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International Journal of Applied Philosophy

Volume 17, Issue 2, Fall 2003

Leslie Cannold
Pages 277-290
DOI: 10.5840/ijap200317221

Do We Need a Normative Account of the Decision to Parent?

This paper provides an analysis of several philosophically interesting results of a recent study of the fertility decision-making of thirty-five childless/childfree Australian and American women. While most of the women in the study endorsed and expanded on longstanding normative prescriptions for how a “good” mother ought to feel and behave, they were at a loss (at times quite literally) to explain why a woman should decide to mother in the first place. For several women, this difficulty led them to conclude that a decision to have a child was “irrational.” After seeking to explain how women understood this term and why some drew this conclusion, I will argue that applied philosophers should respond to the findings by creating normative accounts of the decision to parent. Suggestions are made about what such accounts should include, and avoid, to ensure relevance to women and acceptability to both feminist and non-feminist philosophers.

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