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‘Duped Fathers’, ‘Cuckoo Children’, and the Problem of Basing Fatherhood on Biology: A Philosophical Analysis

Chapter in book
Authors Daniela Cutas
Anna Smajdor
Published in Assistierte Reproduktion mit Hilfe Dritter / Beier K., Brügge C., Thorn P., Wiesemann C. (eds)
Pages 171-182
ISBN 978-3-662-60297-3
Publisher Springer
Place of publication Berlin, Heidelberg
Publication year 2020
Published at Department of Philosophy, Linguistics and Theory of Science
Pages 171-182
Language en
Keywords cuckoo children, false fathers, fatherhood, reproductive ethics
Subject categories Philosophy, Ethics, Medical Ethics


Who is a child’s father? Is it the man who raised her, or the one whose genes she carries—or both? In this chapter, we look at the view that men who have raised children they falsely believed to be ‘their own’ have been victims of a form of fraud or are ‘false fathers’. We consider the question of who has been harmed in such cases, and in what the harm consists. We use conceptual analysis, a philosophical method of investigating the use of a concept and the logical implications of its various interpretations. We devise and discuss a number of possible scenarios in which a couple (arguably) become the parents of a child. We use these scenarios to illustrate the tenuousness of the claim that we can simply rely on biology to clarify parent-child relationships. We also discuss some of the underpinnings and implications of the language in which the debate on ‘paternity fraud’ has been framed: ‘duped’ or ‘false’ fathers and ‘cuckoo children’.

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