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Why Have Children?: The Ethical Debate (Basic Bioethics) Hardcover – February 3, 2012

2.6 out of 5 stars 5 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


Christine Overall offers a careful investigation into the moral issues surrounding the choice to have a child, demonstrating in the process how wide-ranging those issues really are. She never forgets that it is women who gestate and deliver babies -- not machines, not society, and not gender-unspecified reproducers. This book is a useful read not only for people considering parenthood, but for parents who want to think harder about their choices.

(Hilde Lindemann, Professor of Philosophy, Michigan State University)

Why Have Children? asks a question of central importance to most human lives. This topic has received little philosophical attention but clearly deserves it. Overall's book, with its clear-headed analysis, consideration of a wide range of factors, and thought-provoking proposals will shape the debate for years to come.

(Amy Mullin, Professor, Department of Philosophy, University of Toronto)

Christine Overall has taken a topic that had been under-analyzed and produced a book of such exceptional thoroughness and breadth that it is hard to imagine anyone surpassing her for some time to come.

(Dena S. Davis, Cleveland-Marshall College of Law, Cleveland State University)

Christine Overall's latest book includes everything we've come to expect from her: relentless pursuit of the argument, crystalline prose, and a persistent drive to engage with the toughest and most important questions. At the heart of this conceptually sophisticated and factually rigorous book is a seemingly simple point: babies are borne by women. If you think that, by now, any philosopher writing about reproduction or population ethics would be keenly aware of this fact and its implications, you really need to read Why Have Children?

(James L. Nelson, Professor of Philosophy, Michigan State University)

Cogently argued and exhaustively researched, Overall's newest will be of particular interest to thoughtful adults engaged in this debate, as well as students and professionals in philosophy and sociology.

(Publishers Weekly)

…Overall is clearly invested in making her work accessible to a range of readers. Given the current national conversation about reproductive rights, I wish work like Overall's was not only accessible, but required reading.

(Tammy Oler Bitch)

About the Author

Christine Overall is Professor of Philosophy and University Research Chair in the Department of Philosophy at Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario. She is the author of Aging, Death, and Human Longevity: A Philosophical Inquiry and other books.

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Product Details

  • Series: Basic Bioethics
  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: The MIT Press (February 3, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0262016982
  • ISBN-13: 978-0262016988
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 2.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,727,400 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Christine Overall is a Professor of Philosophy and University Research Chair at Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada. Her main areas of research and teaching are feminist philosophy and applied ethics. The philosophical issues that are the focus of her books arise from the investigation of some of the crucial features and events of lived, embodied, human existence: gender, sex, sexuality, procreation, parenting, aging, and death.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
As a 28-year-old who recently entered a same-sex marriage, I'm struggling with what I think about my own potential for motherhood and the ways I could have children--do I want children? Do I not? In what ways could I feel ethically and emotionally *right* about parenting, if I do decide to parent? This is one of a number of books I've picked up to help me work through my thoughts--'and one I'm very happy with, because it examines a lot of the questions and feelings I've had.

The title sounds ominous, as though the book will be vastly critical of children or of people who have children. It isn't, though. Instead, Overall looks at what it means, morally, to have a child in present-day North America in clear, easy to read, and even warm language that shows a great deal of respect for children and for parents and that comes to no damning conclusions (except against deliberately-created extremely large families).

Mostly, Overall examines philosophical arguments that have been put forward both for and against having children and takes them down from the high-flown theoretical, in which no realistic human beings seem to be involved, to reality, where women must have or not have the children philosophers debate over. She looks at what these arguments, both pro- and anti-procreation, mean for women, their status, and their control over their own bodies. Many of the models fall apart when moved into the real world, where it's shown they imagine realities that could only exist if women were used as breeding machines or people were forced to be sterilized or use lifelong birth control.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
In the spirit on full disclosure, I agree with the central premise of this book: There are more compelling reasons NOT to have a child than there are to have a child.

That said, it appears as though Overall selectively ignores or willfully misinterprets counter arguments to her claims, namely those of Benatar's "better to never have been" philosophy. What's more, the author then attempts to knock down these now incomplete arguments or misinterpretations ad nauseum. This 'dance' grows tiresome and frustrating. Added to this, she has a troubling habit of making claims and assumptions about other theories and thinkers that are flat-out unsubstantiated.

It pains me to only be able to give a book about a topic so important and under-discussed 2 stars but I expected its handling to be done so with a little more objectivity and care.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The author takes a strong anti-male tone throughout the book, repeating ad nauseam the fact that women "bear the burden of pregnancy and childbearing." From this, she goes so far as to say men should be held financially responsible even for a child that a women deceives him into creating. This is just one of the many outlandish claims of the book.

I agree with Dr. Overall's overall point that the decision to have kids requires more justification than the decision not to. In fact, I think she doesn't go far enough in cautioning people about the choice to reproduce. She brings up David Benatar's work (Better Never to Have Been), but completely misunderstands (and misconstrues) most of his well thought-out arguments. For example, she claims that even bad lives are better than no lives all, which Benatar (and most lay persons) refute almost instantly.

Dr. Overall claims that having children is a serious ethical issue, but then she throws it all out the door at the end: When someone asks her if they should have kids, she responds with "Don't miss it!" What the heck? You write a whole book discussing the ethical implications of reproduction and then say "oh well, go for it."
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Though I disagree with some of Christine Overall's arguments I think the book is worth reading for anyone serious about the debate concerning the ethics of procreation.
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Format: Hardcover
Hopelessly muddled is the best you can say about this book. The premise it is based on - namely that to procreate is an 'ethical question' - is false, hence all other conclusions wrong (at least not in alignment with reality).
Having children is simply a natural given that is beyond morality because it comes automatically to us like the need to eat; it is not an aberration or misuse of our human potential, only in cases where children are born into misery or potential mothers are unfit to bring up children. In any case, nature has never asked our permission, it simply implanted this drive.
All we can do is a decision against procreation - celibacy, abortion or child infanticide. This has always happened, either to an individual desire to flee life (hermits) or due to unfortunate personal circumstances (poverty, illness etc.) or in cases of emergency due to regional events (war, famine etc.). Before the advent of mechanical birth control pregnancy simply happened, and I would argue that our own inventions cannot possibly carry any ethical obligations beyond the application of said invention (when NOT to use them, but never in favour of them, at least not in a democratic society).
The fundamental fact is and remains that you cannot view an individual human life as a 'separate event': it is a chain - life begets life. This is a fact beyond any moralizing.
From a generational standpoint it is a contract: you have been given life, you hand on this very gift. It is deeply imbedded in our instincts to secure human existence; hence it has to be considered an unqualified good (unless you view our existence as 'problematic' or even 'bad' as some loony fringes do in their pathological self-hatred).
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