Consider a couple planning to have children. There are many reasons one could offer
these potential parents for reconsidering bringing new people into existence. One could for
instance say to them that they currently lack the finances, or maturity, to adequately take care of
any children they produce. If it were almost certain that this couple would pass on a terrible
genetic disease to their offspring, one could see it as one’s duty to warn them against
reproduction. One could even draw attention to the plight of orphans, and suggest to these (and
other) potential parents that a more pressing responsibility lies not in planning to give homes to
persons not yet in existence, but in attempting to give homes to those already in existence.
However, when deciding whether or not to create children, rarely does one consider, over and above
the preceding considerations, whether there might be some fundamental wrongness to the very act of
procreation. In other words, rarely does one consider the possibility that creating people might,
all things considered, never be permissible.
At its extreme, “anti-natalism” implies the view that coming into existence is always a harm that
outweighs any of its benefits. This position is defended by David Benatar (Benatar 1997, 2006).
However, one need not believe that coming into existence is always an overall harm in order to
favour an anti-natal perspective; one need only believe that it is morally problematic to inflict
serious, preventable harms upon others without their consent. Such a consent-based anti-natal
position can be derived from the argument put forth by Seana Shiffrin (1999). To be clear,
according to either of
these versions of anti-natalism, creating a new person is considered an impermissible
harm. When I refer to “anti-natalism” in this dissertation, I will be referring to this
negative judgement regarding procreation.
Anti-natalism has a rich philosophical heritage, with its roots stretching back to antiquity. For
instance, Ecclesiastes (1:1-18) of the Hebrew Bible bemoans the apparent meaninglessness and
futility of existence—a state of affairs with which any number of generations of humans must cope.
Not until very recently, however, has the anti-natal position been given due consideration by
Schopenhauer (1851), for instance, is perhaps best known for advocating a pessimistic philosophy
that is, broadly speaking, anti-natal in its implications. The key figure in
this field, however, is Benatar, who defends an unequivocally anti-natal position.