Archives for category: maternity


Nils Holtug argues for the Value of Existence View which makes ‘the comparative claim that existence can be better (or worse) for a person than non-existence’ (p.370). Derek Parfit and John Broome argue against this view by stating that it is incoherent. Parfit argues that causing someone to exist cannot be better for a person because the alternative would not have been worse. Broome argues that it can never be true that it is better for a person to exist than to not exist because if she had not existed there would not have been a ‘her’ to have been worse off.

The argument set out by Parfit and Broome is called the Metaphysical Argument and it relies upon two premises. The first premise makes the judgement that it is better (or worse) to exist than never to exist and entails that it is worse (or better) to not exist than to exist. The second premise is that it cannot be worse (or better) to not exist. The first claim, Holtug states, is based upon the logic of ‘betterness’ relation, and the second premise is based upon the metaphysical principle called The No Properties of the Non-Existent Principle. This means that an individual cannot have any properties if it does not exist.

This principle can be disputed. Broome’s argument relies upon the point that if a person does not exist then it is impossible for any properties to be attached to her. Holtug contends that the logic of betterness relation that the argument relies upon assumes that in order for existence to be worse than non-existence, non-existence must be better than existence. To explore the logical properties of the betterness relation, Holtug considers the following definition:

1)      y is worse for S than x, if and only of x is better for S than y.

If (1) states that existence if better (or worse) for a person than non-existence, non existence is better (or worse) for her. The latter part seems to violate the No Properties of the Non-Existent Principle. It seems to ascribe to her the property of being worse (or better) off in a possible world in which she does not exist. According to this principle we cannot claim that existence is better for her than non-existence because this implies that non-existence is worse for her than existence. So Holtug reassesses the argument with the proposition:

P: Non-existence is worse for Jeremy than existence.

Can the truth of P be established without ascribing to Jeremy positive properties in a possible world in which he does not exist? Holtug claims that P can be established by appeal to a preference that Jeremy has in an actual world in which he exists. Existence may be preferable for Jeremy because he prefers existence to non-existence. Jeremy’s life includes a surplus of positive value, whereas his non-existence had no value. Holtug insists that this is compatible with The No Properties of the Non-Existent Principle; it is better to have a surplus of values than no value. The Metaphysical Argument is not preserved because the Value of Existence View does not rely upon someone existing for the possibility of them benefiting from existence.

  • Holtug, Nils. “On the value of coming into existence” Journal of Ethics , 5:4 , 2001 , 361-384

Commercial surrogacy is defended on five main principles. The first is its effective means of allowing childless couples to have children is considered to make it a significant good. Second, the rights for autonomous adults to procreate and form contracts are too fundamental to interfere with unless it causes a significant harm. Third the act of surrogacy is seen as altruistic and to be encouraged and finally, commercial surrogacy should be seen as no different to and consistent with already accepted practices in the reproduction and raising of children.

Anderson argues against these principles stating that commercial surrogacy makes women’s labor a commodity. By applying market norms to this labor it regards the woman’s body and her role as a mother as one of mere use. For Anderson, it is the worth and respect that should be given to a woman for her labor, with regard to gestation and childbirth, that is disregarded when commercial factors are applied. It does not regard the emotional impact of such labor and can be seen as a callous disregard of the impact that such intimate relationships as a mother and child has upon the woman and the child.  Anderson argues that the application of commercial norms requires a mother to repress her parental emotions and this is a degradation of human relationships.

The surrogacy industry follows the contracting-out-of-labour system that works in manufacturing industries. The attached problem to this method is that it must disregard the fundamental emotional requirement of parenthood, that of attachment to the child. The woman’s labor is alienated because of this factor and it is a factor that does not affect any other type of manufacturing process.  For Anderson, such a requirement to alienate oneself from one’s child is a demand that should be not be upheld as it turns a woman’s body into a major part of a commercial production process.

Anerson argues for commercial surrogacy by claiming that surrogacy is inspired by altruistic motives. He argues that if there is nothing wrong with altruistic surrogacy, there should be nothing wrong with commercial surrogacy as it applies to a woman’s labor. Anerson states that Anderson promotes a woman’s labor as noble labor and that the commercialisation of this labor is degrading. He then argues that many kinds of noble labor is done for commercial exchange and cannot see why a woman’s labor should be seen differently.

Anerson states that as long as there is no fraud or misrepresentation in a surrogacy contract a woman who wishes to render her surrogate services should be free to sign it, just as if she wishes to supply a babysitting service. Anerson also argues that although the surrogate contract might stipulate that the woman not form an attachment to the child and this can be an alienating form of labor, alienating labor is not impermissible. Citizens should be free, Anerson contends, to arrange their work lives the way they wish.

  • Anderson, Elizabeth S. “Is women’s labor a commodity?” Philosophy and Public Affairs , 19:1 , 1990 , 71 – 92
  • Arneson, Richard. “Commodification and commercial surrogacy” Philosophy and Public Affairs , 21:2 , 1992 , 132-164