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Kant and the Morality of Procreation

People have been in conflict with one another over the epicenter definitions of moral values since time immemorial. The reason for this is that there exists a schism between schools of thought in regards to whether or not morality is subjective or objective. Can what is moral change or is moral behavior fixed in time? In some instances, it is fixed: stealing is immoral under virtually all circumstances. In other instances, there is much debate as evidenced in the question of whether or not individuals have a moral obligation to procreate.

There are a number of ways one can seek to answer the question of whether or not procreation is a moral duty of humanity. The answer can be found from within or it can be found (or at least pondered) by examining other interpretations of what is moral. Through examining the writings of Immanuel Kant in relation to the question of moral authority in regards to procreation, a new perspective in the subject matter can come into light. First, one must ask the important question: what is the moral impetus that propels the need for procreation?

There are a number of ideologies that derive from conventional wisdom and, in some cases, religious faith that provide a moral basis for procreation. The first impetus is that procreation exists to ensure the survival of the human species. After all, if humans do not contribute to replicating their masses, then they are contributing to the decline in the number of humans on the planet. The logic employed in this argument would attest to the fact that this is, in essence, a personal decision to ‘thin the heard’ of the human population by reducing the sheer numbers of humans.

In a sense, this is human beings taking over the actions and end results of disease and pestilence! Kant and the Morality of Procreation Page 2 A second concept here revolves around the notion that procreation must always be in play in sexual activity because the concept of recreational sex is an immoral pursuit. When procreation is removed from the equation, then sex becomes a morally degenerative action. If sex is not used for procreation (within the confines of marriage, of course) then it ceases to serve a valuable, societal function.

The point that both these arguments seem to miss in the fact that, under certain circumstances, procreation can be immoral in and of itself because of the effects it may have on society and the world in general. For example, procreation leads to a rise in the population. In certain parts of the world, procreation leads to overcrowding. In some cases, there is a limited food supply and the expansion of the ‘herd’ greatly diminishes the food supply even further.

(It has been suggested the true origin of the bible’s notion that sex equates with immorality derives from the negative impact that it had on the limited food supply nomadic people were required to contend with) As such, an overblown population that is faced with starvation and disease deriving from said population explosion contributes to the decline of the human species and does not propagate it. For Kant, there is the notion that anything of merit or value derives from humanity.

Since it would not be out of the question to make the claim that morality is something of a merit based value, then one could put forth the argument that morality derives from human intention. However, the power of the value internally derives from us and does not derive from God, nature or any other method of value modification. (Kant II) Kant and the Morality of Procreation Page 3 How does this relate and tie into the notion of the morality of procreation? It ties in when we realize that the moral authority that puts forth the notion that it is moral to procreate is a human based moral authority.

This is a critical notion to understand because no one would ever ascertain the idea that a human being is infallible. As such, the notion that procreation is a moral duty and obligation is a notion that derives from the human order and is subject to the foibles that the human mind can put forth. In other words, because human beings can be flawed in though and action, concepts that derive from human origin may be flawed as well. So, to put forth the notion that procreation is moral is an absolute, irrefutable fact is simply adherence to blind faith and pseudo-logical assumptions.

To a significant extent, Kant believed that reason was the dominant, motivating factor behind most people’s decisions on subjects. In fact, Kant believed that reason was the underlying control of moral reasoning and laws and that only rational human beings can make moral decisions and choices. (Hachee) That is, ethics and morality derive from empirics to such a degree that morality can never go beyond rational thought. A nation can not make a moral point by detonating a nuclear bomb in the center of its own capital as a means of making an anti-weapons statement.

Such an action is thoroughly beyond rational and is immoral on a multitude of levels. To a great extent, many people have formed their opinions on procreation based upon tradition. Often, these traditions have survived for thousands of years, but have not changed with the times. The dominant logic of tradition originates with issues and concepts that were contemporary at the time of the origination of the actions that would Kant and the Morality of Procreation Page 4 later become static, unchanging tradition.

In order to maintain tradition in a changing world that has proven the scientific basis for the tradition irrelevant, a moral design is then placed on the tradition. Without the illusion of this moral design that usually draws from a higher power, the tradition itself would collapse. Hence, the notion that procreation is moral derives from many centuries of conditioning and repetitive thought. The reality is that procreation can be moral or immoral in terms of its positive or negative effect on humanity relative to societal concerns that can change with time or are based on geographic and environmental realities.

That is, it would not make good moral sense to expand a birth rate in a part of the world where famine and overpopulation is rampant. At other times in history (such as the ‘baby boom’ of the post-World War Two era) and expanding birthrate was not only welcome, but it turned out to develop a highly positive reshaping of the American culture. It would be difficult, however, for a philosopher such as can’t to believe in the notion that a moral obligation based on “absolutes” of moral authority lacking clear rational and reason.

If the moral belief in procreation was based on an irrational nature of expanding the population without any taking into consideration any of the consequences that result from unbridled procreation, then Kant would surely not agree with such a departure from logic and practical applications.


Burnham, Douglas. (2006) “Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) Theory of Aesthetics and Teleology (The Critique of Judgment)” Retrieved 22 May 2007 From http://www. iep. utm. edu/k/kantaest. htm

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