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.

Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 21, no. 5 (2018): 1135–50