Do You Act As You Argue? Or Do You Argue for How You Act? (Guest Post by Rivka Weinberg)

Do You Act As You Argue? Or Do You Argue for How You Act? (Guest Post by Rivka Weinberg)

“Everybody is somebody’s fault.” 

That’s the first line of the introduction to The Risk of A Lifetimethe new book by Rivka Weinberg (Scripps), on “how, when, and why procreation may be permissible.” Those who’ve had the opportunity to talk with Professor Weinberg will recognize in the book her frank style, sardonic wit, and critical eye, which she now, in the following guest post*, turns on herself—and the rest of us. She’s curious how closely philosophers, particularly philosophers whose views have real life applications, act in accordance with what they argue for on paper, and wonders how often we end up arguing for particular conclusions mainly because we want them to be true.

(Note: no, we’re not related.)

Do You Act As You Argue? (Or Do You Argue for How You Act?)
by Rivka Weinberg

During my work on procreative ethics, I thought I was waiting to have children until I figured out whether it was morally permissible, but now I wonder whether I was arguing for (limited) procreative permissibility so that I could find a rationale to do what I may not have even fully realized I wanted to do all along.

Consciously, at least, I began my research thinking procreation was wrong and, therefore, I would never have children. But I could not find arguments to support the extreme anti-natalist view and so, in my work, from my dissertation to my papers to my recent book, I argue for limited procreative permissibility.  I did have children—but did I do so because I found procreation permissible or did I find procreation permissible because I was going to have children?

Even worse, I had two children. In my book, The Risk of A Lifetime, I argue that adult interests in engaging in the parent-child relationship as a parent is what sometimes permits us to impose life’s risks on future people. But, since we become parents with our first child, our interest weakens thereafter since we have already fulfilled it, making it harder and harder to justify each subsequent child. I cannot even pretend to myself that I applied my arguments to my decision to have a second child. 

As an undergraduate, I wrote a paper on animal rights and then stopped eating meat. But I undertook the research because something about eating meat was grossing me out. I suspect that being grossed out is not entirely intellectual. Do my actions conform to my arguments or do my arguments conform to my actions? I worry about my moral integrity. No, in the spirit of integrity, let’s be honest: I don’t worry, I despair.

What about you? Do you practice what you preach or preach what you practice?

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