A friend just shared this very cool, very funny video on Facebook.
It's all about Quinta, who has been invited to Justin's party. She does not want to go. So she says she does not want to go.
Her friends struggle to understand this. They offer her a range of excuses. Is her father visiting? Does she have roller derby? No, she just does not want to go.
They cannot cope. "What is your reason for not going to Justin's party?"
This video is funny. But it is also philosophically interesting for quite a few reasons.
First, it links in to the work I've done on infant feeding and the reason/ duty distinction. Quinta is being treated as if she has a defeasible duty to go to the party. She can't just decide not to go because she does not want to go. She needs to give some excuse or justification. (That's what it means to have a defeasible duty to do something - you have to do it unless you have a good excuse.)
Often we treat decisions about how to feed babies this way. You can't just use formula just because you want to, you have to have some good excuse. You can't breastfeed a baby for longer than six months just because you and your baby want to keep feeding, you have to show that it is nutritionally beneficial. We treat women* as if they have a defeasible duty to breastfeed initially and then as if they have a defeasible duty to stop breastfeeding. I've argued that this insistence on thinking about how babies are fed leads to all kinds of shame, guilt and judgment and stops us from supporting each other. We need to stop assuming that women* need to justify their decisions about how they feed their babies.
Of course, how we feed our babies matters a lot more than whether we got to a friend's party, but it is also much more person. Women shouldn't need to justify a decision not to feed or to keep feeding to others. Of course, there are a lot of people who do have "excuses". 8/10 women in the UK stop breastfeeding before they wanted to. We need to improve breastfeeding support - and attitudes towards breastfeeding - so more women are able to feed the way they want to. But the background assumption that you need an excuse to stop can get in the way of getting women who don't want to stop help. Because women feel like they have to justify their decisions, attempts to find out if they need more support end up feeling like judgment. To read more about this, see my page on infant feeding and philosophy.
Second, it is an amazing illustration of the argument made in this paper by David Velleman, arguing that we should not recognise a right to die, because sometimes having a choice can put you in a worse position. Sometimes if you have a choice to do something, you end up having to justify choosing not to do it. You don't get to just do it for no reason anymore. Velleman worries that if we recognise a right to die, people will end up needing to justify their decision to carry on living. They will need to justify their continued existence. This can be deeply harmful. Velleman actually uses the example of an invitation to a dinner party to illustrate his point. I still think that we should recognise the right to die, but Velleman's argument certainly adds a really interesting dimension to the debate. It shows we need to make sure that choosing to die doesn't become a default so that people have to justify their choice not to die.
*I say 'women' and talk about 'breastfeeding' because this is very much a gendered issue. However, obviously not everyone involved in deciding how babies are fed identifies as a woman.