Famine, Affluence, and Procreation: Peter Singer and Anti-Natalism Lite

Paper by David Benatar, published on March 5, 2020 in Ethical Theory and Moral Practice

Peter Singer has argued that the affluent have very extensive duties to the world’s poor. His argument has some important implications for procreation, most of which have not yet been acknowledged. These implications are explicated in this paper. First, the rich should desist from procreation and instead divert to the poor those resources that would have been used to rear the children that would otherwise have been produced. Second, the poor (and possibly also the rich) should desist from procreation because doing so can prevent the very bad things that would otherwise have befallen the children they would have brought into existence. Third, the rich (and others) sometimes have a duty to prevent the poor from procreating. Fourth, the rich sometimes have a right to prevent the poor from reproducing. Although these implications may not amount to a categorical prohibition on all procreation, they do significantly restrict the permissibility of procreation. They are, in that sense, anti-natalist.

The Misanthropic Argument for Anti-natalism

Paper by David Benatar, published on September 1, 2015 in Oxford University Press

This chapter advances a misanthropic moral argument for anti-natalism. According to this argument, we have a presumptive duty to desist from bringing into existence new members of species that cause vast amounts of harm. Extensive evidence is provided to show that human nature has a dark side that leads humans to cause vast amounts of pain, suffering, and death to other humans and to non-human animals. Some of this harm is mediated by destruction of the environment. The resultant presumptive duty we have not to create new humans is very rarely if ever defeated. Not all misanthropy is about humans’ moral failings. The chapter is followed by an appendix, in which aesthetic considerations against procreating are advanced.

Debating Procreation: Is It Wrong to Reproduce?

Book by David Benatar & David Wasserman, published on May 21, 2015 in Oxford University Press

In this book, two sides of the debate on the ethics of procreation are presented. One argues for the anti-natalist view that procreation is never morally permissible. In support of that conclusion he advances a number of arguments. These include: an argument based on an axiological asymmetry between harm and benefit; an argument based on the poor quality of all human life and the risk of serious harm; and a misanthropic argument based on the harm that humans do. The second half of the book identifies a variety of moderate pro-natalist positions, which all see procreation as sometimes permissible but never required. After criticizing the leading anti-natalist arguments, focusing on the first and second arguments presented in the first half of the book, the second half considers moderate pro-natalist views that vary in permissiveness. It argues that constraints on procreation are best understood in terms of the role morality of prospective parents; reviews different views of that role morality; and argues for one that imposes only limited constrains based on the well-being of the future child. The second half of the book then contends that the expected good of a future child and of the parent-child relationship can provide a strong justification for procreation in the face of expected adversities without giving individuals any moral reason to procreate.

Still Better Never to Have Been: A Reply to (More of) My Critics

Paper by David Benatar, published on October 5, 2012 in The Journal of Ethics

In Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming into Existence, I argued that coming into existence is always a harm and that procreation is wrong. In this paper, I respond to those of my critics to whom I have not previously responded. More specifically, I engage the objections of Tim Bayne, Ben Bradley, Campbell Brown, David DeGrazia, Elizabeth Harman, Chris Kaposy, Joseph Packer and Saul Smilansky.

Every Conceivable Harm: A Further Defence of Anti-Natalism

Paper by David Benatar, published on January 1, 2012 in South African Journal of Philosophy

Many people are resistant to the conclusions for which I argued in Better Never to Have Been . I have previously responded to most of the published criticisms of my arguments. Here I respond to a new batch of critics (and to some fellow anti-natalists) who gathered for a conference at the University of Johannesburg and whose papers are published in this special issue of the South African Journal of Philosophy . I am also taking the opportunity to respond to two other critics whose articles have previously been published in South African philosophy journals. Clearly I cannot respond to all the arguments in each of these papers and thus I shall focus on what I take to be some of the central issues in each. None of the arguments to which I shall respond have caused me to revise my views. However, I am pleased to have the opportunity to show why this is the case

Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming into Existence

Book by David Benatar, published on October 12, 2006

This book argues for a number of related, highly provocative views: (i) coming into existence is always a serious harm; (ii) procreation is always wrong; (iii) it is wrong not to abort foetuses at the earlier stages of gestation; and (iv) it would be better if, as a result of there being no new people, humanity became extinct. Although these conclusions are antagonistic to common and deeply held intuitions, the book argues that these intuitions are unreliable and thus cannot be used to refute it's grim-sounding conclusions.