Must Wills and Kate Breed?

I was all agog about the dress yesterday, and then I made the mistake of reading Practical Ethics News. It turns out the royal wedding raises serious philosophical questions. Worst of all, they are questions I've been reading and obsessing about lately. Groan.

Charles Foster says, "Most people have no obligation to reproduce." Wills and Kate, though, are a special case. Millions of pounds were spent on the wedding, and now they owe the British people a couple of little heirs to the throne.
The money has been spent primarily to ensure dynastic continuity. By accepting our money for their Bollinger and bobbies, William and Kate are impliedly accepting our commission to use their best endeavours to breed. They have taken the People’s Shilling, and have become, first and foremost, breeding animals. Their gametes are held in trust for the nation, and they should guard them.  Kate must marinate her eggs in the finest organic nutrients that Fortnums has to offer: William must never wear tight underpants, and always wear a box when he plays cricket.
Forgive me if I don't understand the phrase "Bollinger and bobbies" and don't know what Fortnums are, but I really would have thought the People payed for a wedding and got a very fine wedding.  They can hope for little heirs, but it's understood that babies are not for sale.  So William and Kate do not owe the British people anything.

Then again, maybe they have the same obligation to reproduce that most people do, and is that really no obligation at all?  Is there not even the slightest bit of a prima facie obligation to reproduce, to be weighed against all the other obligations that press upon us?  From many philosophical perspectives, it seems like there must be such an obligation.  Kant says we ought to make use of our talents--and it's quite a talent to be able to create new human lives, especially if you believe what he says about the gloriousness of humanity.  Utilitarians say we ought to maximize happiness, and most new lives are more happy than unhappy.

I would think the presumption is that there is a duty (however prima facie) to reproduce, only to be defeated by fancy footwork.  The standard fancy footwork is to say that there can't be a prima facie obligation to reproduce because parents don't benefit their children by creating them--the children wouldn't be any worse off unconceived, and are no better off conceived.   Coming into the world is nothing at all like going from poor to rich, or headachy to headacheless.

Maybe so, though I'm puzzled how birth can fail to benefit, if death does harm, but never mind.   Kant's dictum about exercising your talents has nothing to do with a duty to benefit (i.e. make x better off).  Utilitarians also aren't (necessarily) committed to the idea that every genuine chunk of good benefits, in a "poor to rich" sense.  Good is just...good.  And human lives are (usually) good.

It's certainly not inherently appealing to assert baby-making duties--just the opposite.  It offends against feminist and liberal sensibilities.  But maybe, as we move through the maze of People Making Puzzles (e.g. the puzzle in David Benatar book Better Never to Have Been), there's no way out without saying so. 

So maybe the royal couple ought to make a royal baby -- not because they owe it to The People, but because a royal baby is a good thing.  But this (I stress!) is just a prima facie ought. It's perfectly possible they have better things to do, other talents to cultivate.


s. wallerstein said...

People should reproduce only if they are capable of being good parents (and not everyone is capable of parenting well, some for reasons of character, some because of the circumstances), and you can only be a good parent if you are willing to be one (I can't see how anyone can be a good parent if they don't have the will to do so: forced labor can build pyramids, but it cannot parent), and so finally, people should only reproduce if they are willing to.

That is, if William and Kate don't want kids, they have no duty to produce them.

Peter said...

Bollinger = expensive champagne
Bobbies = friendly English slang for police officers
Fortnums = Fortnum & Mason, an expensive department store

bensix said...

One wonders how the nation would react if they adopted!

Aeolus said...

We're talking about the future King and Queen of Canada here, so I have a personal stake in this matter. As Charles Foster points out, this case is atypical: "If you contract to be a brood mare, you sign away your right to enjoy the fruits of voluntary infertility." Kate knew what she was getting into, and voluntarily signed up. William is the one who didn't sign up, but he's had the option of abdicating his position as future monarch in order to live a somewhat more normal life (as his great-granduncle did). He could still back out -- although, morally speaking, it's a bit late for that. This is a constitutional monarchy: it's the people who tell the royals what to do, not vice versa. The people want royal babies and royal babies must be produced.