Furthering the Case for Anti-natalism: Seana Shiffrin and the Limits of Permissible Harm

Paper by Asheel Singh, published on January 1, 2012 in South African Journal of Philosophy

Anti-natalism is the view that it is (almost) always wrong to bring people (and perhaps all sentient beings) into existence. This view is most famously defended by David Benatar (1997, 2006). There are, however, other routes to an anti-natal conclusion. In this respect, Seana Shiffrin’s paper, “Wrongful Life, Procreative Responsibility, and the Significance of Harm” (1999), has been rather neglected in the natal debate. Though she appears unwilling to conclude that procreation is always wrong, I believe that she in fact puts forth a case for anti-natalism no less compelling than Benatar’s. My overall aim here is to demonstrate the force of her argument by defending a Shiffrin-esque route to anti-natalism from a powerful objection. This objection appeals to the common belief that because most people endorse their creation, procreation often is all-things-considered permissible. I will show how this objection fails, and why Shiffrin’s rationale for anti-natalism, as I will be representing it, ought to be taken seriously.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/02580136.2012.10751771
South African Journal of Philosophy 31/1 (2012), 104–116