Research

My current research focuses on problems in normative ethics, bioethics, and social and political philosophy that involve procreation. I am particularly interested in the obligations we have to the persons we create that constrain how we may create them and the ways we can wrong someone in selecting for her genetic traits.

The philosophical literature on procreation often treats what procreators owe their offspring as akin to what they would owe strangers (if they owe them anything at all). Procreation, however, is unlike anything else we do to other persons – it results not only in the creation of a new person, but also in the creation of a distinct moral relation between procreators and their offspring. My work begins by treating this relation as central to the morality of procreation. Procreators and their offspring are not strangers. Procreators usually expect (and are expected to) parent the persons they create, so we cannot understand what procreators owe their offspring without also appealing to their role as prospective parents. Underlying my account of procreators’ parental obligations is the basic Kantian principle that we must constrain our treatment of other persons – including their creation – in light of their moral status as ends in themselves. The challenge in applying Kant’s framework is explaining how a person’s prospective moral status could regulate the process by which she comes to have that status in the future.

I’m interested in procreation not only because it is an important and morally serious part of our lives, but because the case of procreation illuminates broader issues in normative ethics about how you can wrong someone without harming her, the relevance of motives to directed or personal wronging, and how the relations we stand in to other persons can generate special obligations for both individuals and our wider social and political institutions.


Download

Research Statement


Publications

“Wronging Future Children” forthcoming in Ergo

In this paper, I argue that we can appeal to procreators’ obligations as prospective parents, not because parental obligations fully capture procreative obligations, but because procreators incur parental obligations by procreating. Procreators can wrong their offspring, on this account, when they procreate despite lacking either the capacity or willingness to adequately parent the persons they create or when they make procreative choices that are antithetical to the end of the parental role itself. (Penultimate draft)

“The Problem of Choosing (For) Our Children” in Procreation, Parenthood, and Educational Rights: Ethical and Philosophical Issues, edited by Jaime Ahlberg and Michael Cholbli, Routledge, 2017, pp. 73–93

In this paper, I compare the scope of procreators’ permission to select the traits of their offspring to the scope of parents’ permission to control the education of their children. I argue that procreators, like parents, do not have the moral authority to do whatever would best transmit their own culture, beliefs or values to their children. Parents, both actual and prospective, must constrain their choices in light of their parental obligation to facilitate their children’s future autonomy. I show how this requirement undermines arguments in favor of reproductive selection that appeal to the parents’ interest in parenting a child who shares their beliefs and values.


Papers in progress:

The Practical Standpoint on Procreation

In this paper, I employ Kant’s moral theory to argue that the non-identity problem is only a moral problem if we think of procreation as issuing in biological creatures, individuated by their unique genetics. If we look at procreation as an imputable action of persons that puts them in a practical relation of duty to their offspring, then the moral relevance of the offspring’s genetic identity falls away. (Latest draft)

Loving a Fetus with No Future

I argue that an early fetus can have moral standing in virtue of its relation to other persons, whether or not it has independent moral status in virtue of its own properties (present or future). The relational account of moral standing helps explain why it’s appropriate to mourn the loss of an early fetus in the event of a miscarriage, even though it’s typically permissible to abort fetuses at that same stage. (Available upon request.)

Moral Dilemmas

Peter Winch argues against the universalizability of moral judgments made by agents who face a genuine moral dilemma.  In this paper, I motivate the possibility of the kind of moral dilemma Winch proposes, and, in doing so, show what the possibility of such cases reveals about morality’s indeterminacy and our contribution as co-authors of morality’s requirements.  Moral dilemmas are possible in part because agents often occupy multiple morally-grounded roles—roles that, from the point of view of morality writ large, do not always have a clear priority with respect to one another.  So, even on a moral theory that rests on one central value (like the value of rational agency) or principle, that value or principle can leave a lot of an agent’s practical life underdetermined. (Available upon request.)