Moral Callings and the Decision to Have Children – A Response to Mitchell

Contemporary Philosophy 2004 (25):3&4 (2004)
While there are numerous questions that the having of children raise, there is one that philosophers should be particularly concerned with – “What is the good reason for the having of children?” Recently, Jeff Mitchell has given a deontological answer to this question (Contemporary Philosophy, Vol. XXIV, NO. 5 & 6, Sept/Oct & Nov/Dec 2002, pp. 42-46). His answer is based on the moral function of the having of children. He claims that parenthood is a “moral calling” and that one should heed the call out of a sense of duty and responsibility for the good of society (Mitchell, 44). In this paper, I argue that such a “moral calling” account is mistaken. I maintain that Mitchell’s account is mistaken on two grounds. First, I maintain Mitchell has assumed a problematic stance at the outset and it infects his position in general. That assumption is that we can and should consider the interests of non-existent people when considering the utility of an outcome. By looking at this assumption, we see that the warrant for such a moral reason to have children is lacking, hence, we ought not to appeal to such a reason when deciding whether to have children. The second problem is the failure to provide the epistemic conditions for a central consideration – the warranted belief that one would probably make a good parent. Furthermore, even if we attempt to construct what such conditions might be given other aspects of Mitchell’s account, the conditions fail to provide an adequate justification for the central consideration. Thus, I intend to show that such a moral calling rationale for the having of children is not superior to rationales that focus on the individual’s self-interest.
Keywords Procreative Ethics
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