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.

The Immorality of Procreation

Paper by Jimmy Alfonso Licon, published on September 27, 2012 in Think

Many people hold that procreation is morally obligatory; one ought to bring children into existence because they benefit by being brought into existence. Often this line of thinking stems from the notion that procreation is intrinsically valuable; procreation should be pursued for its own sake. Other philosophers hold procreation is immoral because of the great harm it causes as a result of climate change, overpopulation, mental illness, and so forth. If current population growth continues, there will be an ever-shrinking supply of fresh water and food, leading to the suffering of future generations.

Asymmetries in Benefiting, Harming and Creating

Paper by Ben Bradley, published on September 15, 2012 in The Journal of Ethics

It is often said that while we have a strong reason not to create someone who will be badly off, we have no strong reason for creating someone who will be well off. In this paper I argue that this asymmetry is incompatible with a plausible principle of independence of irrelevant alternatives, and that a more general asymmetry between harming and benefiting is difficult to defend. I then argue that, contrary to what many have claimed, it is possible to harm or benefit someone by bringing her into existence.

Causing People to Exist and Saving People’s Lives

Paper by Jeff McMahan, published on September 13, 2012 in The Journal of Ethics

Most people are skeptical of the claim that the expectation that a person would have a life that would be well worth living provides a reason to cause that person to exist. In this essay I argue that to cause such a person to exist would be to confer a benefit of a noncomparative kind and that there is a moral reason to bestow benefits of this kind. But this conclusion raises many problems, among which is that it must be determined how the benefits conferred on people by causing them to exist weigh against comparable benefits conferred on existing people. In particular, might the reason to cause people to exist ever outweigh the reason to save the lives of existing people?

Creation Ethics: Reproduction, Genetics, and Quality of Life

Book by David DeGrazia, published on June 13, 2012 in Oxford University Press

The ethics of creating—or declining to create—people has been addressed in several contexts: debates over abortion and embryo research; literature on “self-creation”; discussions of procreative rights and responsibilities, genetic engineering, and future generations. Here, for the first time, is a sustained, scholarly analysis of all of these issues—a discussion combining breadth of topics with philosophical depth, imagination with current scientific understanding, argumentative rigor with accessibility. The overarching aim of this book is to illuminate a broad array of issues connected with reproduction and genetics, through the lens of moral philosophy. With novel frameworks for understanding prenatal moral status and human identity, and exceptional fairness to those holding different views, the author sheds new light on the ethics of abortion and embryo research, genetic enhancement and prenatal genetic interventions, procreation and parenting, as well as decisions that affect the quality of life of future generations. Along the way, he helpfully introduces personal identity theory and value theory as well as such complex topics as moral status, wrongful life, and the “nonidentity problem.” The results include a subjective account of human well-being, a standard for responsible procreation and parenting, and a theoretical bridge between consequentialist and nonconsequentialist ethical theories. The upshot is a synoptic, mostly liberal vision of the ethics of creating human beings.

Antinatalism, Asymmetry, and an Ethic of Prima Facie Duties

Paper by Gerald Harrison, published on April 15, 2012 in South African Journal of Philosophy

Harrison shows an argument for antinatalism based on Davind Benatar’s procreational asymmetry, which he finds superior because it does not depend on the view that coming into existence is always a harm for the created being.

His argument is based on the moral duty to prevent pain as well as the duty to promote pleasure. However, since duties need a victim, he suggests that only the former applies to the act of procreation and thus:

  • We have a duty to prevent the harms procreating causes, because there would be a victim (the created person experiencing the harms).
  • We don’t have a duty to cause the pleasure procreating causes, because there would never be a victim missing out on or being deprived of those pleasures.

Harrison concludes that other things being equal, these generate a duty not to procreate.

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

A New Argument for Anti-Natalism

Paper by Christopher Belshaw, published on January 1, 2012 in South African Journal of Philosophy

Consider the view that coming into existence is bad for us. Can we hold this and yet deny that ceasing to exist would be good for us? I argue that we can. First, many animals have lives such that they would be better off not existing. Second, if persons and babies are distinct things then the same is true of babies. Third, even if persons and babies are not distinct things – rather they are phases that human beings go through – still it is bad for babies that they come into existence. So it was bad for us to come into existence. But most of us now enjoy worthwhile lives. So it would be bad for us, now, to cease to exist

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.

Why Have Children?: The Ethical Debate

Book by Christine Overall, published on January 1, 2012 in Cambridge, MA: MIT Press

A wide-ranging exploration of whether or not choosing to procreate can be morally justified—and if so, how. In contemporary Western society, people are more often called upon to justify the choice not to have children than they are to supply reasons for having them. In this book, Christine Overall maintains that the burden of proof should be reversed: that the choice to have children calls for more careful justification and reasoning than the choice not to. Arguing that the choice to have children is not just a prudential or pragmatic decision but one with ethical repercussions, Overall offers a wide-ranging exploration of how we might think systematically and deeply about this fundamental aspect of human life. Writing from a feminist perspective, she also acknowledges the inevitably gendered nature of the decision; the choice has different meanings, implications, and risks for women than it has for men. After considering a series of ethical approaches to procreation, and finding them inadequate or incomplete, Overall offers instead a novel argument. Exploring the nature of the biological parent-child relationship—which is not only genetic but also psychological, physical, intellectual, and moral—she argues that the formation of that relationship is the best possible reason for choosing to have a child.