Prague Restaurants and the Duties of Adult Children
So we were in Prague last summer and discovered this thing called a "table charge." I'm not really sure exactly what it is, but here's one possibility--the table charge is for stuff that's standardly put on the table--bread, water, a spot of liqueur after the meal. I thought it was pretty annoying, because I wasn't given a choice whether to order that stuff or not. The prices on the menu suggest a rule that goes "You pay for what you order" and the table charge violates that rule. I could have protested the charge, I think (note: it's not standard in Prague and wasn't stated anywhere).
Segue to the duties of adult children... A famous paper by Jane English says adult children owe nothing to their parents because they didn't ask to be born and raised. For kids to have a duty to support their parents in old age, for example, would be like me having to pay the table charge even though I didn't ask for the bread, water, etc. They have no such duty, she claims.
I do think adult children have duties to their parents, but how so? Adding a second chapter to the restaurant story sheds some light. Suppose on my second night in Prague, I deliberately go to the restaurant with the table charge because I like the food. I also now realize that, compared to restaurants without a table charge, the prices on this restaurant's menus are fairly low. Furthermore, I now anticipate the liqueur at the end of the meal, so order less wine. On the second night, would I be entitled to protest the charge, let alone with righteous indignation?
My sense is that after the first night, I've altered my attitudes and dispositions so that, though I never ask for the bread, water, etc., I can be counted as "pro" receiving them. I'm on board with the system, so to speak. And so I do have a duty to pay the table charge and can't protest. Moral of the story: asking for items is not the only way I can acquire a duty to pay for them.
Children don't ask to be born, and don't accumulate a duty to care for their aging parents starting on the first day of life. But over the years of being cared for, they can be reluctant recipients of care they'd rather not receive, or enthusiastic recipients. When they are past the tender years of childhood, they can take steps toward independence or deliberately continue being cared for and supported. If you enthusiastically encourage your parents' support, it seems to me you do start to be indebted to them, like I was indebted to the Prague restaurant for the table items, despite not asking for them.
Wouldn't it be awful if adult children actually thought about how to treat their elderly parents as if they were related as restaurant owner to customer? And yet even if they do, it's not out of the question at all that adult children do owe something to their parents, even if they never explicitly asked to be born or raised.