Born under a bad sign: On the dark rhetoric of antinatalism

Paper by Brian Zager, published on May 1, 2018 in Empedocles: European Journal for the Philosophy of Communication

Offering a pointed response to the perennial question of being, those sympathetic to the philosophical posture of antinatalism proclaim the suffering of the world does not ultimately justify bringing life into it, consequently advancing a moral stance towards procreation. As this particular topic of conversation is unlikely to curry favor with a majority of interlocutors, the antinatalist-as-rhetor faces a seemingly Sisyphean task in issuing a harsh alternative to the more pervasive narrative espousing birth as an occasion for celebration. Cautious to dismiss antinatalism as simply a profane social discourse, I first consider its communicative import as type of tragic rhetoric which identifies birth as a phenomenological disaster that warrants more critical appraisal. Additionally, I examine the utility of embracing a performative writing style to explore this topic insofar as it adds rhetorical dimension to the attempt at communicating the horrors of existence.

To Breed or Not to Breed?: an Antinatalist Answer to the Question of Animal Welfare

Paper by Sayma H. Chowdhury & Todd K. Shackelford, published on May 1, 2017 in Evolutionary Psychological Science

Although Ng (2016) addresses the important question of how to increase animal welfare, he does not address an equally important question—how to prevent animal suffering. The best way to prevent animal suffering is to stop breeding them. With fewer sentient beings in existence, net suffering is lessened. Even if captive animals were bred with a guarantee of “net happiness,” they would still suffer at some point in their lives and sometimes very much. We argue that not only is nonexistence preferable to existence but also that even in research there are many preferable alternatives to the use of captive animals.

How Many Children Should We Have? None

Paper by Gerald Harrison & Julia Tanner, published on September 1, 2016 in The Philosophers' Magazine

Most people take it for granted that it's morally permissible to have children. They may raise questions about the number of children it's responsible to have or whether it's permissible to reproduce when there's a strong risk of serious disability. But in general, having children is considered a good thing to do, something that's morally permissible in most cases (perhaps even obligatory).

The Ethics of Procreation and Adoption

Paper by Tina Rulli, published on June 6, 2016 in Philosophy Compass

It is widely assumed that people have a moral right to procreate. This article explores recent arguments in opposition to procreation in some or all contexts. Some such views are concerned with the risks and harms of life that procreation imposes on non-consenting children. Others articulate concerns for third parties – the environmental damage or opportunity costs that procreation poses to already existing people. The article then surveys arguments that favor procreation despite the risks to the children created and third parties. The best argument for procreation is based on the significant interest people have in forming the parent–child relationship. An important under-discussed middle ground is suggested – one that avoids the criticisms of the anti-natalist while fulfilling the best aims of procreation – viz. adoption. The duty to adopt is summarized and objections to it considered. Thoughtful people who deeply desire to become parents but do not wish to participate in the range of potential procreative harms should consider adoption as a first choice.

Kant’s Justification of Parental Duties

Paper by Heiko Puls, published on February 1, 2016 in Kantian Review

In his applied moral philosophy, Kant formulates the parents’ duty to make their child happy. I argue that, for Kant, this duty is an ad hoc attempt at compensating for the parental guilt of having brought a person into the condition of existence – and hence also having created her need for happiness – on their own initiative. I argue that Kant’s considerations regarding parental duties and human reproduction in general imply arguments for an ethically justified anti-natalism, but that this position is abolished in his teleology for meta-ethical reasons.

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.

The Immorality of Having Children

Paper by Stuart Rachels, published on September 17, 2013 in Ethical Theory and Moral Practice

This paper defends the Famine Relief Argument against Having Children, which goes as follows: conceiving and raising a child costs hundreds of thousands of dollars; that money would be far better spent on famine relief; therefore, conceiving and raising children is immoral. It is named after Peter Singer’s Famine Relief Argument because it might be a special case of Singer’s argument and because it exposes the main practical implication of Singer’s argument—namely, that we should not become parents. I answer five objections: that disaster would ensue if nobody had children; that having children cannot be wrong because it is so natural for human beings; that the argument demands too much of us; that my child might be a great benefactor to the world; and that we should raise our children frugally and give them the right values rather than not have them. Previous arguments against procreation have appealed either to a pessimism about human life, or to the environmental impact of overpopulation, or to the fact that we cannot obtain the consent of the non-existent. The argument proposed here appeals to the severe opportunity costs of parenting.

Assessing anti-natalism: a philosophical examination of the morality of procreation

Paper by Asheel Singh, published on April 10, 2013 in University of Johannesburg, MA thesis

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 philosophers. Arthur 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.