The Philosophical Parent: Asking the Hard Questions About Having and Raising Children
Kazez (Jean)
Source: Kazez (Jean) - The Philosophical Parent: Asking the Hard Questions About Having and Raising Children
Paper - Abstract

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I may eventually break this book out into separate Papers – at least for the chapters I’m especially interested in. For now I just quote the Introduction, and add a few notes as necessary.

Introduction (Full Text)

  1. Having children turns every parent and parent-to-be into a philosopher. The philosophical questions are right there in the many perplexing situations we confront in the process of bringing new people into the world and then raising them. Fortunately, we're also in a position to spend some time thinking about these questions. Becoming and being a parent is full of waiting, which means we have time to muse, grapple, wonder, and discuss.
  2. There's waiting to get pregnant — why is it so important to become a parent? Waiting for morning sickness to end — why does nausea make all of life seem so dismal? Waiting for lab results — are there any problems that would make termination of a pregnancy a reasonable choice? And waiting for a fetus to become a baby — at what point has your child come into existence?
  3. Later, there's waiting for the crying to stop so you can leave for work — is it okay that you're going to work? Waiting at the park while your child plays — why is your child so beautiful and brilliant in your eyes, and should you try to be more objective? Waiting in doctors' offices — must you vaccinate, even if there's a tiny risk of a bad reaction? Waiting for one phase to end and another to begin — does your child remain the same child, through all the changes? And waiting for college admissions decisions — why do you care so much? And many other reasons to wait and to wonder.
  4. One of my favorite occasions for thought, over the nineteen years since my twins were born, has been The Performance, whether a talent show, a play, or a recital. Your kid is somewhere in the line-up, and there are twenty other acts to watch and applaud. Every child is charmingly gawky and innocent, and there are patches of true talent here and there. But these things can drag, so there's time to think. And also something interesting to think about. Can I go home after my own child performs? Or do I owe it to the parents who watched my child to stay and watch theirs? What social obligations do I incur by being a parent in a community?
  5. There's time to wonder and reflect, but not long stretches of time. The baby will wake up, the exercise class will end. You only have ten minutes to read at bedtime, before your eyes are going to close. So the chapters of this book are fairly short. Big problems are broken up into chewable morsels. Long stages of life for parents are broken up into series of shorter stages.
  6. The questions are arranged in chronological order, starting with three about why we want children and whether we're being good, bad, or neither by having them. Next is a question about controlling the sort of child we have — whether to be selective, or to accept whatever child comes our way. And then there are questions about pregnancy, the fetus, and birth. At long last, a child has been born, and there are some hard questions to ask about the basis for saying the child belongs to one prospective parent or another.
  7. Halfway through the book, we turn from questions about becoming parents to questions about being parents. Chapter 9 considers just what, precisely, parents do for their children — what the parenting job consists of. After that I tackle numerous questions about how we ought to treat our children: whether to circumcise a boy; when we may lie to children; how much to care about a child's gender; and to what extent we should pass on our own values and beliefs. There are also questions about what it means to be a socially responsible parent. Must we get involved with the PTA at our child's school? Do we have to go along with collective projects like vaccination?
  8. Finally, what do we get out of being parents? Happiness? Meaning? Or in fact a reduction in well-being, especially if we're not only parents but primary caregivers? And what should children give back to us, in return for being cared for over many years? We'll begin at the beginning. We affiliate with other people in all sorts of ways — friend to friend, spouse to spouse, brother to sister, teacher to student. What's so special about parent to child? And in the first place, what is it for another person to be my child.

Notes on Chapter 5: In the Beginning: What's going on in there?
  1. Sections:
    • Introduction
    • Was Larry Once an Embryo?
    • Very Early, Very Late
    • Olson Vs. Baker
    • The Very Beginning
    • Pregnancy Loss
  2. Bibliography1
    1. "Baird (Robert M.) & Rosenbaum (Stuart E.) - The Ethics of Abortion: Pro-Life Vs. Pro-Choice", Baird & Rosenbaum2
    2. "Baker (Lynne Rudder) - Persons and Bodies: A Constitution View", Baker
    3. "Baker (Lynne Rudder) - When Does a Person Begin?", Baker
    4. "Eliot (Lise) - What's Going On in There?: How the Brain And Mind Develop in the First Five Years of Life", Eliot
    5. "Ford (Norman) - When Did I Begin: Conception of the Human Individual in History, Philosophy and Science", Ford
    6. "Koch (Cristof) - When Does Consciousness Arise in Human Babies?", Koch
    7. "Marquis (Don) - Why Abortion is Immoral", Marquis
    8. "Olson (Eric) - The Human Animal - Personal Identity Without Psychology", Olson
    9. "Olson (Eric) - What are We?", Olson
    10. "Radest (Howard B.) - Biomedical Ethics: Humanist Perspectives", Radest3
    11. "Smith (Barry) & Brogaard (Berit) - Sixteen Days", Smith & Brogaard
    12. "Thomson (Judith Jarvis) - A Defense of Abortion", Thomson
    13. Link
  3. Kazez claims to seek to avoid the “look ahead” analysis of the ontological status of the conceptus through fetus – and its relation to the future child – so that it doesn’t get entangled with the abortion debate. Pro-lifers and pro-choicers tend to “look ahead” and so distort the argument to fit lest they paint themselves into the opposite corner. Kazez hopes not to do this, and in any case thinks the ethics of abortion to be orthogonal to the ontological status of the fetus.
  4. When Kazez reflects on her pregnancy with her twins, she tends to think of them as existing a long time before their birth, and as having been continuous with the tiny balls of cells “they once were”.
  5. But, she asks, could the very same entity go from being coffee-ground sized and primitive to being a 5-year-old? Yes, she says; nature is full of such dramatic changes: birds fledge, caterpillars metamorphose4 into butterflies5. Immature creatures become adults, we want to say.
  6. Isn’t the embryo just the extreme case of immaturity? And isn’t human birth at an arbitrary point in maturation, much earlier than ideal, necessitated by the exigencies of the birth process, given large head & narrow hips?
  7. Kazez contrasts a “very early” view supposedly held by Eric Olson with the “very late” view supposedly held by Lynne Rudder Baker. I’ve added these “supposedly’s” because the two philosophers differ radically on what we are6. Olson thinks we are (identical to) human animals. Baker thinks we are (identical to or maybe “most fundamentally”) human persons. Both may agree when human animals begin, for all I know7.
  8. Kazez notes that Olson – in "Olson (Eric) - The Human Animal - Personal Identity Without Psychology" – holds the “very early” view not on ethical or religious grounds but because he thinks serious metaphysical perplexities arise otherwise.
  9. As far as the “very late” view is concerned, Kazez notes that some introduce “consciousness” as essential for our existence, but just when does it arise8? Kazez notes that a “fairly cautious9 assessment” would be that consciousness arises between 24 and 34 weeks, by which time normal brain waves (as measured by an EEG) arise – though even then the fetus spends most of its time asleep. Anyone thinking that consciousness is essential to our existence thinks of us as essentially a conscious self10, not just an organism.
  10. Baker’s view – in "Baker (Lynne Rudder) - Persons and Bodies: A Constitution View" – is that personhood is essential to us, and we don’t exist before or after we are persons11 – but what is personhood? Kazez’s brief exposition of Baker’s view is that a person must have at least a rudimentary First Person Perspective12 (consciousness, the ability to imitate and to have intentional states) and be on the way to having a full-blown FPP (reflectiveness, moral responsibility, reason and the like – that is in order to rule out13 non-human animals). Baker thinks human babies qualify as having a rudimentary FPP at birth, and since they are all on the way to a full-blown FPP, babies qualify as persons.
  11. Olson objects to Baker’s “very late view” by observing that it’s very odd that – while there’s a precursor to the person in the womb, something new pops into existence just when a rudimentary FPP arises.
  12. This might be the case if substance dualism14 were true and a soul15 was created and attached to the body around the time of birth. Unfortunately, Kazez points out, the “soul view16” is problematic for the usual reasons:
    1. How do souls attach to bodies?
    2. How do souls interact with physical things?
    3. Where are souls prior to attachment?
    4. What are souls made of?
    Kazez sees no good answers to these questions, and claims that there are almost no17 fans of souls amongst contemporary philosophers. Of course, as Kazez notes, Baker doesn’t support this view in any case.
  13. Instead Baker thinks that as soon as a rudimentary FPS arises, the person comes into existence, being constituted18 by the organism. Kazez explains Baker’s position by her analogy between the statue and the clay19.
  14. Kazez expounds Olson’s position as the “simpler” view that the individual starts to exist very early on and later acquires the property20 of being a person, but with no ontological change. However, “simpler” isn’t necessarily “correct”, claims Baker, as it’d imply we are “merely” organisms, who just happen to be persons at stages of our lives, like we might be adults or lawyers. For Baker, personhood is an ontologically significant property – persons are always persons.
  15. Kazez isn’t troubled by21 the thought that she was once a non-person, just like she was once a non-mother. While we are animals, we are very special animals22. Anyway, we’re referred to Baker’s and Olson’s oeuvres for a more nuanced discussion.
  16. Kazez now turns to the question of just when the individual begins. Olson23 and Baker agree that conception is too early as the point the fetal organism begins to exist.
  17. This chapter now covers some of the same ground as "Kazez (Jean) - Life Doesn't Begin at Conception", though more briefly. She notes that Olson and “quite a few other philosophers” are convinced by "Ford (Norman) - When Did I Begin: Conception of the Human Individual in History, Philosophy and Science", that we were never a zygote24, though this view “hasn’t entered the mainstream”. Kazez rehearses the twinning argument: in the case of actual twinning25 the logic of identity means that, while both twins have the zygote as a precursor, neither can be identical to it. For some reason26, Kazez just brushes this argument aside, rather than invoking the modal27 twinning argument. She then rehearses the argument of the paper just referenced28, with the same conclusion: we either began around day 4, and so once had (future) fetal support structures as proper parts, or around day 14 when cells had differentiated sufficiently to be purely fetal.
  18. What of miscarriages? Very early ones (prior to 4 or 14 days) merely dash hopes – a child-to-be isn’t lost, as it didn’t then exist. Kazez hasn’t the space to address the ontological implications of later miscarriages (or abortions29), other than to note that she posits that the organism “kicking at 18 weeks” is the child-to-be, rather than merely a fetal organism, but that it doesn’t have the attributes of the child – ie. it is not a self or a person.



In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 1: Footnote 2: Footnote 3: Footnote 5: Footnote 7: Footnote 8: Footnote 9: Footnote 13: Footnote 17: Footnote 21: Footnote 22: Footnote 23: Footnote 26: Footnote 28: Footnote 29:

Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)

  1. Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2018
  2. Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)



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