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Moral reasons not to breastfeed: a response to Woollard and Porter

Abstract

Woollard and Porter argue that mothers have no moral duty to breastfeed their babies. Rather, mothers simply have moral reason(s) to breastfeed, stemming from the benefits of breast feeding for babies. According to Woollard and Porter, doing what one has moral reason to do is often supererogatory, not obligatory. I agree that mothers have no moral duty to breastfeed. However, it is misleading to suggest that mothers in general have moral reason to breastfeed and to liken not breastfeeding to not performing some supererogatory action. I will suggest mothers in general have pro tanto, but not all-things-considered, moral reason to breastfeed. Moreover, I suggest many mothers also have pro tanto moral reasons not to breastfeed. Breastfeeding is not always supererogatory; indeed, sometimes not breastfeeding is morally better. This is important because it contradicts dangerous assumptions in public discourse. One way of characterising popular consensus about breastfeeding is as Woollard and Porter do: mothers have a duty to breastfeed. But we might also characterise popular consensus differently: all moral reasons for/against breastfeeding are on the ‘pro’ breastfeeding side of the issue, whereas if there are any (good) reasons not to breastfeed these are non-moral (prudential). Woollard and Porter’s argument is important and correct in concluding that mothers have no duty to breastfeed, but it leaves this other false and dangerous idea intact and even subtly reinforces it.

  • decision-making
  • family
  • feminism
  • interests of woman/fetus/father
  • philosophical ethics
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