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Title: In defence of children : pro- and anti-natalist arguments in moral philosophy and Karl Barth
Author: Anderson, Matthew Lee
ISNI:       0000 0004 7966 0924
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2018
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This dissertation defends a presumptive willingness to have children ('procreative fideism') through a critical dialogue with contemporary moral philosophy and Karl Barth's understanding of procreation in Church Dogmatics. The first chapter argues that neutrality between 'optimistic' and 'pessimistic' accounts of procreative risk and rationality entail a de facto anti-natalism, and that otherwise attractive constructivist pro-natalisms that appeal to 'parenthood' as a non-derivative source of reasons struggle to explain why such an interest supplies a reason to procreate rather than adopt. Subsequent chapters attempt to overcome this gap. Chapter Two considers whether the peculiarities of procreative agency expressed by appealing to life's 'gifted' qualities supply distinctive benefits for parenthood, while Chapter Three considers the putative value of 'biological' or 'genetic' bonds as a reason to prefer procreative parenthood. While such accounts resonate with pre-existing intuitions about the value of procreating, I argue they ultimately fail to escape skeptical debunking arguments-which leaves the presumptive permissibility of procreation in the odd position of being widely acknowledged and even more widely enjoyed, but with dubious normative support. The final two thirds of this dissertation critically examine Karl Barth's understanding of procreation in Church Dogmatics. Chapter Four takes a panoramic approach, evaluating Barth's defense of creation's status as 'benefit,' his corresponding rejection of 'optimism' and 'pessimism,' and the confidence in faith we can have in the world because of the covenant. While such a backdrop could establish a presumption in favor of procreating, Barth's complicated understanding of how the New Testament relativizes genealogy makes such an inference difficult. Chapter Five thus unpacks how Barth frames procreation within his doctrine of creation, and argues that the independence of procreation from marriage gives the latter an eschatological 'consecration' the former lacks. However, Barth does raise the possibility of founding a pro-natalist presumption based on a 'confidence in life grounded in faith.' I unpack this in Chapter Six, arguing that Barth's account of humanity's constitution seems to supply presumptive grounds for procreating (out of respect for humanity's reproductive powers). However, Barth's emphasis on the immediacy of an individual's origins in God brackets natural parenthood and paves the way for his relativization of procreation-while simultaneously intensifying life's value by establishing it as a definite, irrepeatable, once-for-all 'offer' from God. Barth's account of life thus raises questions about natural parenthood's positive significance (if any). To address these on Christocentric terms, Chapter Seven turns to Barth's account of Mary and puts it in dialogue with his later special ethics of parents and children. I argue that Barth's later configuration of natural parenthood includes an eschatological intensification of their value akin to that which Barth had argued happens regarding 'life' when set at its limits. This enables reconstructing Mary as the first to respond to the announcement of the covenant's completion, which provides a richer theological basis for pro-natalism than is available on Barth's account. This reconstruction carries on into Chapter Eight, which develops Barth's account of 'honour' to explain the distinct value of Mary's agency-and human procreative agency more generally. I argue that this honour, which accrues to parents on the basis of their presence in action and suffering in procreating and vicariously redounds to them from their children, can reasonably animate a couple to procreate rather than adopt. My conclusion returns to the themes of philosophical optimism and pessimism, and argues that the Barthian 'procreative fideism' goes beyond moral philosophy's discussion toward establishing a presumptive pro-natalism.
Supervisor: Biggar, Nigel Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available