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Hannes Foth, M.A., Inaugural Dissertation on:

Responsibility and Friendship in Parent-Child Relationships during Adulthood

This study is inspired by the demographic and cultural changes in family relationships. It focuses on parent-child relationships in their common adult age. Today, many parents and children share an extended common lifetime in good health. In addition, we witness the cultural change of a liberalization and pluralization of family forms. More frequent separations mean that parent-child relationships can gain more significance as a constant in life, but also that they must adapt to new constellations and stages of life. Our understanding of family and parent-child relationships has thus got into motion and the often implicit expectations of these relationships have to be renegotiated. My work serves as a philosophical contribution to this. It takes findings from the multidisciplinary family research into consideration, but the primacy remains in the reflection on the meaning we can gain from such perspectives for our family practice and the anticipatory thematization of its phases of life. Thus, the thesis is unfolded that parent-child relationships in the joint adult age imply special responsibilities, which, however, show spaces and requirements for interpretation and can also enable a friendly level in their relationship.

The study is divided into four explorations:

  • The first part shows which social struggles for orientation are currently being fought over the concept of "family" and take a stance towards them. In discussion with a plurality of family notions, the term "family" is explicated primarily through the lifelong inter-generational relationship.
  • The second part focuses on the characterization and unfolding of typical structures and developments in the parent-child relationship. Special attention is given to their adjustment to the common adulthood, the interplay of asymmetrical and more symmetrical dimensions of the relationship, the complex (emotional) bonds they can develop, and their unchosen and binding character.
  • The binding nature of the relationship, which is initially only postulated, is examined in the third part of the work. The starting point for its normative reconstruction is, in particular, the ethical debate on obligations resulting from special relationships. By discussing a variety of positions, it develops the idea to reconstruct filial morality and family commitments more strongly through a conception of responsibility and maturity.
  • The concluding part conducts an orienting debate on models and ideals for desirable parent-child relationships in adulthood. In particular, it supports the idea that parents and their grown-up children can have the chance for more friendship-like relationships if they do not lose sight of the primary requirements and responsibilities of parent-child relationships.

This social philosophical and ethical study was supervised by Prof. Dr. Simone Dietz and accepted as the doctoral thesis by the Faculty of Philosophy at the Heinrich-Heine-University Düsseldorf. It became also part of the PreGGI-project at the Institute for the History of Medicine and Science Studies at the University of Lübeck, with Prof. Dr. Christina Schües acting as the second reviewer.