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The University of Southampton
Philosophy Part of Humanities

Taking Pregnancy Seriously in Metaphysics, Ethics and Epistemology, Workshop II Event

13 April 2015
Room 65/1097 University of Southampton Avenue Campus Highfield Road Southampton Hampshire SO17 1BJ

For more information regarding this event, please email Elselijn Kingma and Fiona Woollard at and .

Event details

This workshop is one of a series of four in the project Taking Pregnancy Seriously in Metaphysics, funded by the Southampton Ethics Centre and the University of Southampton 'Adventures in Research' Scheme.

About the Workshop

In applied ethics, much has been written in relation to pregnancy – based either on a conception of pregnancy as the ‘hosting of a stranger’, or focusing on the rights of the foetus whilst disregarding that foetus’s existence as intertwined with that of its mother. Neither of these two approaches takes the unique physical, relation and transformative state of pregnancy seriously. Pregnancy also raises epistemological issues. Does the radically transformative character of pregnancy mean that those who have never been pregnant are excluded from certain kinds of knowledge about pregnancy and its consequences? And are pregnant women taken seriously now as knowers and testifiers? These epistemological issues have important implications for the appropriate way to approach the ethical debate.

This workshop is one of a series of four in the project 'Taking Pregnancy Seriously in Metaphysics, Ethics and Epistemology' funded by the Southampton Ethics Centre and the University of Southampton ‘Adventures in Research’ Scheme. It will be followed by two workshops on Taking Pregnancy Seriously in Metaphysics and was preceded by a workshop on Taking Pregnancy Seriously in Ethics and Epistemology on the 18th of June 2014.

Speakers and Abstracts

Rebecca Kukla (Georgetown)

Equipoise, Uncertainty, and Inductive Risk in Research Involving Pregnant Women

I examine how equipoise and uncertainty ought to be managed in ethical and scientifically valid clinical trials involving pregnant women. Drawing on recent work in philosophy of science, I argue that it is built into the internal nature of practical reason that equipoise and uncertainty are always relative to a set of values and interests. Furthermore, I claim, interventions during pregnancy are likely to engage sets of values and interests that are deeply held, particularly prone to intense ideological and cultural pressures, and highly variable. Pregnant women have interests and agency of their own, and are caretakers of their fetuses’ well-being. As such, they have an especially important role in determining what counts as legitimate equipoise for the purposes of research in which they may participate. I conclude that for both ethical and epistemological reasons, pregnant women should be given the epistemic tools to make informed, value-relative determinations of scientific uncertainty, and then included in the initial process of determining research questions and designing trials.

Sally Fischer (Warren - Wilson)

A Phenomenology of Early Motherhood: The practical implications of taking the '4th trimester' seriously .

I argue that we need to articulate and take seriously more careful phenomenological philosophies of types of “otherly-abled” bodies, in order to provide a better foundation for more equitable workplace laws and healthier families. I offer a phenomenology of the first few months of motherhood (which some call the “fourth trimester”) as a foundation towards a call for real political policy changes in the workplace where current policies are harmful to families, particularly to mothers and infants. I begin with a Merleau-Pontyan epistemology that, centered round the lived body, provides the basis for moral and political alternatives to those policies derived from contractarian philosophies founded upon supposedly “universal” principles and models of embodiment, but are in reality loaded with social presuppositions about the bodysubject of the desired employee. Norms and policies organizing the workplace are usually predicated ontologically on the Cartesian subject, and politically on the supposedly “free and independent” non-disabled male body that is the model for the contract theorists, as described, for example in Locke’s Second Treatise. If we intend to genuinely open the public realm to bodysubjects who do not fit this norm, however, then we will have to take seriously more adequate phenomenologies of otherly-abled bodysubjects, such as mothers of infants. Re-articulating the lived experience of those first few months of motherhood can point to important values that hyper-rational philosophies and our cultural norms of capitalism and the workplace overlook, but which are necessary for healthy development of children and for equitable opportunities for women’s careers.

Lindsey Porter (Sheffield)

Gestation and Parental Rights: Why is Good Enough, Good Enough?

In this talk I will explore the question of whether gestation generates parental rights. I consider Gheaus’s (2012) claim that the labour and bonding of gestation give one the right to parent one’s biological child. I argue that, while Gheaus’s gestational account of parental rights is the most successful of such accounts in the literature, it is ultimately unsuccessful, because the concept ‘maternal-fetal bonding’ does not stand up to scrutiny.

Gheaus argues that the labour expenditure involved in gestation generates parental rights, but that a standard labour account of parental rights can not generate non-proprietary parental rights over one’s own birth child, since the labour would merely afford one a right to enjoy the goods of parenthood, and not a right to parent any particular child. Gheaus argues that not only do gestational mothers expend labour in the course of the pregnancy, they also develop emotional ties to the fetus. They ‘bond’ with it. This, Gheaus argues, coupled with labour, gives the birth mother parental rights over her birth child.

I will argue—from the empirical evidence on so-called ‘Maternal-Fetal Attachment’—that because gestational bonding is not an appropriately morally salient phenomenon, Gheaus’s account does not work unless it relies on a proprietary claim, and thus we ought to reject the account. Further, the fact that it only confers parental rights on fathers by proxy also gives us reason to reject the account.

I will then offer a brief sketch of a more promising positive account of parental rights. On this account, parental rights are defeasible, several and most importantly, parasitic on parental obligation. I will argue that, since a causal account of parental obligations is the most promising account we can give of parental obligations, this means that gestation does generate parental rights, but defeasibly and non-uniquely so.

Fiona Woollard (Southampton)

Motherhood and the Reason/ Duty Distinction

I argue that a recurring mistake infuences discussion of the behaviour of pregnant women and mothers. The mistake in question is the assumption that a mother (where some pregnant women count as mothers for this purpose) who fails to do something that might benefit her child, either by bestowing some good or by reducing some risk of harm, must be able to provide over-riding countervailing considerations to justify her decision. It is assumed that in the absence of such a justification, the mother is liable for moral criticism. We see this assumption operating in academic literature, medical advice given to mothers, mainstream media and social media. I suggest that this assumption has highly pernicious effects on mothers and on gender equality, contributing to a culture of pervasive guilt and continuous self-sacrifice that both undermines women’s emotional wellbeing and discourages pursuit of career or other non-family based goals.


Order of Speakers may be subject to change

65/1097 Avenue Campus

9:30 am - registration and coffee.

10.00-10.15 - Introductory remarks

10.15-11:30 - ‘Gestation and Parental Rights: Why is Good Enough, Good Enough?’ - Lindsey Porter (Sheffield)

11:30-11:45 - short break

11:45 - 1.00 - ‘Motherhood and the Reason/Duty Distinction’ - Fiona Woollard (Southampton):

1.00- 2.15 - Lunch

2.15 -3.30 - ‘Equipoise, Uncertainty, and Inductive Risk in Research Involving Pregnant Women’ - Rebecca Kukla (Georgetown)

3.30 - 3.50 - Tea Break

3.50 – 5.05 - ‘A Phenomenology of Early Motherhood: The practical implications of taking the “4th trimester” seriously’ - Sally Fischer (Warren-Wilson)

5.05 - 5.30 - Round-up

5:30 – Drinks

7.15 - Dinner


Elselijn Kingma

Fiona Woollard

Further Information


Registration is free for delegates and will include tea/coffee/refreshments, but delegates must provide/ pay for their own meals and accommodation.

Lunch: We will arrange for a cold buffet lunch at the workshop venue. If you would like to sign up for this lunch (cost: GBP 8.50), then click the relevant option when registering and pay in advance. We will already be catering for vegetarians but please e-mail the organisers if there are any other dietary requirements. Alternatively there is the option to buy lunch at the small cafeteria on campus, or you can bring your own lunch.

Dinner: we will go out to dinner at a local restaurant after the workshop. We will contact you nearer to the time with the details, and give you the chance to sign up for this.

Please register no later than the 1st of April via the online store .


If you would like to attend but childcare duties render your attendance difficult, please contact the organisers (as far in advance as possible).


Participants at the conference booking through Southampton University are eligible for the following discounted rates at local hotels:

£66.50 at Elizabeth House Hotel ( );

£65 at Highfield House (

(prices for single room, bed and breakfast). To take advantage of these rates, email Chloe Yalcin ( ), mentioning this workshop, giving your name, required dates of stay, and dietary requirements. She will book a room for you at the discounted rate.

For alternative accommodation see


The Workshop will be held at our Avenue Campus. For directions to the Avenue Campus and travel advice see

For international travel advice see

If you come by car and would like a parking permit, please contact the organisers

About the Project

Although philosophers have explored issues related to pregnancy – most obviously abortion and the value and metaphysics of coming into existence – little philosophical attention has been paid to pregnancy itself. That is a remarkable omission because pregnancy raises important philosophical problems in metaphysics, ethics and epistemology: should the foetus be regarded as part of or ‘merely surrounded by’ the mother? If persons can be parts of other persons, what does this imply for bodily ownership and personal and numerical identity? What special rights and duties does the unique status of pregnancy bestow? Does the radically transformative character of pregnancy mean that those who have never been pregnant are excluded from certain kinds of knowledge about pregnancy and its consequences?

This Research Project , funded by a University of Southampton “Adventures in Research” Grant, and with additional support from the Southampton Ethics Centre, is organising four workshops that explore some of these questions.

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