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Reasons, Rationalities, and Procreative Beneficence: Need Häyry Stand Politely By While Savulescu and Herissone-Kelly Disagree?

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  25 March 2011


The claim that the answers we give to many of the central questions in genethics will depend crucially upon the particular rationality we adopt in addressing them is central to Matti Häyry’s thorough and admirably fair-minded book, Rationality and the Genetic Challenge. That claim implies, of course, that there exists a plurality of rationalities, or discrete styles of reasoning, that can be deployed when considering concrete moral problems. This, indeed, is Häyry’s position. Although he believes that there are certain features definitive of any type of thinking that can accurately be labeled rational, he maintains that nothing about that set of features compels us to conclude that there is a single rationality. What is more, and significantly for the way in which Häyry’s book develops, there is no Archimedean point from which we are licensed to pronounce one flavor of rational deliberation to be intrinsically superior to any other or to be justified to the exclusion of all others. To this belief that “there are many divergent rationalities, all of which can be simultaneously valid,” we can perhaps give the name “the Doctrine of the Plurality of Rationalities” or, for short, “DPR.”

Special Section: Methodology in Philosophical Bioethics
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2011

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1. Häyry, M. Rationality and the Genetic Challenge: Making People Better? Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press; 2010:43–6.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

2. See note 1, Häyry 2010:47.

3. See note 1, Häyry 2010:47.

4. See note 1, Häyry 2010:50.

5. Dancy, J. Moral Reasons. Oxford: Blackwell; 1993.Google Scholar

6. Such arguments can be found in Herissone-Kelly, P. Procreative beneficence and the prospective parent. Journal of Medical Ethics 2006;32:166–9CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed; Herissone-Kelly, P. Two varieties of “better-for” judgements. In: Roberts, MA, Wasserman, DT, eds. Harming Future Persons: Ethics, Genetics and the Non-Identity Problem. Dordrecht: Springer; 2009:249–63.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

7. Savulescu, J. Procreative beneficence: Why we should select the best children. Bioethics 2001;15:415.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed

8. For an argument that this is not possible, see Parker, M. The best possible child. Journal of Medical Ethics 2007;33:279–83.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed

9. Glover, J. Choosing Children: The Ethical Dilemmas of Genetic Intervention. Oxford: Oxford University Press; 2006:42–3.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

10. However, for an opposing view, see Bennett, R. The fallacy of the principle of procreative beneficence. Bioethics 2009;23:265–73.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed

11. See, for example, Parfit, D. Reasons and Persons. Oxford: Clarendon Press; 1984:357–61Google Scholar; also, see note 7, Savulescu 2001:417–8.

12. See note 7, Savulescu 2001:416.

13. See note 7, Savulescu 2001:415. If taken at face value, this claim may seem rather unusual, and we may take ourselves to be able readily to think of counterexamples. For instance, if I am faced with a choice between chocolate ice cream and vanilla ice cream, I have most reason to choose chocolate (because I prefer it). But it would be peculiar to assert that I have a moral responsibility to choose chocolate ice cream over vanilla. However, I do not have space to submit Savulescu’s claim to adequate interpretation and critical scrutiny, and, at any rate, nothing much hangs on the claim’s being allowed to pass here.

14. See note 6, Herissone-Kelly 2006.

15. See note 1, Häyry 2010:70.

16. See note 7, Savulescu 2001:424.

17. See note 7, Savulescu 2001:425.

18. See note 6, Herissone-Kelly 2006:168.

19. See note 5, Dancy 1993:56.

20. See note 5, Dancy 1993:67.