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Procreative permissiveness
  1. David Benatar
  1. Correspondence to Professor David Benatar, Department of Philosophy, University of Cape Town, Rondebosch 7700, South Africa; philosophy{at}

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There is much to praise in David DeGrazia's Creation Ethics.1 However, in my brief comments, I shall focus on one important juncture where I find his argument unconvincing.i

The widespread view that procreation is a morally innocent activity is hard to sustain. Any thoughtful discussion of procreation, as David DeGrazia's is, must concede that (at least) some procreation is morally wrong. The crucial question is how restrictive a view one should have of the moral permissibility of this practice.

David DeGrazia's view is that one may procreate when one can provide the resultant children what they are owed. He maintains that children are owed (1) lives worth living; (2) in which there is a reasonable expectation that their basic needs will be met (although he allows some exceptions in cases where the failure to meet these needs is due to external circumstances beyond the parents’ control) and (3) extra that parents can provide without undue sacrifice (pages 166–7).1

This set of conditions implies that a life in which basic needs are not met can nonetheless be a life worth living. This sets the bar for a ‘life worth living’ii very low indeed, given that basic needs include “nutritious food, clean water, safe shelter, protective clothing … freedom from slavery … and [from] physical abuse” (page 168).1

It is true, of course, that Professor DeGrazia's distinction between a life worth living and one in which basic needs are met has practical significance only in those situations in which parents’ failure to meet their children's basic needs is attributable to external circumstances beyond their control.

However, that exception …

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