Volume 20, Issue 1, Spring 2006
Need or Desire?
A Conceptual and Moral Phenomenology of the Child Wish
This paper explores the significative structure and normative quality of the child wish by focusing on the concepts that are used when people speak about it. Does having children belong to the category of human needs, or is it rather something that people desire? The Principle of Precedence holds that needs tend to have a substantially greater moral impact than desires. In order to do justice both to people’s profound happiness that goes with fulfilment of the child wish and to the great distress that goes with involuntary childlessness it seems to be right then to argue that having children belongs to the category of human needs; and to use the term from Harry Frankfurt, to the category of constrained volitional needs. Accordingly, it might be argued that society has a rights-based duty to prevent involuntary childlessness. Contrary to this, I defend the thesis that an ethics of desire, which conceives the child wish as rooted in a symbolic desire, leads to a more adequate understanding of the child wish in all its various phenomenological aspects.