Risk, Responsibility, and Procreative Asymmetries

In Stephen M. Gardiner (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Intergenerational Ethics. Oxford University Press (2021)
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Abstract

The author argues for a theory of responsibility for outcomes of imposed risk, based on whether it was permissible to impose the risk. When one tries to apply this persuasive model of responsibility for outcomes of risk imposition to procreation, which is a risk imposing act, one finds that it doesn’t match one’s intuitions about responsibility for outcomes of procreative risk. This mismatch exposes a justificatory gap for procreativity, namely, that procreation cannot avail itself of the shared vulnerability to risks and their constraints—to the balance one is forced to strike between one’s interest in being free to impose risks on others and one’s interest in being safe from harm resulting from the risk imposed by others—which serves to justify risk imposition, generally. Whereas most risk impositions involve trade-offs of liberty and security among people who share the vulnerabilities associated with the taking, imposing, or being constrained from imposing risks, procreation involves the introduction of people into that position of vulnerability in the first place. Thus, when one procreates, one imposes risks in the absence of the shared vulnerability that usually serves as a justification for risk imposition. Procreative risks may not be wrongfully imposed, but they aren’t permissibly imposed in a manner fully comparable to other permissibly imposed risks. This makes procreation a unique form of risk imposition, with unique implications for its justification and for one’s responsibility for its outcomes. This insight can help explain several puzzling procreative asymmetries.

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Rivka Weinberg
Scripps College

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