Here’s not Looking at You, Kid: A new Defence of Anti-natalism

Paper by Anthony Ferrucci & Blake Hereth, published on March 19, 2021 in South African Journal of Philosophy

Hereth and Ferrucci evaluate a person’s right to physical security (RPS) in different cases and use it to arrive at what they call “the responsibility argument” against procreating:

  • (P1) We should (other things being equal) avoid being responsible for non-trivial harms to persons to which they neither consent nor are liable.
  • (P2) If we create persons, they will suffer non-trivial harms to which they neither consent nor are liable.
  • (C) Therefore, we should (other things being equal) avoid creating persons.

Following that they use RPS to strengthen David Benatar’s misanthropic argument for antinatalism and then discuss several common objections to those arguments and outline why they fail.

The Hypothetical Consent Objection to Anti-Natalism

Paper by Asheel Singh, published on November 9, 2019 in Ethical Theory and Moral Practice

A very common but untested assumption is that potential children would consent to be exposed to the harms of existence in order to experience its benefits. And so, would-be parents might appeal to the following view: Procreation is all-things-considered permissible, as it is morally acceptable for one to knowingly harm an unconsenting patient if one has good reasons for assuming her hypothetical consent—and procreators can indeed reasonably rely on some notion of hypothetical consent. I argue that this view is in error. My argument appeals to a consent-based version of anti-natalism advanced by Seana Valentine Shiffrin. Anti-natalism is the view that it is always wrong to bring people into existence. While, like Shiffrin, I stop short of advocating a thoroughgoing anti-natalism, I nevertheless argue that procreators cannot appeal to hypothetical consent to justify exposing children to the harms of existence. I end by suggesting a more promising route by which this justification might be achieved.

Antinatalism and Moral Particularism

Paper by Gerald Harrison, published on January 22, 2019 in Essays in Philosophy

Harrison argues that procreative acts possess numerous features that, in other contexts, would be considered to make an action immoral. He finds no reason that this should be different for the act of procreation and so concludes that procreating is immoral as well.

The typical wrongmakers covered by Harrison include consent, harm and the cause of harm to the environment or other beings. He also shows how the loving relationships between parent and child, while usually praised as unconditional love, are problematic, considering how they are started completely one-sided and rely on processes such as imprinting, which would be immoral in any other context of falling in love.

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.

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.