An Asymmetry in the Ethics of Procreation

Philosophy Compass 6 (11):765-776 (2011)
According to the Asymmetry, it is wrong to bring a miserable child into existence but permissible not to bring a happy child into existence. When it comes to procreation, we don’t have complete procreative liberty. But we do have some discretion. The Asymmetry seems highly intuitive. But a plausible account of the Asymmetry has been surprisingly difficult to provide, and it may well be that most moral philosophers – or at least most consequentialists – think that all reasonable efforts to provide such an account have by now been exhausted. In this paper, I argue that, despite the difficulties, the Asymmetry is too important to be set aside. I also note a handful of accounts of the Asymmetry that have been proposed and why they fail. It seems, for example, that it will not do to say that some people matter morally and others don’t, or that a person matters morally in some worlds but not others. My own conclusion is that, while we are bound to say all people matter morally – you, me and the merely possible – we are not bound to say that all their losses– or all ours– matter morally. We can instead distinguish between morally significant and insignificant losses, with the distinction between the two being a matter of where the loss is incurred in relation to the person who incurs it. This way of looking at things – which I call Variabilism– provides the basis for a plausible account of the Asymmetry. The availability of such an account suggests, I think, that our prospects for rescuing the Asymmetry are bright
Keywords No keywords specified (fix it)
Categories No categories specified
(categorize this paper)
DOI 10.1111/j.1747-9991.2011.00435.x
 Save to my reading list
Follow the author(s)
My bibliography
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Revision history Request removal from index
Download options
PhilPapers Archive

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy on self-archival     Papers currently archived: 16,667
External links
Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library
References found in this work BETA
Peter Singer (1993). Practical Ethics. Cambridge University Press.
John Broome (2004). Weighing Lives. Oxford University Press.
Elizabeth Harman (2004). Can We Harm and Benefit in Creating? Philosophical Perspectives 18 (1):89–113.

View all 21 references / Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

No citations found.

Add more citations

Similar books and articles
Theodore Sider (1993). Asymmetry and Self-Sacrifice. Philosophical Studies 70 (2):117 - 132.

Monthly downloads

Added to index


Total downloads

38 ( #87,235 of 1,726,249 )

Recent downloads (6 months)

4 ( #183,615 of 1,726,249 )

How can I increase my downloads?

My notes
Sign in to use this feature

Start a new thread
There  are no threads in this forum
Nothing in this forum yet.