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What You’re Rejecting When You’re Expecting

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I defend two collapsing or reductionist arguments against weak pro-natalism (WPN), the view that procreation is generally merely permissible. In particular, I argue that WPN collapses into strong pro-natalism (SPN), the view that procreation is generally obligatory. Because SPN conflicts with the dominant view that procreation is never obligatory, demonstrating that WPN collapses into or entails SPN establishes epistemic parity (at least as concerns reproductive liberty) between WPN and anti-natalism (AN), the view that procreation is always impermissible. First, I distinguish between two moral goods: the good of procreation itself and the good of procreative potential. Second, I contend that the average moral agent is obligated to assist needy children via adoption, fostering, or other financial or interpersonal support. Third, I present the first collapsing argument: if an agent’s justification for not assisting needy children is preservation of their resources (financial or interpersonal) for their actual future offspring, that justification is preserved only if they eventually and actually procreate. Thus, their eventual procreation is morally obligatory and SPN follows. Fourth, I present the second collapsing argument, which assumes procreative potential as the relevant good: if an agent’s justification for not assisting needy children is preservation of their resources for their potential future offspring, that justification holds only if (a) the objective or subjective valuation of the opportunity is of the relevant type and valence to justify not assisting needy children and (b) the agent sincerely values the opportunity. Fifth, I argue that (a) is unsatisfied and that while (b) is satisfied in most cases, it entails that most agents are obligated to desire or be behaviourally disposed to pursue procreation for themselves (i.e., SPN). Thus, I conclude that both actual procreation and procreative potential are either insufficient justifications for not assisting needy children or that they entail obligatory pro-reproductive attitudes or behaviours.

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  1. This construal of AN allows that procreation is possibly permissible—that is, in some possible world. But for the AN, that world needs to be radically dissimilar from ours to render procreation permissible.

  2. Here, I assume that procreation involves more than conception and in particular that procreation is a conception-to-birth affair. Thus, I assume that miscarriages are unsuccessful attempts at procreation.

  3. This allows for the possibility that procreation is merely pro tanto obligatory (and not all-things-considered obligatory) in these cases. However, even a pro tanto obligation to procreate is sufficient for the truth of SPN.

  4. An anonymous reviewer suggests a third possibility: the intention thesis: Necessarily, if you value opportunity X for yourself, then you prima facie intend to engage in X-pursuing behaviours. This is an interesting suggestion, one that (if true) makes the behavioural element clear in precisely the way that the Second Collapsing Argument needs. For now, I leave it to readers to decide whether the intention thesis fares better than the desire thesis or the behaviour thesis.

  5. Alternatively, they can be morally excused (but still obligated). However, if moral excuse is sufficient to square SPN with a robust account of procreative autonomy, then the same holds for AN.


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My thanks to Jason Hanna and the audience at the 2020 Central Division Meeting of the American Philosophical Association, two anonymous reviewers from this journal, and Anthony Ferrucci for discussion.

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Correspondence to Blake Hereth.

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Hereth, B. What You’re Rejecting When You’re Expecting. Bioethical Inquiry 20, 397–408 (2023).

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