Feeding infants: Choice-specific considerations, parental obligation, and pragmatic satisficing

Ethical Theory and Moral Practice:1-17 (forthcoming)
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Health institutions recommend that young infants be exclusively breastfed on demand, and it is widely held that parents who can breastfeed have an obligation to do so. This has been challenged in recent philosophical work, especially by Fiona Woollard. Woollard’s work critically engages with two distinct views of parental obligation that might ground such an obligation—based on maximal benefit and avoidance of significant harm—to reject an obligation to breastfeed. While agreeing with Woollard’s substantive conclusion, this paper (drawing on philosophical discussion of the ‘right to rear’) argues that there are several more moderate views of parental obligation which might also be thought to ground parental obligation. We first show that an obligation to breastfeed might result not from a general obligation to maximally benefit one’s child, but from what we call ‘choice-specific’ obligations to maximise benefit within particular activities. We then develop this idea through two views of parental obligation—the Dual Interest view, and the Best Custodian view—to ground an obligation to exclusively breastfeed on demand, before showing how both these more moderate views fail.

Author Profiles

Clare Marie Moriarty
University College Dublin
Ben Davies
University of Sheffield


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