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Phoenix Philosophy Meetup Group Message Board Socrates Cafe Philosophy Discussion in Tempe Discussion Forum › Socrates Cafe Summary: Is Spanking Ethical?

Socrates Cafe Summary: Is Spanking Ethical?

David W.
Tempe, AZ
Fellow Philosophers -

My thanks to everyone who participated in Wednesday evening's meeting and gathered afterwords at Doc & Eddy's for continued debate and delight. Below is a summary of the discussion. It's not a precise narrative but rather an organized description from my notes and impressions.

1. QUESTION: At the start of the meeting, each participant offered an initial answer to the question: "Is Spanking Ethical?" Of the fourteen that chose to answer, eight said under no circumstances and six said under certain circumstances. All except one in attendance had been spanked as a child and seven were parents. Those who said spanking wasn't ethical under any circumstance offered the following reasons: a) Psychologically scars children, which makes them unhealthy adults. b) Teaches children and parents that hitting is acceptable, which creates violent communities. c) Doesn't effectively change behavior in the most troublesome children. d) Weakens trust and love bonds between parent and child. e) Doesn't teach anger control in parents or children. Those who said spanking was ethical under some circumstances offered the following reasons: f) As a last resort when all other methods have failed. g) To prevent a greater harm to the child, like touching a hot stove. h) To change behavior in children below the age of reason.

2. DEFINITIONS: Participants first brainstormed each definition before critiquing to insure that all possible definitions were at least silently considered.

The following definitions were suggested for Ethical by those new to the group: a) Good for humanity. b) Socially acceptable. c) Psychologically acceptable. The veterans then pointed to side B of the handout to suggest the group use the five ethical approaches: Utilitarian, Rights, Fairness/Justice, Common Good, Virtue. For details on the approaches, read "A Framework for Thinking Ethically" at­

The following definitions were suggested for Spanking: d) Physically inflicting pain without permanently harming. e) Open handed swatting on a child's clothed buttocks. f) Using an implement to swat the buttocks to prevent inappropriate touching. g) Swatting that doesn't leave a mark or make it painful to sit. h) One swat to get the child's attention. i) Buttock swatting not done reflexively or in anger to discipline: defined as promoting good behavior.

One participant offered the guidance of Occam's Razor, which encourages the simplest explanations, to argue that adding so many conditions to the definition of spanking was an admission that spanking in general was unethical.

In response to that insight, the moderator suggested that since the definition of spanking determined whether it was ethical, the group should make the discussion about what would make spanking ethical. Therefore, the group agreed to change the question "Is Spanking Ethical?" to "Under what circumstances is it acceptable under all five ethical approaches to hit a child on the buttocks?"

3. ASSUMPTIONS: Participants suggested the following reasons for why the question was being asked: a) Parents need guidance on how to discipline children without damaging them. b) Spanking can easily lead to abuse. c) Parents don't discipline enough for fear of causing damage.

Participants then offered assumptions that if true would imply a particular answer: d) Most of the group had been spanked and hadn't suffered permanent damage, which implied that spanking could be done ethically. e) If most of the group hadn't been spanked, then maybe they would be better adults. f) A child's developmental (combined physical, emotional, intellectual) age should determine the best method of disciplining, which implied that spanking could only be ethical for children at a certain developmental age. g) Disciplining without spanking takes more parental effort, which implied that some spanking was done reflexively rather than rationally. h) Hitting a child teaches that hitting is acceptable under certain conditions, which implied that parents should make the child understand why they are being hit. i) Children about to be spanked aren't wise or calm enough to understand why they are being hit, which implied they can easily draw the wrong conclusions (e.g. I'm bad and unlovable or my parent is bad and unlovable).

4. OBJECTIVES: The group offered the following objectives for determining which circumstances would make a spanking ethical: a) To establish parental authority. b) To protect the child. c) To discourage inappropriate behavior. d) To teach responsibility. e) To humble the child. f) To raise the child into a healthy, happy, successful, ethical adult.

5. OPTIONS: Each ethical approach would suggest the following options: a) Utilitarian: Ethical spankings permanently cause the greatest good and the least harm. b) Rights: Ethical spankings don't violate natural entitlements to life, liberty, and property or legal entitlements granted by government. c) Fairness/Justice: Ethical spankings are ones a parent would want done to them if in their child's place. d) Common Good: Ethical spankings benefit the community. e) Virtue: Ethical spankings are admirable and life-affirming.

In consideration of the OBJECTIVES, the group suggested the following circumstances under which a spanking would be ethical: f) When a child can understand why they are being spanked. g) If a spanking doesn't make a child feel unloved. h) When a parent has calmed down enough to choose the best response to misbehavior. i) To protect a child from immediate danger. j) Not as a punishment for hitting because a child will learn to hit in response to being hit, which creates a cycle of violence. i) To teach a lesson that can't be taught any other way. For example, one participant shared that he had spanked his child for allowing a younger child in their care to become lost.

6. COST BENEFIT: Arguments were offered against some of the circumstances: a) If a child can understand why they are being spanked, then they can benefit from other forms of discipline. b) Parents should create safe environments for children rather than rely on spanking to deter them from danger. c) Children shouldn't be given responsibilities or expected behaviors beyond their abilities, like taking care of a younger child.

7. ANSWER: At the end of the meeting, participants gave their final answers to "Is Spanking Ethical?", which was understood to mean "Under what circumstances is it acceptable under all five ethical approaches to hit a child on the buttocks?" Only a couple participants who had initially said no now saw some circumstances where a spank could be ethical. Likewise, those participants who initially said yes now saw fewer circumstances under which a spank was acceptable.

You can post your comments to this discussion on the Message Board under the topic "Socrates Cafe Summary: Is Spanking Ethical?" at http://philosophy.mee...­ You can also suggest a question for a future meeting by posting it on the message board under the topic "What Question Should We Discuss?"

The question for the next meeting on Wednesday, February 11th, will be "Are You Nobody Unless Somebody Loves You?" You can read an event description below my signature and RSVP here http://philosophy.mee...­

Hope to see you there.


Are You Nobody Unless Somebody Loves You? - February 11th
In his Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle claims that "Without friends, no one would choose to live." He defined friendship as "two bodies sharing one soul" and taught that making friends requires both the loyalty of unwavering affection and the generosity of doing what makes them happy. Aristotle argued that friendship is necessary to achieve Arete (moral excellence) and Eudaimonia (flourishing happiness).

In recognition of Valentine's Day, at the next Socrates Cafe we will discuss the question, "Are You Nobody Unless Somebody Loves You?" What does it mean to be somebody? Are you defined by the absence of friends? Can you exist without love? In preparation for the meeting, read Jesse Jackson's poem "I am Somebody" at http://en.wikisource....­ Then watch Dean Martin perform "You're Nobody Till Somebody Loves You" at­

Only 25 people can attend. RSVP now at http://philosophy.mee...­
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