On The Duty of Man and Citizen
According to the Natural Law (1673)

Samuel von Pufendorf

On the Duties of Parents and Children

1.   From marriage spring children, over whom paternal authority has been established, — the most ancient and at the same time the most sacred kind of rule, under which children are bound to respect the commands and recognize the superiority of parents.

2.   The authority of parents over their children arises from two main causes: first, because the natural law itself, in commanding man to be social, enjoined upon parents the care of their children; and that this might not be neglected, Nature at the same time implanted in them the tenderest affection for their offspring. For the exercise of that care there is needed the power to direct the actions of children for their own welfare, which they do not yet understand themselves, owing to their lack of judgment. And then that authority rests upon the tacit consent also of the offspring. For it is rightly presumed that, if an infant had had the use of reason at the time of its birth, and had seen that it could not save its life without the parents’ care and the authority therewith connected, it would gladly have consented to it, and would in turn have made an agreement with them for a suitable bringing-up. Actually, however, the parents’ authority over their offspring is established when they take up the child and nurture it, and undertake to form it, to the best of their ability, into a fit member of human society.

3.   But although the mother contributes no less than the father, to the production of children, and so, physically speaking, the offspring is common to both, we must inquire which of them has the better right to the children. And in this one must make a distinction. For if the child has been born out of wedlock, it will be originally the mother’s, because in this case the father can be known only by the mother’s testimony. Also among those who live in natural liberty and above civil laws, it can be arranged by agreement that the mother, not the father, have the better right. But in states, which were, of course, established by men, inasmuch as marriage contracts regularly begin with the father, and he is the head of the household, the father will have the better right. Consequently though a child naturally owes its mother respect and gratitude, it is nevertheless not bound by the commands of the mother, — those at least which conflict with the just instructions of the father. But upon the death of the father, his right to his offspring, the non-adult at any rate, seems to be acquired by the mother, and, in case she enters a second marriage, by the stepfather, since indeed he succeeds to the responsibility and care of the natural father. And one who undertakes the liberal education of a deserted child or orphan, can of his own right exact filial respect from him.

4.   But accurately to understand how great is the power of parents over their children, we must first distinguish between the scattered patriarchs, and those who have entered a community; and then between the power which the father has as such, and what he has as head of his household. Upon the father as such nature has enjoined that he bring up his children well, that they may turn out fit members of human society, up to the time when they are able to look out for themselves. Therefore so much authority is understood to have been granted him, as suffices for this purpose. But it by no means goes so far that parents can destroy their offspring in the mother’s womb, or after birth expose or kill it. For while progeny is called into being out of the substance of parents, the result, however, is to place it in the same human lot as themselves, and to make it capable of suffering an injury even from the parents. Also this power is not thought to extend to exercising the right of life and death on occasion of some offense, but merely so far as moderate chastisement. For this has to do with a tender age, at which crimes so black as to be expiated by death scarcely occur. But should a child persistently spurn all discipline, with no hope of improvement, he can be driven from the paternal home and disowned.

5.   Moreover this power, thus narrowly interpreted, can be considered according to the different ages of the children. For in the first years, when the use of reason is still immature, all the children’s actions are subject to the parents’ direction. In this period if any property is transferred by others to the minor, the parent must accept and administer it in place of the son, yet so that the ownership is acquired by the son himself. It is, however, most equitable that the income should fall to the father, until the son comes of age. So, too, whatever gain or profit comes by the labor of the son, is rightly claimed by the father, on whom rests the burden also of nourishing and educating the son.

6.   In adult years, when the children have indeed mature judgment, but are still a part of the paternal household, we can distinguish the authority which the father has as father, from that which he has as head of the household. Since the former kind has for its aim the proper education and guidance of the children, it is clear that even adult children ought to follow the authority of parents, as the wiser persons. And he who wishes to be supported out of the paternal property, and in turn to succeed to it, must adjust himself to the circumstances of the father’s household, for the control of the latter is unquestionably in the hands of the father.

7.   But the patriarchs, who had not yet entered into communities, wielded in their homes an authority like that of princes. Hence their children too, still remaining in the household, were bound to respect their authority as the highest. But later this household rule, and other rights as well, were limited to suit the needs and proprieties of communities; and in one much of their authority was left to fathers, in another little. Hence we observe that in some states fathers had the right of life and death over their children, to be exercised in case of crime; and that in others the same right was taken away, that parents might not abuse their authority over their children to the detriment of the public good, or to oppress them unjustly; or for fear the tender affection of a parent might conceal vices which would break out into public calamity; or else to avoid imposing upon a father the necessity of pronouncing so stem a sentence.

8.   But when a child has clearly departed from the paternal household, and either established a new household of his own, or attached himself to another, the paternal authority is indeed dissolved, but so, however, that the debt of dutifulness and respect always remains, as something founded upon the merits of the parents, which children are never, or very rarely, thought fully to requite. And those merits consist not only in the fact that children owe to parents their lives, the occasion of all blessings, but also because they undertook their laborious and costly education, by which they have molded them into fit members of human society, and often have provided them with the means of passing their lives in comfort and abundance.

9.   But, although the obligation to educate their children has been imposed upon parents by nature, this does not prevent the direction of the same from being intrusted to another, if the advantage or need of the child require, with the understanding, however, that the parent reserves to himself the oversight of the person so delegated. Hence also a father has not only the right to intrust the instruction of a son to suitable teachers, but can also give the son in adoption to another, if indeed any advantage is to be thus gained for the son. And if he has no other means of supporting his child, rather than let him die of want, the father can pledge the child, or sell him into a slavery that is endurable, at least subject to re-consideration, when the father shall come into more favorable circumstances, or some relative is willing to ransom the child. But if a parent has inhumanly exposed or cast off a child, whoever shall take up and educate the child, will succeed also to the father’s rights, so that the foster-child owes filial respect to the man who has brought him up.

10.   Again, as a father ought not, except for the weightiest reasons, to drive a child from his household, while still needing education and his assistance, so also the child will not go forth from the father’s household except with his permission. But, since it is usually on contracting a marriage that children leave the paternal household, and it is certainly a concern of parents, who is to be united to their children, and by whom they are themselves to have grandchildren, therefore filial duty plainly requires that children in this matter follow the consent of the father, and be not united in marriage against his will. But if children have in fact contracted and consummated a marriage against the parents’ will, it does not seem to be void according to the natural law, especially where they do not wish to burden the father’s household longer, and the match is not otherwise improper. Hence, if such marriages are anywhere accounted void or illegitimate, it is due to the civil laws.

11.   The duty of parents consists chiefly in this, that they support their children in comfort, and so shape their body and mind by skillful and wise education, that they become fit and useful members of human and civil society, good, wise, and men of character. Also to introduce them to a suitable and honorable occupation; and, so far as reason and opportunity permit, to establish and promote their fortunes.

12.   The children’s duty on the other hand is to honor their parents, that is, to show them respect, not by outward signs alone, but much more in the inward estimation, as authors of their lives and other great benefits; to obey them, serve them to the best of one’s ability, especially when they are weakened by age or want; to undertake nothing of great importance without their counsel and authorization; and finally patiently to bear their peevishness or faults, if any are discovered.