Standard Article


  1. Amy Mullin

Published Online: 1 FEB 2013

DOI: 10.1002/9781444367072.wbiee223

The International Encyclopedia of Ethics

How to Cite

Mullin, A. 2013. Motherhood. The International Encyclopedia of Ethics. .

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 1 FEB 2013


Prior to the twentieth century, philosophers rarely attended to issues relating to motherhood. Plato and Nietzsche made repeated references to pregnancy throughout their work, but both also asserted the considerable superiority of metaphorical pregnancy (in which philosophers give birth to ideas) over the merely physical pregnancy associated with women. Plato briefly discussed physical pregnancy when explaining how to improve the quality of one's progeny, but in doing so he lamented the need even to mention the “distasteful topic of the possession of women and procreation of children” (1961: 502e). While there was some philosophical interest in questions about parental rights and filial obligations (see Parents' Right and Responsibilities), particularly in the early modern period, fathers' rights were emphasized. Neither pregnancy nor mothering was considered of philosophical significance.


  • bioethics;
  • children;
  • equality;
  • ethics;
  • family;
  • feminism;
  • feminist philosophy