Why Should One Reproduce? The Rationality and Morality of Human Reproduction

Dissertation, City University of New York Graduate Center (2014)
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Human reproduction has long been assumed to be an act of the blind force of nature, to which humans were subject, like the weather. However, with recent concerns about the environmental impact of human population, particularly resource depletion, human reproduction has come to be seen as a moral issue. That is, in general, it may be moral or immoral for people to continue propagating their species. The past decade’s philosophical discussions of the question have yielded varying results. This dissertation takes on the issue in a broader moral perspective and asks not only whether it is moral to reproduce but why one should. That is, are there positive normative reasons, whether moral or rational, to reproduce? This thesis approaches this problem first by facing three general philosophical challenges to its resolution: from contemporary population and environmental ethics and rationality theory; from traditional Western schools of moral philosophy; and from recent attempts to answer the narrower question of whether one should reproduce. The thesis finds that exploring these challenges cannot yield a clear response. However, taking cues from many of these approaches, such as care ethics’ emphasis on values, the dissertation proposes that lacking from recent attempts is recognition of a source-value for all human values, viz. the valuing of life in and of itself. Proposing that this valuing is a characteristic of humans and of how they value, it looks to anthropology for empirical justification. It observes that many cultures and individuals frequently prioritize their values so as to devalue this source valuing. Yet, when those value prioritizations give this valuing high priority, there may be some moral justification for reproduction. Furthermore, if one subscribes to the tenets of rationality, which enjoin agents to formulate their beliefs for action based upon the results of rational inquiry, this normative force may invest this descriptive (empirical) hypothesis about values with normative force to guide actions. That is, given certain value prioritizations, it may be rational as well as moral to reproduce. The thesis question of why one should reproduce would then at least have a plausible answer.

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Lantz Fleming Miller
University of Twente


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