So should parents snuggling up for one last story before lights out be even a little concerned about the advantage they might be conferring?Why raise claims of unfairness against families? Maybe that's an evolutionary stable strategy that has emerged over hundreds or thousands of years to develop more effective offspring.
‘I don’t think parents reading their children bedtime stories should constantly have in their minds the way that they are unfairly disadvantaging other people’s children, but I think they should have that thought occasionally,’ quips [British philosopher Adam] Swift.
In the end Swift agrees that all activities will cause some sort of imbalance—from joining faith communities to playing Saturday cricket—and it’s for this reason that a theory of familial goods needs to be established if the family is to be defended against cries of unfairness.
‘We should accept that lots of stuff that goes on in healthy families—and that our theory defends—will confer unfair advantage,’ he says.
Professor Swift collaborated with Crooked Timber's and the University of Wisconsin's Harry Brighouse, who responded to some of the perceptions of the Australian Broadcasting interview, and also got about as close as a cutting-edge academician can get to acknowledging evolutionary advantage without looking like an apologist for privilege.
We wrote a book, providing an elaborate philosophical defense of the family. Not, maybe, exactly, the traditional family – we are clear that same sex parents, adoptive parents, and single parents count as families—but something quite like it (indeed, one left wing blogger who had linked to one of the ultra-right websites ridiculing us criticized our views, in an email, as “highly moralized in a way typical of bourgeois moral philosophy”). One passage in the book – which I initially drafted, and with which we are both pretty pleased – explains in considerable detail why reading bedtime stories to your children is so valuable that it is something nobody should be prevented from doing, and should be (cautiously) encouraged to do –and, in fact, we argue that parents have a duty to their children to do intimate things like reading bedtime stories to their children. One commenter, indeed, said it was the most eloquent account of what was so good about bedtime story reading that he/she had ever read.We will know that higher education has become serious about acknowledging differing points of view when "bourgeois" no longer automatically takes on a negative connotation in scholarly exchange. And I've come across a new metaphor, "serve and return," describing the positive neurological effects of parents interacting with children, even before the children understand words, let alone can speak them or read them. That's an evolutionary advantage in the Darwinian sense, and I await the academic conversation to that point.