Parenting support revisited: retrieving an ethics of hermeneutics. A philosophical investigation inspired by viewpoints of Heidegger, Wittgenstein and Taylor.
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AbstractThis dissertation aims at gaining insight in our late modern moral backgrounds by considering the case of ‘parenting support’. The method it uses is a hermeneutical one, drawing on Polts idea that interpretation is continuously attempting to gain a deeper insight in something, by revising and elaborating existing interpretations. Starting from our everyday lived experiences we try to make the hermeneutical circle narrower by going back-and-forth between the abstract thinking of philosophy on the one hand and the concrete everyday experiences on the other. Four methodical ‘conjectures’ serve as signposts: (1) that parents are a priori supposed to be in need of support, though at the start of the investigations it remains a bit unclear what kind of support they need and what this implies for the kind of support given; (2) that parents are infantilised and instrumentalised; (3) that parenting support as a default is informed by scientific results and even more so scientific frameworks; (4) that notwithstanding this, it is probably still possible to develop alternative ways of supporting parents that take parents serious as the full-blown moral and political beings they are. More in general there is the further in this field of parenthood and childrearing to elaborate assumption that the first three issues are symptomatic of what Taylor has called a disengaged stance in our culture: the idea that sense giving backgrounds are necessary to be able to make sense of the world is forgotten and replaced by the idea that understanding boils down to an objective and thus ideally contextless causal explanation of phenomena. It may seem that this dissertation question beggingly assumes what needs to be proven, by drawing on philosophers who in line with Kant’s transcendental deduction show that phenomena as ‘knowing’ and ‘being able to’ imply certain contexts as necessary conditions: Heidegger, Wittgenstein and Taylor. The point is however to gain a deeper insight, not to prove that they are right in believing so. Wittgenstein and Heidegger provide terminologies and ways of thinking that help to take a critical distance from what is so nearby, that we can hardly grasp it. Conceptual distinctions help us to see that parents can be construed as ‘victims’ of evolutions in their societies that are taken as external and causal, or, as actors who are connected with their societies, and feel responsible for what happens in them. Science-based parenting support seems to be less informing parents then initiating them in certain frameworks and to reduce them to means to an end without allowing them the status of adulthood in a moral and political sense. Above all, parenting support seems to be more supportive of parenting processes than of parents with all their questions. This entails that parents are construed as ‘figures of disengagement’ who are in principle capable of dealing with their children and the domain of child rearing from a disengaged scientific manner. Parenting support stands clearly in need of revision, as well as the role and the self-understanding of the figure that provides the support: it can become a figure of engagement in the strong sense who applies an ethics of hermeneutics. More in general the conclusion will be that an ethics of hermeneutics is to prefer over an ethics of causality if the aim is to support parents qua parents.
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