custom and habit operating on the tender minds of the children, makes them sensible of the advantages, which they may reap from society, as well as fashions them by degrees for it, by rubbing off those rough corners and untoward affections, which prevent their coalition.[45]

Indeed, although domestic society can claim its origin in sexual appetite and love for children, those “circumstances of human nature”[46] are not enough for its sustainment because, along with those natural passions, Hume notes,

There are other particulars in our natural temper and in our outward circumstances, which are very incommodious, and are even contrary to the requisite conjunction. Among the former, we may justly esteem our selfishness to be the most considerable.[47]

While Hume is far from thinking that the unsocial passions summarized in selfishness overpower the social ones,[48] he is also of the opinion that the “endearing ties” generated in the family could make family members unfit for larger society were it not for the rules of justice that restore social equilibrium:

In the original frame of our mind, our strongest attention is confin’d to ourselves; our next is extended to our relations and acquaintance; and ‘tis only the weakest which reaches to strangers and indifferent persons. This partiality, then, and unequal affection, must not only have an influence on our behavior and conduct in society, but even on our ideas of vice and virtue... From all which it follows, that our natural uncultivated ideas of morality, instead of providing a remedy for the partiality of affections, do rather conform themselves to that partiality, and give it an additional force and influence. The remedy, then, is not deriv’d from nature, but from artifice; or more properly speaking, nature provides a remedy in the judgment and understanding, for what is irregular and incommodious in the affections.[49]

These words could be interpreted as an instance of eighteenth-century reliance on rational artifice for addressing social problems. However, we should not lose sight of the fact that he refers to the construction of that artifice in terms of the experience of family life. In Hume’s view, it is only because families provide human beings with an antecedent, natural experience of the goods derived from society that we come to reflect on the further advantages that the constitution of a larger society could bring. Hume is not thinking merely of utilitarian goods, but also of what we could term relational goods:

When men, from their early education in society, have become sensible of the infinite advantages that result from it, and have besides acquir’d a new affection to company and conversation; and when they have observ’d that the principal disturbance in society arises from those goods, which we call external, and from their looseness and easy transition from one person to another; they must seek a remedy, but putting these goods, as far as possible, on the same footing with the fix’d and constant advantages of the mind and body. This can be done after no other manner, than by a convention entre’d into by all the members of the society to bestow stability on the possession of external goods, and leave everyone in the peaceful enjoyment of what he may acquire by his fortune and industry...[50]

We do not need to go into Hume’s theory of justice here. What I would like to underline in this context is his particular way of interpreting the ancient dictum ars imitatur naturam: for him, family life provides an example of the natural equilibrium between unsocial and social passions, between self-interest and love. This equilibrium is what human beings would be moved to artificially reproduce in civil society; in addition, family life – and specifically the taste for company and conversation acquired in the family – provides the stimulus to venture out into society.

Hume’s account could well provide a sketch of an empirical research program on families’ contributions to society. The social equilibrium naturally achieved within the family, based on the balance between social and unsocial passions, constitutes for him the model that we would and should artificially reproduce in civil society.

However, it may seem that, in speaking of family life in terms of a balance of passions, something important is lost from the original idea of love as an “excess” that inspires reciprocal donation and thus as the constitutive cement of family life. This can perhaps be appreciated in his praise of friendship, rather than love, as the basis of marriage:

Love is a restless and impatient passion, full of caprices and variations: arising in a moment from a feature, from an air, from nothing, and suddenly extinguishing after the same manner. Such a passion requires liberty above all things... But friendship is a calm and sedate affection, conducted by reason and cemented by habit; springing from long acquaintance and mutual obligations; without jealousies or fears, and without those feverish fits of heat and cold, which cause such an agreeable torment in the amorous passion...[51]

Indeed, aligned with enlightened ideals of moderation, which distrust any enthusiasm or excess, Hume does not recognize in love a reliable ground for marriage and family life. Only insofar as it is tamed by habit, i.e., only insofar as it becomes friendship, can love ground a steady relationship that, in a way, represents a prolongation of one’s self since, through love, one comes to see one’s family as part of one’s own self. While this certainly represents a victory over selfish impulses, it could be the source of group selfishness.

As a matter of fact, Hume is not only keenly aware of love’s power to overcome selfish impulses within the family, but also recognizes how its natural dynamics aid in the development of a taste for company and conversation, which in turn operates as an incentive to establish social relationships beyond family borders. Yet, insofar as he does not see in love anything but a natural passion, he does not regard it as enough in itself to effectively counteract the desire to acquire goods and possessions for ourselves and our friends. In his view, the love we feel for relatives and friends can counteract individual selfishness, but it cannot be indefinitely expanded towards strangers so as to neutralize the desire to acquire for oneself and one’s family and friends:

No affection of the human mind has both a sufficient force, and a proper direction to counter-balance the love of gain, and render men fit members of society, by making them abstain from the possessions of others. Benevolence to strangers is too weak for these purposes...[52]

Thus, he resorts to artifice because, in order to both satisfy our social passions and the natural desire to acquire, we cannot rely on nature and must instead introduce some artifices or conventions – like fixation of property, rules for its transference, and promises – that help us redirect the basic desire to acquire so that we can all satisfy it in peace.

While Hume’s conception of love and affection can certainly provide a sketch for empirical research on families’ contributions to social life, its very empiricism inhibits any “platonic” attempt to recognize the divine nature of love, and thus any aspiration to expand its influence upon society at large.

The limits of empiricism

Hume is right in arguing that the pro-social attitudes developed within the family stimulate reproduction of the same attitudes in general social interaction, but his empiricism prevents him for connecting that observation with other considerations that are equally important for calibrating the influence of human agency on the configuration of social attitudes and relationships.

We should consider that human agency relies on beliefs about the principle and end of human action; depending on how deep those beliefs are, human agency will be more or less likely to expand itself beyond the immediate interests of its circle. This means that, from the perspective of human agency, metaphysical considerations are not without consequence.

Thus, it is one thing to approach the donation and reciprocity experienced in the family simply as a natural fact, ultimately the product of “natural passions” and chance, and quite another to see the same natural dynamics as expressive of a higher principle, as Plato clearly suggests in Phaedrus. In the latter case, the agent could eventually be moved to bring that experience in connection with a religious conscience and find new reasons to project the same attitude beyond the family, or even to broaden the very notion of family beyond biological bonds. By way of example, let us consider the effect of two texts, one from St. John and another from St. Paul, on a religious conscience:

Let us love one another, because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God. Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love. In this way the love of God was revealed to us: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might have life through him. In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also must love one another (1 Jn, 7-11).

In this text, St. John sees reciprocal love as a logical consequence of having experienced God’s love; whoever believes that God has sent his Son as expiation for our sins not only recognizes this as a sign of his love, but also as a reason to love one another. The same conviction is implicit in St. Paul’s worship of God the Father:

...I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that he may grant you in accord with the riches of his glory to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inner self, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the holy ones what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God... (Ef. 3, 14-20).

These texts are not merely significant of the different interpretations people can give to the experience of love; they also illustrate the requirements that emerge from those interpretations: “I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named”. The believer, who sees God as the Father and origin of every family, and as the ultimate source of love, recognizes this love as a reason to love one another: “if God so loved us, we also must love one another”.

Even if this interpretation cannot be generalized, it shows that people do not experience love simply as a natural fact. Rather, they are moved to interpret the “same” natural dynamics of family love in very different ways, and those different interpretations may provide them with further motivational resources to expand the dynamics of love and reciprocity beyond their immediate circle of friends and interests, progressively widening the scope of that circle. Indeed, one distinctive mark of Christianity is that it entails a call to bring the transcendent dynamics of love beyond the seemingly reasonable limitations derived from psychological and sociological facts.

The point I want to make is simple: human beings cannot live without interpretations because human experience is not made up of just brute natural facts; rather, what we call “natural facts” represent an abstraction of meaningful behavior that is always imbued in culture. Indeed, as Heraclitus put it, “nature likes to hide itself”, and it certainly hides behind culture. Culture, however, can foster a transcendent or a naturalist interpretation of human experience. In absence of a transcendent, meaningful interpretation of the dynamics related to familial love that strengthens and amplifies its natural dynamics, people become more vulnerable to dominant cultural forces, and their behavior can be more easily shaped by the formal and instrumental rationality that often rules civil and market relationships. This can be observed in the incorporation of managerial language into family and couple interactions, as Eva Illouz has convincingly documented.[53]

From this perspective, it should be acknowledged that the humanizing power of family relationships can be enhanced or curtailed by the metaphysics underlying the conception of family. Indeed, human agency is marked by its enhancement via adequate reflexivity. Thus, just as human beings need to be aware of who they are in order to act accordingly, families too need to become increasingly aware of their identity in order to develop their specific potential in society.

In principle, families’ specific contribution to the larger society is seen in their ability to stimulate and develop reciprocity-based relationships, not only within the family, but also in society at large. From this perspective, families can reasonably view themselves as a privileged source of humanization. Nevertheless, how families think of themselves and how to implement that self-conception in practice is crucial for assessing the quality and depth of their humanizing influence on society.

The humanizing power of family relationships

Besides providing an adequate context for fulfilling the moral duties that emerge from the generation of a particular human being, the institutionalization of family life enables the reproduction of relationships of reciprocity among family members, empowering them to project those attitudes upon society in general. Herein lies the humanizing power of family.

As Donati points out, this is especially visible in families with several children because of the “relationships that the children create”.[54] Clearly, those relationships are indicators of the potential for donation and reciprocity characteristic of family life; these features are also particularly apparent in the family’s concern and care for the sick and elderly. In different ways, the very presence of children, the sick or elderly people, all of whom require specific care and attentions, calls for a kind of response that clearly exceeds the logic of formal and instrumental rationality. Aristotle spoke of nobility:

It would seem that parents above all ought to be supported, since we think we owe it to them, and that it is nobler to support those who are responsible for our being than to support ourselves in this way.[55]

The fact that families are not always materially able to provide that support, and must externalize some aspects of it to the state or to the market, does not cancel out the fact that they are the original source of that concern. Here we come to the crucial point that defines the nature of the more or less formal collaboration between families, the state and the market in creating more humane societies. Using the word collaboration is intentional and stresses that families should not be viewed merely as receptors of social assistance, precisely because they are active social agents charged with bringing humanity to social life.[56]

Indeed, while the market or the state can provide some aspects of that care in a more or less efficient way, they cannot replace the relational goods involved in family relationships; childrearing and education, caring for the sick and the elderly are all an expression of specific responsibilities that emerge as such in the context of familial relationships, but very often cannot be carried out effectively without social support.

The human dimension of any society is seen in the way it recognizes these needs and provides families with the resources indispensable for fulfilling their original and indeclinable responsibilities. Such subsidiary help can take a variety of forms, depending on the nature of those needs and families’ ability to appropriately meet them, but its sheer existence puts considerations other than efficiency into social circulation, and thus constitutes an indirect proof of the humanizing power of family life.

Conversely, it is also important to note that the resources provided by society to meet familial needs are not merely of a material kind, e.g., educational and health care resources. Before a child is born, her parents have already been educated in the larger society, they have received a language, a culture, etc. Otherwise, they would not be able to bring their child up to meet the challenges of that particular society.

Indeed, society invests in each of its members so as to enable them to reproduce the cultural ideals animating that society, but it also puts them in a position to contribute to cultural and social improvement. Thus, once they reach adulthood, individuals come to exercise their own judgment and freedom to creatively develop and contribute their views on many subjects; in doing so, they remain in debt to society in many respects, and what they received constitutes part of the invisible legacy they transfer to their children.

Yet, the fact that families receive so many goods from society, the fact that they depend on society in so many respects, does not cancel out the family’s unique role as an engine of humanity. Society gets its humane fabric, a sense of what love and reciprocity mean, and thus what it means to build a humane society from the family. Echoing Donati’s differential approach, we could say that, “The family cannot be neutralized, or rendered indifferent – or, we might say ‘in-different’ – as if it should not make any difference in the public realm”.[57] On the contrary, families are in a position to make a crucial difference in the quality of our social life.


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Arendt, H. The Human Condition, Chicago & London: University of Chicago Press, 1998, 2nd edition.
Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014.
Aristotle, Politics, (tr. Ernest Barker) Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.
Berry, C. “Lusty Women and Loose Imagination: Hume’s philosophical anthropology of chastity”, in History of Political Thought, vol. 24, 3, 2003, pp. 413-433.
Donati, P.P. Introduction to Donati, PP. & Sullins, P. (eds), The Conjugal Family: An irreplaceable Resource for Society, Città del Vaticano, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2015.
Donati, PP. Family Policy: A Relational Approach, Milan: Franco Angeli, 2012.
Donati, P.P. La política de la familia. Por un welfare relacional y subsidiario, Santiago de Chile: Ediciones Universidad Católica, 2014.
González, A.M. Introduction to González, A.M. & Arregui, P., Montoro, C. (eds), Familia y Sociedad en el Siglo XXI, Madrid: Dickyinson, 2016.
Herman, B. “Could it be worth thinking about Kant on Sex and Marriage?”, in Antony and Witt (eds), A Mind of One’s Own, Westview Press, 1993, pp. 49-67.
Hume, D. A Treatise of Human Nature, edited by David Fate Norton and Mary J. Norton, Oxford, 2011.
Hume, D. “Of the Rise and Progress of the Arts and Sciences”, The Philosophical Works: Essays Moral, Political and Literary, vol. I, Thomas Hill Green and Th. Hodge Grose (eds) vol. III, Scientia Verlag Aalen, 1964, pp. 174-197.
Hume, D. “Of polygamy and divorces”, The Philosophical Works: Essays Moral, Political and Literary, vol I. Thomas Hill Green and Th. Hodge Grose (eds), vol. III, Scientia Verlag Aalen, 1964, pp. 266-239.
Hume, D. “Of love and marriage”, The Philosophical Works: Essays Moral, Political and Literary, vol. II, Thomas Hill Green and Thomas Hodge Grose (eds), vol. IV, Scientia Verlag Aalen, 1964, pp. 383-388.
Illouz, E. Why love hurts, Cambridge: Polity, 2012.
Illouz, E. Consuming the Romantic utopia, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997.
Irwin, T. Plato’s Ethics, New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.
Kant, Metaphysics of Morals, (ed.) Mary Gregor, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996.
Kaufmann, J.C. Sociologie du Couple, Paris: Presses universitaires de France, 2007, 4th ed.
Levinas, E. “Philosophy, Justice, and Love”, in Entre Nous, Thinking-of-the-other, tr. Michael B. Smith and Barbara Harshaw, New York: Columbia University Press, 1998.
Levinas, E., Time & the Other, tr. Richard A. Cohen, Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 1987.
Pieper, J., Begeisterung unf göttlicher Wahnsinn. Über den platonischen Dialog Phaidros, in Werke in acht Bänden: Darstellungen und Interpretationen: Platon, Hamburg: Felix Meiner Verlag, 2002, pp. 248-331.
Plato, Phaedrus, (tr.) H. North Fowler, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014.
Plato, The Symposium, (tr.) R.E. Allen New Haven: Yale University Press, 1984.
Stearns, P. & Stearns, C., Anger. The struggle for emotional control in American history, Chicago and London, The University of Chicago Press, 1986.


[1] Cf. Donati, P.P. La política de la familia. Por un welfare relacional y subsidiario, Santiago de Chile: Ediciones Universidad Católica, 2014, pp. 18-19.
[2] Stearns, P. & Stearns, C., Anger. The Struggle for Emotional Control in American History, Chicago and London, The University of Chicago Press, 1986.
[3] See González, A.M. Introduction to González, A.M. & Arregui, P., Montoro, C. (eds), Familia y Sociedad en el Siglo XXI, Madrid: Dickyinson, 2016, pp. 9-12.
[4] See Donati, P. P. La política de la familia, pp. 21-22.
[5] Donati, PP. Introduction to Donati, PP. & Sullins, P. (eds), The Conjugal Family: An Irreplaceable Resource for Society, Città del Vaticano, Librería Editrice Vaticana, 2015, 22.
[6] Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, VIII, 12, 1161 b 17-1162a 4.
[7] Aristotle speaks explicitly of family relationships as one type of friendly relationships, namely those based on superiority (See Nicomachean Ethics, VIII, 7). Unlike friendships based on equality, in which “both sides get the same and wish the same to each other” (1158b), friendships based on superiority involve two people with different activities and virtues, “and therefore the affection and the friendship differ as well. Each, then, does not get the same from the other, nor should they seek it; but when children give to parents what they ought to give to those who brought them into being, and parents give what they ought to their children, the friendship between them will be lasting and good” (VIII, 7, 1158 b 20-24). Aristotle argues that in these kinds of friendships involving superiority, “the affection must be proportional as well. The better, that is to say, must be loved more than he loves, and so must the more useful, and each of the others likewise; when the affection is in accordance with merit, then a kind of equality results, which is of course thought to be a mark of friendship. But what is equal does not seem to be the same in friendship as it is in just actions. For in just actions what is equal in the primary sense is what is in accordance with merit, while quantitative equality is secondary, whereas in friendship quantitative equality is primary and that in accordance with merit secondary” (NE, VIII, 7, 1158 b 24-34). At the same time, he infers that friendship consists more in loving than in being loved by taking mothers as an example of friendship since mothers find enjoyment in loving their children. Not only that, “sometimes she will give her own child to others to bring up, and though she loves him because she knows him, she does not seek to be loved in return, if it is impossible to have both. It seems enough for her to see the child doing well, and she loves him even if, because he does not know her, he gives her none of the things appropriate to a mother” (VIII, 8, 1159 a29-30).
[8] NE, VIII, 12, 1162 a 17-29.
[9] Kant, Metaphysics of Morals, 6: 280-281.
[10] “From this duty there must necessarily also arise the right of parents to manage and develop the child, as long as he has not yet mastered the use of his members or of his understanding: the right not only to feed and care for him but to educate him, to develop him both pragmatically, so that in the future he can look after himself and make his way in life, and morally, since otherwise the fault for having neglected him would fall on the parents. They have the right to do all this until the time of his emancipation (emancipatio), when they renounce their parental right to direct him as well as any claim to be compensated for their support and pains up till now. After they have completed his education, the only obligation (to his parents) with which they can charge him is a mere duty of virtue, namely, the duty of gratitude” (MS, 6: 281).
[11] “Love is like an excess, and such a thing arises naturally towards one individual” (Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, VIII, chapter 6, 1158 a 14).
[12] “...he who, not being inspired and having no touch of madness in his soul, comes to the door and thinks that he will get into the temple by the help of art – he, I say, and his poetry are not admitted; the sane man is nowhere at all when he enters into rivalry with the madman. I might tell of many other noble deeds which have sprung from inspired madness. And therefore, let no one frighten or flutter us by saying that temperate love is preferable to mad love, but let him further show, if he would carry off the palm, that love is not sent by the gods for any good to lover or beloved. And we, on our part, will prove in answer to him that the madness of love is the greatest of heaven’s blessings, and the proof shall be one which the wise will receive, and the witling disbelieve” (Phaedrus, 245c).
[13] Josef Pieper has convincingly described Lysias’s attitude as a form of utilitarianism that regards sheer utility as a virtue: “Die Vermeidung der existentiellen Erschütterung mit den Mitteln einer rationalen Lebenstechnik, die methodische Ausschaltung alles dessen, was nicht ‘eingeplant’ werden kann, weder in den sozialen Nutzungsplan noch in das individuelle Programm eines ‘erfolgreichen’ Lebens; die Vermeidung der echten Erschütterung bei gleichzeitiger Praktizieung von dosierbaren künstlichen Räuschen und Erregungen – gerade dies scheint zu der Epochen hin zeitlos gültigen Thematik und Programmatik der Sophistik zu gehören (...) Die fast technische Sachlichkeit der blossen Triebbefriedigung (man ‘nimmt’ eine Frau, wie man seinen Durst löscht, wie man ein Glas Wasser trinkt) wird als etwas ethisch Wertvolles, als Besonnenheit, als Vernünftigkeit, als ‘Tugend’ declariert. Das Wort arête wird von Lysias tatsächlich in der Entgegensetzung zu ‘Liebe’ gebraucht... Die erotische Erschütterung erscheint demgegenüber als etwas Prdnungswidriges, als Torheit und Unvernunft, als Krankheit”. Pieper, J. Begesterung und göttlicher Wahnsinn, p. 261; 267-8.
[14] This is clear in the case of Christian love, but could also be applied to other theia mania. See Plato, Ion.
[15] In Summa Contra Gentiles, II, c. 68, Aquinas describes the human soul as “quidam horizon et confinium corporeorum et incorporeorum:” “Et inde est quod anima intellectualis dicitur esse quasi quidam horizon et confinium corporeorum et incorporeorum, inquantum est substantia incorporea, corporis tamen forma”.
[16] “Die pasiones animae kann man nicht zum Verstummen bringen, ohne in die Unmenschlichkeit zu greaten, entweder in die Unmenschlichkeit einer starren Rationalität oder in die Unmenschlichkeit der brutalen Triebhaftigkeit, die beide das gemensam haben, ‘unromantisch’, ‘sachlich’ und ‘erschütterungssicher’ zu sein. Der wirklikche Mensch aber ist ein von Natur erschütterbares Wesen. Leidenschaftlichkeit macht ihn menschlicher”. Pieper, J. Begeisterung und göttlicher Wahnsinn, p. 269. Specifically, love cannot be adequately explained either in spiritualistic or materialistic terms. “Der Mensch ist bis in die sublimste Spirititualität hinein ein leibhaftiges Wesen. Diese Leiblichkeit aber, die ihn, gleichfalls bis in die spirituellste Lebensäusserung hinehin, Mann oder Frau sein last, bedeutet nicht nur Schranke und Eingrenzung; sie ist zugleich der spendende Lebensgrund allen menschlichen Wirkens” (Pieper, J. o.c., p. 325).
[17] “From the start, the encounter with the Other is my responsibility for him. That is the responsibility for my neighbor, which is, no doubt, the harsh name for what we call love of one’s neighbor; love without Eros, charity, love in which the ethical aspect dominates the passionate aspect, love without concupiscence... That is the vision of the Face, and it applies to the first comer. If he were my only interlocutor, I would have had nothing other but obligations! But I don’t live in a world in which there is but one single ‘first comer’... Must not human beings, who are incomparable, be compared? Thus, justice, here, takes precedence over the taking upon oneself of the fate of the other...” (Levinas, E. “Philosophy, Justice, and Love,” in Entre Nous, Thinking-of-the-other, p. 103-104).
[18] “Friendship and justice seem to be concerned with the same things and to be found in the same people. For there seems to be some kind of justice in every community, and some kind of friendship as well... And the extent of their community is the extent of their friendship, since it is also the extent of their justice... Friendship is based on community... The demands of justice also naturally increase with the friendship, since both involve the same people and are of equal extent” (NE, VIII, 9, 1159 b 25-29; 32; 1160 a 8).
[19] NE, VIII, 1, 1155 a 26-31.
[20] NE, VIII, 12, 1162 a 30-32.
[21] See Irwin, T. Plato’s Ethics, New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.
[22] Plato, The Symposium, 206 d.
[23] Plato, The Symposium, 207 a.
[24] Herman, B. “Could It Be Worth Thinking about Kant on Sex and Marriage?,” in Antony and Witt (eds), A Mind of Ones Own, Westview Press, 1993, p. 63.
[25] Kaufmann, J.C. Sociologie du couple, Paris: Presses universitaires de France, 2007, 4th ed.
[26] See NE, VIII, chapter 10.
[27] See NE, VIII, 10, 1160 b 28.
[28] “The female and the slave are naturally distinguished from one another... Among barbarians, however, the female and the slave occupy the same position – the reason being that no naturally ruling element exists among them, and conjugal union thus comes to be a union of a female who is a slave with a male who is also a slave” (Aristotle, Politics, I, 2, 1252b 3).
[29] “The polis was distinguished from the household in that it knew only ‘equals’, whereas the household was the center of the strictest inequality. To be free meant both not to be subject to the necessity of life or to the command of another and not to be in command oneself. It meant neither to rule nor to be ruled. Thus, within the realm of the household, freedom did not exist, for the household head, its ruler, was considered to be free only in so far as he had the power to leave the household and enter the political realm, where all were equals”. Arendt, H. The Human Condition, p. 32. Yet, Arendt hold this realm of necessity as a condition the realm of freedom: “Necessity and life are so intimately related and connected that life itself is threatened where necessity is altogether eliminated. For the elimination of necessity, far from resulting automatically in the establishment of freedom, only blurs the distinguishing line between freedom and necessity” (p. 71). This is actually the reason for the mixed nature of “the social”, which, as Arendt observes, “is an essentially modern phenomenon” (p. 71).
[30] In Octo Libros Politicorum, Lectio I, n. 26.
[31] “Prima communicatio quae est ex pluribus domibus, vocatur vicus: et dicitur prima ad differentiam secundae quae est civitas: haec autem communicates non est constituta in diem sicut dicit de domo, sed est institute gratia usus non diurnalis. Illi enim qui sunt convicanei, non communicant sibi in actibus quotidianis in quibus communicant sibi illi qui sunt unius domus, sicut est comedere, sedere ad ignem et huiusmodi: sed communicant sibi in aliquibus exterioribus actibus non quotidianis” (Lectio I, . 27).
[32] “Vicinia domorum, quae est vicus, maxime videtur esse secundam naturam. Nihil enim est magis natural quam propagation multorum ex uno in animalibus; et hoc facit viciniam domorum. Hos enim qui habent domos vicinas, quidam vocant collactaneos, puerosque, idest filios, et puerorum pueros, idest nepotes, ut intelligamus quod huiusmodi vicinia domorum ex hoc primo processit quod filii et nepotes multiplicati instituerunt diversas domos iuxta se habitants. Unde cum multiplicatio prolis sit naturalis, sequitur quod communitas vici sit naturalis” (Lectio I, n. 28).
[33] “... cum omnis communication omnium hominum ordinetur ad aliquid necessarium vitae, illa erit perfecta communitas, quae ordinatur ad hoc quod homo habeat sufficient quicquid est necessarium ad vitam: talis autem communitas est civitas... ex eius esse provenit, quod homines non solum vivant, sed quod bene fivant, inquantum per leges civitatis ordinatur vita hominum ad virtutes” (N. 31).
[34] Aquinas echoes Aristotle when he writes, “communication in istis facit domum et civitatem” (Lectio I, n. 37).
[35] “In omnibus hominibus est quidam naturalis impetus ad communitatem civitatis sicut et ad virtutes. Sed tamen, sicut virtutes acquiruntur per exercitium humanum, ut dicitur in secundo Ethicorum, ita civitates sunt institutae humana industria” (Aquinas, In Octo Libros Politicorum, Lectio I, n. 40).
[36] “Sicut Philosophus docet in secundo Physicorum, ars imitatur naturam. Cuius ratio est, quia sicut se habent principia adinvicem, ita proportionabiliter se habent operatione et effectus. Principium autem eorum quae secundum artem fiunt est intellectus humanus, qui secundum similitudinem quamdam derivatur ab intellectu divino, qui est prinicipio rerum naturalium. Unde necesse est, quiod et operations artis imitentur operationes naturae; et ea quae sunt secundum artem, imitentur ea quae sunt in natura. Si enim aliquis instructor alicuius artis opus artis efficeret, oporteret discipulum, qui ab eo artem suscepisset, ad opus illius attendere, ut ad eius similitudinem et ipse operaretur. Et ideo intellectus humanus ad quem intelligibile lumen ab intellectu divino derivatur, necessse habet in his quae facit informari ex inspection eorum quae sunt naturaliter facta, ut similiter operetur” (S. Thomae Aquinatis, In Octo Libros Politicorum Aristotelis Expositio, cura et studio P. Fr. Raymundi M. Spiazi O.P., Romae: Marietti, 1966, Proemio, n. 1).
[37] “Natura quidem non perficit ea quae sunt artis, sed solum quaedam principia praeparat, et exemplar operandi quodam modo artificibus praebet. Ars vero inspicere quidem potest ea quae sunt naturae, et eis uti ad opus proprium perficiendum; perficere vero ea non potest. Ex quo patet quod ratio humana eorum quae sunt secundum naturam est cognoscitiva tantum; eorum vero quae sunt secundum artem, est et cognoscitiva et factiva: unde oportet quod scientiae humanae, quae sunt de rebus naturalibus, sint speculativae; quae vero sunt de rebus ab homine factis, sint practicae, sive operativae secundum imitationem naturae.” (S. Thomae Aquinatis, In Octo Libros Politicorum, Proemio, n. 2).
[38] Hume, D. Treatise of Human Nature, 3.2.2; SBN, 486.
[39] Hume, D. “Of the Rise and Progress of Arts and Sciences”, Essays, vol. I, p. 192.
[40] Hume, D. “Of polygamy and Divorce”, Essays, p. 235.
[41] “As marriage is an engagement entered into by mutual consent, and has for its end the propagation of the species, it is evident, that it must be susceptible of all the variety of conditions, which consent establishes, provided they be not contrary to this end. A man, in conjoining himself to a woman, is bound to her according to the terms of his engagement: in begetting children, he is bound, by all the ties of nature and humanity, to provide for their subsistence and education. When he has performed these two parts of duty, no one can reproach him with injustice or injury...” (Hume, D. “Of Poligamy and Divorce”, Essays, p. 231).
[42] “Among the inferior creatures, nature herself, being the supreme legislator, prescribes all the laws which regulate their marriages, and varies those laws according to the different circumstances of the creature. Where she furnishes, with ease, food and defence to the newborn animal, the present embrace terminates the marriage; and the care of the offspring is committed entirely to the female. Where the food is of more difficult purchase, the marriage continues for one season, till the common progeny can provide for itself: and the union immediately dissolves, and leaves each of the parties free to enter into a new engagement at the ensuing season. But nature, having endowed man with reason, has not so exactly regulated every article of his marriage contract, but has left him to adjust them, by his own prudence, according to his particular circumstances and situation. Municipal laws are a supply to the wisdom of each individual; and, at the same time, by restraining the natural liberty of men, make private interest submit to the interest of the public. All regulations, therefore, on this head are equally lawful, and equally conformable to the principles of nature: though they are not all equally convenient, or equally useful to society” (Hume, D. “On Poligamy and Divorce”, Essays, p. 233).
[43] Hume, D. Treatise of Human Nature, 3.2.2; SBN, 486.
[44] Berry, C. “Lust Women and Loose Imagination: Hume’s philosophical anthropology of chastity,” in History of Political Thought, vol. 24, 3, 2003, pp. 413-433.
[45] Hume, D. Treatise of Human Nature, 3.2.2; SBN, 486.
[46] Hume, D. Treatise of Human Nature, 3.2.2; SBN, 486.
[47] Hume, D. Treatise of Human Nature, 3.2.2; SBN, 486.
[48] “So far from thinking, that men have no affection for any thing beyond themselves, I am the opinion, that tho’ it be rare to meet with one, who loves any single person better than himself; yet’ tis as rare to meet with one, in whom all the kind affections, taken together, do not over-balance the selfish” (Hume, D. Treatise, 3.2.3; SBN, 487).
[49] Hume, D. Treatise, 3.2.3; SBN, 489.
[50] Hume, D. Treatise, 3.2.3; SBN, 489.
[51] Hume, D. “Of Poligamy and Divorce”, p. 238-9.
[52] Hume, D. Treatise, 3.2.2.; SBN, 492.
[53] Illouz, E. Consuming the Romantic Utopia, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997; Why Love Hurts, Cambridge: Polity, 2012.
[54] Indeed, as Donati points out, the very presence of children “creates relational goods, not otherwise obtainable, that exceed the cost” of their rearing. See Donati, P.P., Introduction to “The Conjugal Family”, p. 29-30.
[55] Aristotle, NE, IX, 3, 1165 a 22-24.
[56] This is in tune with Donati’s insistence on transforming family policies from an assistance paradigm towards an active paradigm in which families are thought of as primary actors in their own quality of life. See Donati, P.P. La política de la familia. Por un welfare relacional y subsidiario, Santiago de Chile: Ediciones Universidad Católica, 2014.
[57] Donati, P.P. Family Policy: A Relational Approach, Milan: Franco Angelli, 2012, 17.




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