Possible Preferences and the Harm of Existence

Paper by Marc Larock, published on November 13, 2008 in University of St. Andrews

In his dissertation Larock presents Deprivationalism, which he bases on the common intuition that it is good for a person to acquire a new satisfied preference.

From that it follows that acquiring further additional satisfied preference is always a good thing, because we “have an interest in experiencing as much pleasure and as little pain as possible” (Singer 131) and thus the best state for any preferer would be to “acquire the value of a non-terminating succession of extra satisfied preferences” as Larock calls it.

Basically that means an infinite chain of new and satisfied preferences would be “in every rational preferrer’s interests”.

However according to Larock there are two ways to be harmed: By having an existing preference frustrated or by being deprived of a new satisfied preference.

Since certain eventual death prevents all of us from acquiring said infinite chain of satisfied preferences which would be best for us, Larock concludes that death represents an infinite harm and thus that “existence is worse for all actual persons than non-existence”.

Is human existence worth its consequent harm?

Paper by Len Doyal, published on March 21, 2007 in Journal of Medical Ethics

Benatar argues that it is better never to have been born because of the harms always associated with human existence. Non-existence entails no harm, along with no experience of the absence of any benefits that existence might offer. Therefore, he maintains that procreation is morally irresponsible, along with the use of reproductive technology to have children. Women should seek termination if they become pregnant and it would be better for potential future generations if humans become extinct as soon as humanely possible. These views are challenged by the argument that while decisions not to procreate may be rational on the grounds of the harm that might occur, it may equally rational to gamble under certain circumstances that future children would be better-off experiencing the harms and benefits of life rather than never having the opportunity of experiencing anything. To the degree that Benatar’s arguments preclude the potential rationality of any such gamble, their moral relevance to concrete issues concerning human reproduction is weakened. However, he is right to emphasise the importance of foreseen harm when decisions are made to attempt to have children.

The rational cure for prereproductive stress syndrome revisited

Paper by Matti Häyry, published on September 30, 2005 in Journal of Medical Ethics

If it is irrational to allow the worst outcome of our actions, and if it is immoral to cause suffering, then it is irrational and immoral to have children. I recently published in this journal a paper, entitled A rational cure for prereproductive stress syndrome, and was happy to see that three colleagues—Rebecca Bennett, Søren Holm, and Sahin Aksoy—had taken the time to critically examine it. This gave me an opportunity to briefly revisit the topic, and to clarify some of the arguments I put forward.

A Rational Cure for Prereproductive Stress Syndrome

Paper by Matti Häyry, published on August 2, 2004 in Journal of Medical Ethics

Since human reproduction is arguably both irrational and immoral, those who seek help before conceiving could be advised it is all right not to have children.

Wrongful Life, Procreative Responsibility, and the Significance of Harm

Paper by Seana Shiffrin, published on June 1, 1999 in Legal Theory

A wrongful life suit is an unusual civil suit brought by a child (typically a congenitally disabled child)1 who seeks damages for burdens he suffers that result from his creation. Typically, the child charges that he has been born into an unwanted or miserable life.2 These suits offer the prospect of financial relief for some disabled or neglected children and have some theoretical advantages over alternative causes of action.3 But they have had only mixed, mostly negative, success.4 They have, however, spurred considerable philosophical interest.5 This attention, though, has been primarily focused on issues about the coherence of complaining about one’s existence or its essential conditions. These suits also raise important, but less well-probed, philosophical questions about the morality of procreation and, more generally, about the moral significance of imposed, but not consented to, conditions that deliver both significant harms and benefits.

A Pareto Principle for Possible People

Paper by Christoph Fehige, published on January 1, 1998 in Preferences

How good or bad is a world? Let us assume, as so often, that this is a matter solely of the preferences it contains and of their frustration and satisfaction. One question we shall then have to face is how the existence of a preference and its satisfaction compares to the non-existence of this preference: is it better, or worse, or just as good, or sometimes one and sometimes the other? Section 1 will argue at length that, ceteris paribus, the two options - satisfied preference and no preference - are equally good, a doctrine we can call antifrustrationism. This settled, sections 2 to 7 will begin to translate antifrustrationism into moral principles, and to investigate the consequences.

The production of children as a problem of utilitarian ethics

Paper by Hermann Vetter, published on March 1, 1969 in Inquiry

It is shown that the basic postulate of utilitarianism does not work when we must decide whether a person should be brought into existence. Utilitarianism must be supplemented by further axioms. Those proposed lead to the consequence that as far as the potential child's utility is concerned, it is morally preferable not to produce children at all. This consequence is accepted. It is still recommended when parents’ utility is taken into account.