Have you ever wondered what taking logic to its logical conclusion actually results in? Have you read something that literally turned on a floating light bulb over your head? (OK, not literally, but you get my drift). Have you ever really thought about, I mean REALLY thought about the consequences of your decision to have children? Jim Crawford has, in his part philosophical, part autobiographical Confessions of an Antinatalist.
Regular readers of this blog might recognize Jim from his comments here, and from his own blog at Reason vs. Apologetics. As he relates in the book, he went through a lot of religious soul seeking, existential wandering and philosophical game changing, life twisting beliefs, for a long time as a member of what he calls a cult (but then, isn’t all religion?). Finally, at some point, religion stopped making sense, and he acknowledged his default status as an atheist. Afterward, he took his atheism to its logical conclusion, and arrived at the premise of this book.
I know I’m not doing justice to it by trying to simplify that premise in one sentence, but essentially it boils down to this: If we acknowledge that suffering is a part of the natural world, that there is no supernatural afterlife to strive for, and that as humans we suffer as much as the rest of nature, then when we make the decision to create life, we do so knowing that we have doomed our children to a life of suffering, and ultimately death. Hence, if we are moral, then we have a moral duty to refuse to add more suffering to the human race, by adding to that race. (Sorry, that was two sentences.)
Some of you might go, “d’uh”. Of course, life isn’t fair. If I suffer so shall my children, but as an optimistic, rational being, I hope for a future for my children with minimal suffering, indeed I strive to do everything in my power while alive to help minimize that suffering, to make a better life for my children than I had, as my father did for me. But even optimistic, hard working individuals must acknowledge that life isn’t perfect, that there are things we’ll never be able to protect our children from, and as a matter of hard, cold reality, they will suffer. Some more than others, but all will suffer in their lifetimes, and they all will die.
From a purely logical point of view, the conclusion is unassailable. It is a fact, which explains to a certain extent exactly what attraction religion holds for the masses. Religion offers us the ability to deny that cold undeniable fact, and live comfortably during our lives with the delusion that our suffering is for a greater cause, that we will be compensated, ultimately, for having to put up with the realities of life, and ultimately, death.
From Jim’s personal point of view, however, he clearly didn’t practice what he now preaches. His two daughters are the product of his marriage to a member of the aforementioned cult, and are thriving adults, albeit still relatively young. You would think an antinatalist would regret the birth of his own children, and while philosophically he does (and apologizes to his daughters for the book, even dedicating the book to them “…your joys are my joy, your sorrows my regret”) viscerally he clearly loves his girls, and is like any other father who does so. There is a competing tension to the book, because in the autobiographical portions of the book (which somewhat alternate with the thematic portions) he is downright human, enjoying sex, marriage and children, while his brain screams “this is not right!”
As I’m sure you’ve figured out, the ironic dichotomy here is that if we all agreed with Jim, and acted on our agreement, the human race as a species would die out in a generation. So, the price of existence is suffering. As atheists, or more specifically, as naturalists who don’t believe in an afterlife, gods or the supernatural, we accept suffering and death, as have all species, albeit unconsciously, from the beginning of life. This doesn’t necessarily detract from our morality, as we have no choice. Or, more precisely, we do have a choice, but it’s one of Hobson’s.
As sobering as this book may sound to you, I assure you it is not the depressing tome I expected it to be. In fact, I found this rollicking (an overused book review adjective, but apt nonetheless) book to be a lot of fun to read, sometimes uproariously funny, sometimes poignant, and sometimes properly reflective, all in nice balance. Jim’s writing style is much like his comments and blogs, which I’ve always enjoyed. He has a way of turning a phrase that smacks you upside the head and provokes a reaction. Example: After describing the stories of a religious nut he met when much younger, and more naive
So many of the stories people tell are confounded by misinterpretation, are layered with hyperbole, superstition and wishful thinking. And the bullshit that comes naturally to us finds purchase in the fertile soil of religion.
It’s a short book, 172 pages, and a quick read. I was through it much too quickly, wanting more, but once he makes his point, he doesn’t need to belabor it with long philosophical justifications, so I have no complaint.
Jim, I really enjoyed it. It’s a good thing I’m past my child-creating years (not to mention that outpatient surgical procedure I had around my scrotum some years back – begins with a “v”) or I’d be seriously thinking and possibly acting on (or not acting on, as the case may be) my desire to have children. Thanks for a great, thought provoking read.
And how many people are going to let rationality get in the way of a good lay?
John, thanks so very much for this great review. But even more, for giving my book a fair reading. It’s a subject that hits very close to home, and a lot of folks tend to react negatively without actually following the arguments all the way through. I really appreciate the fact that you ‘get it’. 🙂
Oh, wait… this is OUR Jim you are talking about? Available on Amazon?
Yep. Since when did you take to owning slaves, Huck?
Whoops! That YOU get it, of course. 🙂
The question, of course, is not “will life bring suffering to my children” but “will life bring so much suffering, so outweighing the happiness they may experience, that they could not rationally be glad to have been born.”
And that’s a pretty dubious proposition from my perspective. I certainly can’t say it of myself and I see no reason my children could either.
Besides which, doesn’t this also apply to his life as well? We’re down to the old existentialist line about whether one should commit suicide being the only truly important philosophical question.
That should have been “is not”.
He has a chapter on that, in the FAQ section. I’m not a shill, but…you ought to get the book.
A few points, with all due acknowledgement of the fact that I am reacting to this post, and not the book itself.
Firstly, this premise, “as humans we suffer as much as the rest of nature.” Humans, I think it is quite clear, do not suffer nearly as much as other animal species. Moreover, certain humans suffer MUCH less than others, both in physical and non-physical ways. In addition, it is true that suffering is a part of the natural world, but so is happiness and pleasure. Why all the attention on one, but not the other?
“when we make the decision to create life, we do so knowing that we have doomed our children to a life of suffering”
Ironically, this is a very Buddhist attitude to take. But in any case, I fail to see this “life of suffering.” If someone is born a one-legged slave and fed bread crumbs every day while laboring under the yoke of a sadistic task master until they keel over at age 30, then that might qualify as a “life of suffering.” But for the vast majority of people, especially those living today? I don’t think so. Unless of course by “suffering” one means the realization that one’s SUV is out of gas and the local McDonalds is closed for the night and one missed one’s favorite network sitcom–all in the same day! Damn!
“Hence, if we are moral, then we have a moral duty to refuse to add more suffering to the human race, by adding to that race.”
A problem with this is that “morality” only has meaning insofar as life exists in the first place. How can one act morally toward someone who does not exist?
The response might be “this is not a moral duty to the person who may or may not come into existence, but rather a moral duty to the human race.” Ok, so the more people there are, the more total suffering there is. That’s true, but it’s also true that the more people there are, the more total happiness there is. So, in absolute terms, we don’t have anything very interesting here. Instead, we have to look at this in relative terms–how much suffering is there relative to the happiness/ pleasure. The answer to this is decidedly on the side of happiness.
That is, as the human race has grown from thousands to billions, yes the total aggregate suffering has risen, but so has the total aggregate happiness, and more to the point: the total aggregate happiness has become greater, in relative terms, than the total aggregate suffering. So, in other words, if we consult history and economics, if anything the answer we get is to actually produce more people, not less.
Suffering is both a physical and mental state. In terms of purely physical, sure, humans probably don’t suffer as much as other animals, or more precisely, for as long or generally with as dire consequences. For instance, a deer and I could suffer comparable pain from a broken leg, but I’ll get my leg healed, plus get pain meds whereas the deer most likely will die from starvation, infection or a predator (which the latter would likely happen eventually whether the leg was broken or not).
In terms of mental suffering however, I’d say humans suffer far more. We don’t know what goes on in the minds of animals, but it’s fair to say they don’t suffer neuroses to the degree or frequencies that humans do, plus we humans have constructed so much to provide us mental suffering, not the least of which is religion with its threats of eternal damnation and good ol’ guilt. I doubt whether other animals are suffering due to fears of eternal hellfire, their stock portfolios tanking, holes in the ozone, Spain winning the World Cup, and so on.
I really appreciate the way you qualify your remarks.
The main problem with the hedonic calculus you propose is that it doesn’t take account of the fact that those who are never born are not deprived, in any experiential sense, of happiness. There is also the problem of uncertainty or risk (there is no way of knowing in advance how much a particular being will suffer) and, depending on your ethical outlook, there is the problem of consent (since a person cannot consent to being created). In his book, Jim addresses these problems — and the moral salience of suffering — particularly in the sections relating to David Benatar’s “asymmetry” and the aforementioned Q&A. I do hope you’ll read the book and hit back with your best shot.
By way of disclosure, I’m the guy behind Nine-Banded Books, the publisher of Confessions of an Antinatalist.
That is, as the human race has grown from thousands to billions, yes the total aggregate suffering has risen, but so has the total aggregate happiness, and more to the point: the total aggregate happiness has become greater, in relative terms, than the total aggregate suffering.
This is true only if you make the assumption that happiness and pain are somehow “created” in equal amounts. How do you justify that assumption?
Also, we have to deal with a nervous system that has a great capacity to normalize itself (think slowly boiling frog), and therefore impedes us from feeling, in a day-to-day life that is not exposed to harsh conditions (see comment above), not much happiness AND not much sadness, unless we are unhealthy or in an abnormal situation (grieving, down with a bad flu, etc.).
So this leaves us with one major question (assuming that what matters is their relative prevalence): how do we quantify the “total sadness” and “total happiness” in a human life?
(my comment above was a reply to Justin’s, sorry)
“In terms of mental suffering however, I’d say humans suffer far more. We don’t know what goes on in the minds of animals, but it’s fair to say they don’t suffer neuroses to the degree or frequencies that humans do…”
Absolutely true. And animals don’t experience pleasure and happiness nearly to the degree that humans do either–it cuts both ways.
I appreciate your response.
“The main problem with the hedonic calculus you propose is that it doesn’t take account of the fact that those who are never born are not deprived, in any experiential sense, of happiness.”
If they are not deprived of happiness, then in the same way they are not subjected to suffering. So again, it cuts both ways. If lack of happiness is irrelevant to the non-existing person, then lack of suffering is, as well. So your statement, taken to its extent, nullifies Jim Crawford’s position as well. And we are simply back to where we started.
Non-existing people are simply zeroes added to the moral equation, and are therefore irrelevant to the underlying equation. Morality has meaning only for people already existing. This is a key point and it is the calculus, for example, of those of us in favor of abortion: before the child has come into existence, the only one who matters is the mother, and her choice to have or not have children. Only once the child has begun existing does the moral calculus kick in for him/ her.
“There is also the problem of uncertainty or risk (there is no way of knowing in advance how much a particular being will suffer)”
Again, it cuts both ways. Neither do we know in advance how much a particular being will be happy. In order to be consistent, one must account for both pleasure and pain, not just one or the other. One might say “pain is guaranteed, but pleasure is not.” The funny thing is, this may be technically true, but it is really irrelevant, if you think about it: (1) morality [considerations of pleasure/ pain] only applies to existing people, (2) existing people exist, and they have inherent value (simple humanism), (3) therefore we seek to maximize pleasure and minimize pain for existing people.
So although before one comes into existence, pain is technically guaranteed and pleasure is not, once one does come into existence, this truth is irrelevant, as one must get to work seeking goodness and avoiding badness. I think my main point is just that any consideration of “bringing a being into the world” is relevant only to the beings already existing, never to the non-existing being, by definition.
Re: reading the book, I’m trying to save my pennies at the moment, so I guess that’s where we’re going to have to leave it. I won’t pretend to be responding to the full theory, but thanks anyway.
“This is true only if you make the assumption that happiness and pain are somehow “created” in equal amounts. How do you justify that assumption?”
I don’t think I’m making such an assumption. I specifically said that happiness has turned out to be greater than, not equal to, pain, for the human race.
“how do we quantify the “total sadness” and “total happiness” in a human life?”
That is indeed a key question. It goes beyond this particular topic, though. One way might be to consider brain scans of people doing various things, identify the happy activities and the sad activities, and then try to measure how many people are doing the happy things in society, relative to the sad things, and how much time they are spending on them.
We also know that happier people live longer, so if people in one society are living longer than in another society, that might be a pointer (not necessarily rock-solid conclusive). Other things tied to happiness/ pleasure are health, safe communities, a certain minimum level of material wealth, etc. A lot of progress has been in this arena in recent years.
There’s no way to know that. Hell, the shear joy of eluding a predator might be something most of us humans can never know. 🙂
I didn’t fully read your earlier comment. Going back, I find the argument for more people overly simplistic. For instance, finite resources will eventually put an end to that infinite breeding = infinite happiness, and “if we consult history and economics”, we find this to be true. 😉
Oh yes, and I disagree that humans have inherent value. We can all decide a base value, and decide individual values, but those are all assigned, not inherent. The fact that we can argue over human value can be considered evidence that their value isn’t inherent.
“There’s no way to know that.”
If there’s no way to know that, then there’s no way to know what you said, either. It cuts both ways.
Yes, I intentionally over-simplified the argument because I didn’t want to write an essay in the comments section. My comment was long enough as it is.
“For instance, finite resources will eventually put an end to that infinite breeding = infinite happiness, and “if we consult history and economics”, we find this to be true.”
Funny you mention that, because if we consult history, we meet a man named Thomas Malthus. You might like him. He’s not very popular nowadays, though.
“We can all decide a base value, and decide individual values, but those are all assigned, not inherent.”
I meant that we assign humans with inherent value. We just assume that as a blind faith axiom. Without such an axiom, morality itself is pretty much meaningless.
Sorry, I mistakenly used my other wordpress identity to submit that comment. If anybody needs small business advice, I’m your man! 🙂
“If there’s no way to know that, then there’s no way to know what you said, either. It cuts both ways.”
Not so fast.
The reason there is difference between your example and the one Philly provided is that in the case of the “suffering” we can know what the animal is going through, whereas with “joy” we can only guess at it. The parts of the brain that associate with pain and the body’s responses to it are very similar from mammal to mammal.
Joy, on the other hand, (at least for humans) is associated with parts of the brain that are either underdeveloped or non-existant in most other mammals. That is, joy is often associative with higher brain function. The pain of a broken leg or being chased and devored by a predator are much more associative with primitive brain function.
Which reminds me, when you disagreed with Philly you didn’t mention his comparison of what a human and a deer would go through, post leg break. I assume then that you agree the human would suffer less, due to medical science, food availability and lack of predation.
Yes, of course I agree the human would suffer less than the animal from a similar injury.
I think you are not comparing like with like. Philly Chief took issue with mental pleasure/ enjoyment, not physical. When you talk about “pain” this is physical pain, the opposite of physical pleasure (i.e. endorphins and oxytocin as with sex), which both humans and animals experience similarly.
But Philly Chief was talking about mental pleasure and pain. He asserted that humans experience more mental pain (sadness, depression, etc), which is probably true, but I in turn assert that humans likely experience more mental pleasure (joy, and what you are referring to with more developed parts of the brain). So mentally, it is necessarily a wash, and Philly Chief’s argument is incomplete for that reason.
It isn’t a wash when you take into account the risk factor in the context of normal human moral reckoning. I’d ask you, would it be moral to play Russian roulette with a child, even if the chances of the gun going off were one in a hundred? There are risks that we simply do not take, especially when there’s no overriding reason to do so, such as administering a potentially dangerous drug to stave off a terrible disease. Otherwise, any motivation for taking such risks lies solely in the self-interest of one party, at the expense of another.
When we create a life, we automatically expose that life to the risk of harm and possible horrible suffering, not to mention sure death. Why do we do this? Surely not for the child’s sake, since unlike in the case of an already existent child where risk may be warranted, nobody’s suffering any privation whatsoever. What’s left is plain selfishness at the expense of another, plain and simple.
Btw, if you’re interested in going into this subject further, the conversation is explored in a lot more detail at my blog antinatalism.net. I don’t want to sidetrack S.I.’s blog too much, though I certainly appreciate his review of my book 🙂
I did want to add one thing. You said-
“Non-existing people are simply zeroes added to the moral equation, and are therefore irrelevant to the underlying equation. Morality has meaning only for people already existing.”
Actually, we extend the ‘moral equation’ to include potential entities all the time. For instance, I believe most people would find consideration of possible harmful genetic factors extremely relevant when deciding whether or not to conceive. Practical questions such as age, income, familial support and the like are also factors in the equation. For that matter, a large percentage of our moral reckonings concern the abstract future, which also doesn’t exist yet.
I think if you could compare the amount of suffering today to the amount of suffering 100 years ago, and to 200 years ago, and to 300 years ago, you would find there is less suffering today because of advancements in science and medicine. Although suffering probably can’t be eradicated, I think it’s reasonable to expect there will be less suffering in the future, including the near future that’s only a generation away. I believe the joys of life, especially those derived from shared experiences with loved ones, greatly outweigh suffering. I’m commited to giving my child a more loving and nurturing environment than I had, so I think there’s hope that he will live a life with less physical and emotional suffering than I’ve experienced.
I’m not sure how you come about your calculations, or even if such a thing can be done. For one thing, since there are many more people populating the planet now than in even the quite recent past, the cumulative suffering in terms of sheer numbers might be worse. Also, and as Philly pointed out, human suffering extends far beyond the purely physical concerns, manifested in various mental illnesses, as well as in lesser depressions and anxieties which afflict pretty much everyone to one extent or another.
There’s another problem with your assessment, having to do with ‘hope’. For one thing your hopes, both for your children and for the human race in general, may never become actualized. It’s just as possible that things may get worse. But beyond that, when we say that suffering, including the horrible types of suffering that we all know exist and can spring up anywhere, at any time, is worth it so that some generation in the distant future MIGHT be better off than we are, what we’re really doing is sacrificing generations of people for a purely imaginative, hypothetical utopia. People as cannon fodder for a fanciful vision.
I didn’t intend for it to read as an assertion. I state my stance and try to provide support for it. I don’t disagree with “humans likely experience more mental pleasure”, but I do with “animals don’t experience pleasure and happiness nearly to the degree that humans do”. If you can’t see the difference, I can explain it in more depth. I’d do it now, but I don’t want to write an essay in the comments section. 😉
S’alright with me. Sometimes, a different forum, with someone else, in a different environment freshens the discussion a bit. I don’t mind the traffic, and I find the subject fascinating.
Besides, I think what you’re saying up there is that we’re not just talking about existing humans, we have to consider the ones to come, and when you have such a blank slate of potentiality, the possibility of a single pinprick to that human has to give one pause to consider. Then add the likely suffering, and a lot falls on our shoulders.
You can’t be arrogant and say “well, I’m also responsible for all the joy that child will have” therefore negating the suffering and neutralizing the decision making process. It’s not our place to make that comparison. How do we know that person would agree? It may not be a wash to him/her.
Life is not about suffering, it is actually about minimizing suffering while maximizing survival. Evolution dictates that the more successful and intelligent creatures suffer much less than the less intelligent creatures and they out-survive the less successful creatures.
First of all, I don’t think I’ve ever tangled with an actual Amazon author in the blogosphere, so it’s an honor.
“I’d ask you, would it be moral to play Russian roulette with a child, even if the chances of the gun going off were one in a hundred?”
Of course not, but that’s the wrong question. The right question is to say the odds of the bullet is 1/100 and the odds of, say, massive happiness and wisdom is 99/100.
In just straight Russian Roulette, there is no reason to play because if you win, you are no better off than if you never took the gamble in the first place. But that’s not real life. In real life there is indeed an “overriding reason” for taking the risk. And we all take our lives into our hands as soon as we walk out the front door every morning.
“When we create a life, we automatically expose that life to the risk of harm… Why do we do this?… plain selfishness at the expense of another, plain and simple.”
Yes, the decision to have children is 100% selfish (barring parents’ considerations of the existing family/ larger species). But it is not at the expense of another because when the decision is made, there is no such “other” yet. Once that child is created, then he enjoys all the same rights and moral considerations. But the problem with basing moral decisions on “potential” humans is seen when we realize there is an infinite number of potential humans.
“Actually, we extend the ‘moral equation’ to include potential entities all the time… most people would find consideration of possible harmful genetic factors extremely relevant when deciding whether or not to conceive…”
That’s a great point. But here’s the response: today, we cannot know with certainty if even a severely handicapped child “would have wanted” to never be born. We know countless examples of people with what seem to most of us as hopeless handicaps, and yet the fact that they are not suicidal is proof enough that they prefer existence to non-existence.
However, even more to your point, hypothetically, if we could know with 100% certainty that a child will suffer if he is brought into the world, what do we do?
The central issue here is, which takes precedence, existence or experience?
Pain is one kind of experience. Most of us experience both pain and pleasure. But hypothetically if one could know with 100% certainty that for a given person pain was the only kind of experience they could have, then for that person pain and existence become one and the same, negating the aforementioned precedence issue.
So if pain=existence, insofar as humanist morals tell us to minimize/ eliminate pain, they tell us to prevent existence for this person. But note, we are not targeting existence, we are targeting pain. It just so happens that in this case, pain=existence.
I understand the difference just fine. But really this is just semantics, relative to the essential point. Don’t call it an “assertion”–fine by me. Call it a statement, or a position, or whatever.
“It’s not our place to make that comparison. How do we know that person would agree? It may not be a wash to him/her.”
Recall Descartes: I think therefore I am. Thus, if one “agrees,” they are thinking/ doing, therefore they exist. Only an existing being can agree or disagree in the first place. To talk about a non-existing being agreeing or disagreeing is problematic because a non-existing being cannot “do” anything.
So it is “not our place to make that comparison”? Then how is it our place to condemn that person to non-existence?
Cute with the “don’t call it” line. Imply that there isn’t a difference, I’m a crank, but you’ll be nice and play along. Cute gamesmanship. I also liked the “Truth isn’t a popularity contest”, invoking argumentum ad populum to make yourself look right and others wrong without doing any actual work.
I’m not into games, but you’ll probably have fun with some of the locals here. They secretly miss another gamer who hasn’t been around in awhile so they’ll play with you for days. Enjoy!
But we are making a decision that will create that future person, and once he/she is in existence, it’s too late for him to make the comparisons and be able to do anything about. You’re taking the argument from the position of an already born person, at which time the discussion is moot. Do you think there is no one who has ever lived, who at some time in their life thought “I wish I’d never been born?”
We do it every day we don’t have children.
I look at the arguments for and against life being fertile ground for suffering, but then I think of existence as a whole. Every time I imagine what it would be like to die, to no longer exist, to no longer even be able to contemplate not existing, to not even know if I’m in a box, or burned to ashes, to not even know that I don’t even know this. The idea of no longer being able to think or contemplate takes me to a very scary place. I don’t see this as peace, because in order to experience peace you have to be able to experience! That is the GIFT of life… experience. Some painful, some amazing, most neutral, but when compared to an existence (or more accurately a non-existence) with no experiences, I would take even bad experiences.
I’m suffering a lot right now. My youngest brother OD’ed and died 2 weeks ago, and my mother (who was only 52) died in February from cancer, I have no girlfriend, I have no job, and am looking for work and I’m running out of money. (I drove 9 hours to spend a week with the family and attend my brothers funeral and during all that, still took phone interviews!) but when I look at this, darkest time in my life and I compare it to what it would be like not being able to experience ANYTHING… and I much prefer this. I still have my brain, I still have the joy of intellectual processing, I can still have a conversation, I still eat food that tastes good, I still see an enjoy the beautify of a chatoyant butterfly floating around me. This GIFT of existence, though is short lived and will end in me loosing the gift is still better than NOTHINGNESS.
At least that’s how I’ve felt about it. I thank my lucky stars that my Parents had me.
First of all, I’m sorry for your recent tragedies. Such is life. However, all the fears you’ve expressed are a result of your existence, and never would have come about had you never existed. And even though you’ve determined that all the suffering is worth it just so that you can experience things, keep in mind that not everybody feels the same way. For many, life is a waking nightmare, a horror foisted upon them by others for their own selfish reasons. I’m all for trying to make life better for the already existent. My problem is with bringing new life into what ultimately amounts to an arena of death, where their final reward will be reverting back to the very state they were in in the first place. Why bother?
“Of course not, but that’s the wrong question. The right question is to say the odds of the bullet is 1/100 and the odds of, say, massive happiness and wisdom is 99/100.
In just straight Russian Roulette, there is no reason to play because if you win, you are no better off than if you never took the gamble in the first place. But that’s not real life. In real life there is indeed an “overriding reason” for taking the risk. And we all take our lives into our hands as soon as we walk out the front door every morning.”
We can tweak the scenario a bit if you like to take account of possible rewards in the risk assessment. Say, the child wins a million dollars if he survives. I don’t see where this really changes things. The choice to play still entails what amounts to unacceptable risk by most moral reckoning. As far as the rest, I’m afraid you’re conflating risk regarding the choice to bring into existence, with risk regarding the already existent. As I already pointed out, ‘overriding reasons’ for taking risks are limited to already existent persons, who indeed take their lives into their own hands every day, in numerous way. This doesn’t apply to potential persons who have risk foisted upon them by someone else for their own reasons.
“Yes, the decision to have children is 100% selfish (barring parents’ considerations of the existing family/ larger species). But it is not at the expense of another because when the decision is made, there is no such “other” yet. Once that child is created, then he enjoys all the same rights and moral considerations. But the problem with basing moral decisions on “potential” humans is seen when we realize there is an infinite number of potential humans.”
However, if that decision culminates in the creation of a new life, that life does indeed reap the consequences of the decision, a decision made for wholly selfish reasons on the part of the parents, as you’ve admitted. The difference here is between pure potential v. potential actualized. There is indeed ‘an infinite number of potential humans’, but this infinity is purely hypothetical. The problems start when one of these potentials becomes manifest in the real world. However, to deny the relevance of moral consideration regarding the question of conception, is to remove the aspect of prevention from the equation. Considering the moral ramifications of procreation is really no different than considering the consequences of any of our actions beforehand. Should we really have taken thalidomide off the market, or just dealt with the victims afterward? After all, it was a decent sedative, and people need their sleep. Does it make sense to ‘prevent forest fires’, since the fires don’t exist yet? As I hope I’ve pointed out, limiting our moral considerations in the way you’re talking about is problematic.
“That’s a great point. But here’s the response: today, we cannot know with certainty if even a severely handicapped child “would have wanted” to never be born. We know countless examples of people with what seem to most of us as hopeless handicaps, and yet the fact that they are not suicidal is proof enough that they prefer existence to non-existence.”
No, we can’t know. But a million people kill themselves every year, with something like twenty times that many attempts. How many more suicides do you suppose there might be if we could remove things like social stigma, fear of eternal punishment for killing one’s self, as well as the natural disinclination to physically harm one’s self? Again, procreation is a risk we take with a life other than our own, for purely selfish reasons.
As for the rest, I’m not much concerned with the precedence issue. Human existence comes packaged with experience, and we have little control over what those experiences might entail over the course of a person’s life. That being the case, and considering the potential for unbearable suffering, it behooves us to consider the maxim ‘prevention is the best cure’ in regard to the question of procreation. No one with a shred of moral sensibility would knowingly conceive a child with a genetic predisposition towards Tay-Sachs disease. I’m just asking folks to extend their risk assessments a bit, and also to remind themselves that every human birth brings about another human death, eventually.
“So it is “not our place to make that comparison”? Then how is it our place to condemn that person to non-existence?”
“We do it every day we don’t have children.”
“You’re taking the argument from the position of an already born person, at which time the discussion is moot.”
Not at all. An existing person has the freedom to end their lives if they choose. That’s the great thing about already existing–you can choose to continue existence, or you can choose to end it. If someone really hates their life, they are perfectly free to do that.
“So it is “not our place to make that comparison”? Then how is it our place to condemn that person to non-existence?” “We do it every day we don’t have children.”
Exactly. So if you accept the decision to not have children, then logically you must also accept the decision to have children. If it is “not our place” to decide the future person will want to live, then using the same logic it is “not our place” to decide the future person will not want to live. So again, as far as a decision vis-a-vis the future person is concerned, it is a wash. And we are simply back to our own decision to have or not have the child.
Jim’s argument is interesting, but it is incomplete. By focusing only on suffering/ pain, and ignoring pleasure/ happiness, he constructs an incomplete picture. I am saying that once we take into account ALL the factors–pain AND pleasure–we arrive at a neutral, if not a positive overall.
“As far as the rest, I’m afraid you’re conflating risk regarding the choice to bring into existence, with risk regarding the already existent.”
Forgive me, but you are the one who offered the analogy of Russian roulette in the first place.
“As I already pointed out, ‘overriding reasons’ for taking risks are limited to already existent persons… This doesn’t apply to potential persons who have risk foisted upon them by someone else for their own reasons.”
Again, you have an incomplete statement here. You say “potential persons have risk foisted upon them.” But that’s not the whole story. Potential persons have benefit foisted upon them as well. Risk AND reward, pleasure AND pain. You cannot logically focus on just one and not the other. That’s why we arrive at a decisional and logical wash.
“Considering the moral ramifications of procreation is really no different than considering the consequences of any of our actions beforehand. Should we really have taken thalidomide off the market, or just dealt with the victims afterward?”
Difference between a non-existing person and an existing one, who may fall ill. Apples and oranges.
“Does it make sense to ‘prevent forest fires’, since the fires don’t exist yet?”
Yes, because when preventing the fire, you are concerned with already existing things–the people, the houses, the forest, etc. that stand to lose from the potential fire.
“As for the rest, I’m not much concerned with the precedence issue.”
Ah, too bad. That’s a central issue at hand here.
“… considering the potential for unbearable suffering, it behooves us to consider the maxim ‘prevention is the best cure’ in regard to the question of procreation.”
I agree with considering things–every idea should be considered. But at the end of the day, it makes no sense at all to say “I will not procreate because if I do, my child will suffer,” because this considers only ONE part of the equation. We must account for all of it–pleasure AND pain, risk AND reward, not just the negatives.
If (1) you are really interested in giving that “potential” being the chance to decide for themselves, and (2) you realize that the process of “deciding” obviously can only be performed by an already existing being, then (3) by definition you would want to create that person, and allow them to decide for themselves whether to continue living or end their own life. If it’s their life, then let them decide. Turns out, they can only decide once they are alive.
“No one with a shred of moral sensibility would knowingly conceive a child with a genetic predisposition towards Tay-Sachs disease.”
If you read what I wrote in my previous comment, you will see that I said just that: if hypothetically you could know with 100% certainty that existence=suffering for that person, then you would apply humanist ethics and deny suffering, thereby denying existence.
But if there is any chance that that person could have any happiness or pleasure, this calculus breaks down. We may realize the handicap of a person with Down’s Syndrome, for example, but that person may be living a challenging, exciting and happy life in their own world. Who are we to deny them that opportunity, just because their situation doesn’t live up to our lofty standards?
We are no one to deny that opportunity, and thus again, we are at a wash vis-a-vis the nonexistent. This is why making moral decisions about non existing persons is so problematic.
WE don’t; YOU do. Your argument is very subjective. It’s how YOU feel, how YOU analyze. Step back. There are some, many, easily millions who would not agree, who would say “taking into account all factors, my life is more suffering than pleasure.” I think the problem is your attempt to wash out the suffering in a broad stroke way, by accounting for its opposite, and concluding that pain neutralizes pleasure, and vice versa.
But I don’t think Jim’s argument really cares whether that works that way for many people, on average. When one creates a child, one has no idea whether that child will be one of your optimistically happy-outweighs-sad children, or the opposite, yet YOU as the parent take the risk anyway, concluding from your experience that your experience is universal. It’s fallacious to do so. In effect, Jim ignores the possibility of pleasure, knowing that it may or may not be there, but suffering (and death) is guaranteed. As long as one can’t eliminate suffering, its opposite is irrelevant before existence is arbitrarily, and selfishly, created.
Yes, it’s a strictly logical argument that will never really work, in practice, given human nature. My arguments here don’t mean that I endorse antinatalism, just that it’s hard to ignore the logic. It makes sense. So does the idealistic, pure form of communism, in principle, but it will never work.
Anyway, tomorrow I will have a post that everyone will agree on. Please mark your calendars.
I had to add one more thing:
By creating a person, you are not “forcing” them to do anything. Instead, you are giving them the choice: choose existence, or non-existence, the choice is theirs. But they only have the freedom to choose if they already exist. A choice for themselves. Now what could be more humanist than that.
Justin: Since we’re beginning to cover the same ground again, I’ll do my best to briefly sum up, and leave you the last word.
First of all, the dichotomy you’re drawing between ‘risk AND reward’ is a false one. When we introduce risk, loss and reward, pain and pleasure are possible results OF that risk. The question is, is it moral to introduce such risk when there aren’t overriding existential concerns which might serve to justify that risk. That’s the question the Russian roulette analogy is meant to address. The conflation comes in when you say
‘”In real life there is indeed an “overriding reason” for taking the risk. And we all take our lives into our hands as soon as we walk out the front door every morning.”
in that you’re addressing the consequences of risk taking by an existent agent on his own behalf, whereas I’m talking about the unnecessary introduction of risk to a third party.
Next, on to this exchange-
““Considering the moral ramifications of procreation is really no different than considering the consequences of any of our actions beforehand. Should we really have taken thalidomide off the market, or just dealt with the victims afterward?”
Difference between a non-existing person and an existing one, who may fall ill. Apples and oranges.
“Does it make sense to ‘prevent forest fires’, since the fires don’t exist yet?”
Yes, because when preventing the fire, you are concerned with already existing things–the people, the houses, the forest, etc. that stand to lose from the potential fire.
Both these examples address the concept of prevention as it applies to risk assessment. We consider probabilities to the best of our ability, then act (or don’t act, as the case may be) with an eye toward consequences measured against normative moral evaluation. Yes, this process can involve pre-existent agents or objects, but it’s equally valid for exploring the validity of bringing agents into existence in the first place. With your apples and oranges remark, you seem to be implying that any moral evaluation can only be applied after the fact, and is invalid in the decision making process itself. I doubt you actually believe this, per this remark-
“If you read what I wrote in my previous comment, you will see that I said just that: if hypothetically you could know with 100% certainty that existence=suffering for that person, then you would apply humanist ethics and deny suffering, thereby denying existence.”
Here you’re actually extending moral evaluation toward a non-existent being (in less metaphoric terms, you’re evaluating the morality of bringing a being into existence), and the only difference between us lies in your requirement for ‘100% certainty’ of suffering. Why only then? Because, in your words-
“…if there is any chance that that person could have any happiness or pleasure, this calculus breaks down. We may realize the handicap of a person with Down’s Syndrome, for example, but that person may be living a challenging, exciting and happy life in their own world. Who are we to deny them that opportunity, just because their situation doesn’t live up to our lofty standards?”
Then again, they may be horribly unhappy, and curse us for bringing them into existence. So on the existent side of the ledger, we have the possibility of great happiness, or great suffering. As existing beings, we all reside somewhere between these two poles, moving back and forth at the whims of chance. However, in the normal course of living we tend to alleviate any possibility of suffering to ourselves and our loved ones. The exception to this rule is the kind of suffering that we consider ‘necessary’ to our overall growth as human beings; but even that kind of suffering is something we hope to get past eventually. Suffering is seldom something we deem to be ‘intrinsically’ good. Basically, it’s something we try to avoid whenever we can, including the risks that might place us in its path. In this sense, non-procreation is simply guaranteed pain aversion, and at absolutely no cost to the potentially conceived, since there is no sense of deprivation whatsoever.
As for your addendum, what you’re really saying is that we’re giving people the agonizing choice to kill themselves if things don’t work out the way we hoped they would. Personally, I find antinatalism far more humanist.
One more slight quibble-
“By creating a person, you are not “forcing” them to do anything. Instead, you are giving them the choice: choose existence, or non-existence, the choice is theirs.”
Actually, this person never had the ‘choice’ to exist. That was the parent’s choice. And the only way he can nullify that choice that was made for him is to commit suicide; a choice again necessitated by the parent’s original decision to bring him into existence.
With all due respect, I don’t think you’ve thought seriously about the problem of suicide, either in practical or ethical terms. Beyond the fact that suicide is much more difficult than people generally assume (most attempts end in failure, and failed suicide attempts often result in debilitating injuries) there are real psychic — and physical — externalities to consider, such as the experience of devastating loss that a suicide’s loved ones will experience. To blithely assert that “If someone really hates their life, they are perfectly free to [end it]” is to overlook the emotional and volitional gravity of a choice that is, in legal and pragmatic terms, far from “free.”
But even if the self-deliverance option were as unconstrained and inconsequential as you suggest, the view that being brought into existence entails serious harm needn’t rest on a negative appraisal of life. For those who value life enough to view death as a grievous harm (as most of us do in cases of willful homicide), the fact that procreation foreseeably leads to a life’s cessation is enough to tip the scales. To opt against bringing a new being into existence is to guarantee that a potential being will not suffer the harm of death. Or, to put it more bluntly, to not have a child is, in an absolutely literal sense, to not kill a child. Of course, the inverse is true as well. Even if we are habituated not to think in such terms.
I know that you will argue that the potential person whose existence is contemplated and denied will not experience any of the joys and benefits that may have come, which is true. But again (repetition being necessary), the crucial point is that the pre-existential denial of life can never constitute a harm against the person who could have been. Nonexistent beings never show up at parties or funerals, yet they have no regrets over any of it. This is the heart of the asymmetry; once you pit the eternal harmlessness of nonexistence against the average life’s highs and lows (that inexorably culminate in the violence that is death), the ledger will skew toward what might as well be infinity. It isn’t a wash.
Alright, just a few more points. I won’t address everyone’s full argument because I’m starting to get suicidal. (Which makes me wonder if that was the agenda all along… hmmm…) Honestly, to settle this we would have to get into the nitty gritty of the fundamental assumptions being made on all sides, which might take a while to discover.
“Your argument is very subjective. It’s how YOU feel, how YOU analyze.”
I could say the same thing about your argument. Actually, I have little doubt the vast majority of people would agree with my side. Not that that means anything, though. Truth isn’t a popularity contest.
“I think the problem is your attempt to wash out the suffering in a broad stroke way, by accounting for its opposite, and concluding that pain neutralizes pleasure, and vice versa.”
You must explain to me, then, why accounting for pain is legitimate, but accounting for pleasure is not. I am assuming that both are equally relevant as far as logic is concerned, but you seem to indicate that only one is. Why arbitrarily choose pain? Why not focus only on pleasure, and come to the exact opposite conclusion?
“In effect, Jim ignores the possibility of pleasure, knowing that it may or may not be there, but suffering (and death) is guaranteed.”
Exactly. He ignores pleasure, without justifying this ignoring. I know you say suffering is guaranteed and pleasure is not, but I already addressed this very issue above: suffering and pleasure are only relevant for a living person anyway, by definition.
I don’t argue with the logic of the argument at all–the logic works beautifully if you accept the underlying axioms/ assumptions. That is why in my original, original comment I started out by criticizing the premise. If I assume from the start that there is a God, then it follows quite logically that I should worship him, order my life around him, etc. But I’m questioning that premise.
“When we introduce risk, loss and reward, pain and pleasure are possible results OF that risk.”
Right, that’s what I meant. That was my business background using “risk and reward.” I meant risk of pleasure versus risk of pain.
“you’re addressing the consequences of risk taking by an existent agent on his own behalf, whereas I’m talking about the unnecessary introduction of risk to a third party.”
That’s a good clarification. But still–this third party does not exist. In a way, I could say “why account for nonexistent person A instead of nonexistent person B, or C, or D…” and so on ad infinitum. This is where the logical bizarreness making moral decisions based on non-existent persons is evident. Ironically, since the future person is just as real as God, I should make moral decisions based on God, too, by this logic. I know you will say the future person is more relevant because he will exist. And yet, he will not exist if I take your anti-natalist advice. There’s a paradox if I ever saw one.
“Yes, this process can involve pre-existent agents or objects, but it’s equally valid for exploring the validity of bringing agents into existence in the first place.”
I think you are allowing your ability to imagine a currently non-existent being to override the fact that it is not, in fact, existing. I can imagine there being a God, or a unicorn, etc. But until I have reason to believe such a thing exists, I have no compelling reason to factor it into my moral considerations.
“With your apples and oranges remark, you seem to be implying that any moral evaluation can only be applied after the fact, and is invalid in the decision making process itself.”
Not at all. Not sure where you picked that up. Moral decision making often takes into account future conditions–but only for beings that can be assumed to exist at that future time. One can “imagine” a particular person existing in the future (imagine a future President of the US, for example), but it is not safe to assume that person will exist, for the same reason it is not safe to assume God exists, when making a moral calculus. Any moral calculus for currently non-existing persons–which (since we can’t predict the future) means all future persons–is a purely theoretical exercise, and has little to no relevancy on taking real decisions.
Re: Suicide–fair point. But in a way the pain of suicide (which may or may not occur) is acceptable for that person because it’s gone once that person leaves life behind. Moreover, for a given, hypothetical, currently non-existing person, the best we can do is revert to what we observe in other existing people. And what we see is people embracing life, for the most part. So the expected situation is one of being satisfied with life. That fact alone throws Jim’s exclusive emphasis on suffering seriously into doubt.
Also, just one more thing on something Jim said earlier:
“Personally, I find antinatalism far more humanist.”
Ironically, taken to its full extent, it is a humanism that leads to no more humans.
In Columbo-esque fashion, just one more thing. I came up with an analogy that I think might help bring this home. (Assuming anyone is still reading this thread.)
(1) In football, I want to score touchdowns
(2) Every touchdown my team scores is good, and every touchdown my opposing team scores is bad
(3) I want to minimize the number of touchdowns my opponent scores
(4) Therefore I want to pass a law abolishing the game of football
(5) See the problem? I passed a law abolishing the game of football. Sure, now there is absolutely no chance my opponents can score a touchdown. But that goal was only meaningful in the context of the game of football in the first place! So I have eliminated the very thing upon which my goal ONTOLOGICALLY depends!
(6) My goal owes its origin and its meaning to the game of football; by eliminating football, I have eliminated the origin and meaning of my goal. I may still carry that goal around in my head, and congratulate myself for permanently preventing my opponents from scoring a touchdown, but my goal is now a 100% superficial, meaningless, significance-less, hollow waste of my brain power.
(7) In my single-minded zeal to complete my goal and prevent my opposition from scoring touchdowns, I have completely lost sight of why I was pursuing that goal in the first place!
The prevention of pain and suffering is only meaningful in the context of life. The only reason it exists is because life exists. Without life, that goal has no meaning. Thus by preventing life from occurring, for the sake of this goal, one is robbing the goal of its ontological basis, rendering the goal pointless, which in turn renders the decision taken to advance that goal–to not create life–pointless.
We need to create sufferers in order to prevent suffering. So meaningful, so ontological, so brilliant. Right up there with fighting for peace and screwing for virginity. Not at all pointless.
you keep ignoring the point that has been made repeatedly about the absence of pleasure in the non-existent not being a deprivation. You even made it yourself unwittingly when you said: “If they are not deprived of happiness, then in the same way they are not subjected to suffering”. There are no negative features in that state of affairs, whereas life contains a negative feature – suffering, and whatever pleasure/happiness you experience is not a benefit compared to the absence that does not deprive.
Re: your football analogy. You attempt to show why it is absurd to care about the suffering of someone who ends up never existing as a result of your decision. But all it shows is that people who already exist may not want to give up their pleasures at the cost of avoiding suffering. If the pain of losing outweighed the pleasure of winning, it would actually be irrational not to prefer to stop playing football; and while making it illegal to play football would be excessively paternalistic, there would be nothing unreasonable about making it illegal to force other people to play football.
Your analogy presupposes that you have an interest in football and are a football player (implied in (1)). I’m sure you think football is great, but I personally am completely indifferent to it. At the same time, I realize that if I were interested in playing football, then it would make sense for me to want to score touchdowns and want to minimize the number of touchdowns the other team scores. But why should I now want to score touchdowns? I don’t give a shit about them. At the same time, when someone gets upset because the other team scores a touchdown , I can be glad that I’m immune to the distress they experience. Those who are never born are not there to be glad, but we can make that statement with regard to the interests they would have had had they been born.
Now you may say that, all things considered, I should get interested in football because my life would become more exciting if I did. But I exist and hence experience deprivation and the need for excitement; if I had never existed, I would not have had that problem, and not giving a shit about football would have absolutely no negative effects for me.
Unlike God, being born is a real possibility; we can’t make God, but we can make people. If you disregard the interests of people who might never become actual, they will become actual (because you won’t be using birth control) and thus prove your reasoning defective.
If someone is born a one-legged slave and fed bread crumbs every day while laboring under the yoke of a sadistic task master until they keel over at age 30, then that might qualify as a “life of suffering.” But for the vast majority of people, especially those living today? I don’t think so.
Imagine that society consisted, for the most part, of one-legged slaves who were fed bread crumbs every day while laboring under the yoke of a sadistic task master until they keeled over at age 30. But a minority of slaves in that society would have no legs, be fed half-rations of bread crumbs and keel over at age 25. I’m sure some optimistic one-legged breadcrumb-loving slave would be making your exact argument in such a society.
Nice try. All instances of my opponent scoring touchdowns occur during a football game. Not all football games include my opponent scoring touchdowns. All sufferers are humans. Not all humans are sufferers.
“There are no negative features in that state of affairs, whereas life contains a negative feature – suffering, and whatever pleasure/happiness you experience is not a benefit compared to the absence that does not deprive.”
Correct. In the absence of existence, there are no negatives and no positives. In the absence of existence, there is no pleasure and no pain. We have a big fat zero. From nothing, nothing can come, including a moral decision.
“At the same time, I realize that if I were interested in playing football, then it would make sense for me to want to score touchdowns and want to minimize the number of touchdowns the other team scores.”
Note that reworded this can say: At the same time, I realize that if I were interested in [existing], then it would make sense for me to want to [experience pleasure] and want to minimize the [amount of pain].
“But why should I now want to score touchdowns? I don’t give a shit about them.”
Exactly. Because as far as the game of football is concerned, you are non-existent. The desire to minimize opponents’ touchdowns has meaning only insofar as the game of football is engaged in. In the same way, the desire to minimize suffering has meaning only insofar as life is engaged in. Outside of life, pain (and its denial) has no meaning. Outside of football, touchdowns (and their denial) have no meaning. (BTW, I’m not big on football at all, it’s just an example.)
“If you disregard the interests of people who might never become actual, they will become actual”
This is obviously not true because there is an infinite number of people who “might never become actual” and yet the human population is not infinite.
“I’m sure some optimistic one-legged breadcrumb-loving slave would be making your exact argument in such a society.”
Probably. So what? If they played one-legged football they might construct the same analogy. The slave thing was just a dramatization of the “life of suffering” alluded to by someone else earlier. I could just as easily have talked about a no-leg person, or a person with no appendages.
>Not all humans are sufferers.
Boy, am I relieved to learn that (that’s the very first time I’ve heard that). I used to labor under the impression that all humans suffered at some point in their lives, some much more than others, and that no one could predict how much a given person would suffer. Whew. Think I’ll go knock up the wife, and join in the fight against suffering.
Good. Glad you realize that in order for your previous comment to make any sense, every human must be logically categorized as a sufferer.
Um, I’m glad you’re glad. Am I missing something? I think all humans suffer (again, some much more, and more often, than others), and I think my previous comment makes perfect sense. What am I missing? By “sufferer,” I simply mean “one who suffers (at some point and/or to some degree).” Are you assuming some other definition that I missed above (e.g., “one who suffers more often than not,” or something like that)? Or are do you actually believe there are people who never suffer in any way? (Obviously I’m also assuming “sufferers” are conscious, living people, and people who are not in a coma, not in a totally vegetative state, not decapitated, etc.) Help me out here.
Here’s how I look at it. A sufferer is one who suffers. A person suffers sometimes, not all the time, as you know. Therefore a person sometimes belongs to the category “sufferer,” sometimes not. Suffering is not inherent to personhood, only the potential for suffering is.
You originally said “to create sufferers.” But creating people is not creating sufferers, it is creating entities that could be sufferers. Therefore the comparison you were trying to make (i.e. “screwing for virginity”) is not complete.
Screwing is an activity that is definitionally, categorically, contrary to virginity. So that makes sense–black and white. But a person is not necessarily a sufferer–there’s gray in there. Therefore a person is not definitionally, categorically, contrary to the prevention of suffering, which is what you were trying to imply by making the comparison with screwing for virginity.
It’s important to note why I define a “sufferer” as a uniform category in this way. “Suffering” is a uniform state, therefore when you say “sufferer” in comparison with “suffering” you are drawing a logical equivalence—one uniform category with another uniform category.
If you defined “suffering” as a non-uniform state, such as a state of sometimes feeling pain and sometimes not, then you would be legitimate in defining “sufferer” as a non-uniform character—sometimes experiencing pain and sometimes not.
But it makes more sense to define “suffering” as a uniform state, as that is how we typically use it, colloquially. You should therefore complete the logical application and define the second term in the statement in a uniform way as well. When we define “sufferer” in this uniform way—as a being who is suffering, as part of his/her categorical identity—we see that a human is not properly defined/ categorized as a sufferer, because (s)he is not always suffering, permanently, as an inherent quality.
Humans suffer…some of the time. Some humans suffer all of the time. Some rarely. Some suffering is mild (pinprick), some is not (cancer). Suffering is subjective (my boyfriend dumped me) and objective (burnt flesh). But it exists uniformly across the species.
But really, that’s a side issue.
The point of anti-natalism, as I understand it, is from the viewpoint of the non-existent being, before it comes into existence. It seems to me that the disagreements I’ve seen here in the comments are missing each other around that fact. Justin, you seem to be arguing that as long as someone has the subjective ability to make a choice about the relativity of their suffering vis a vis their pleasure, then it’s not morally valid to take a anti-natalist stance, which is valid only from an existing being’s point of view. Once in existence, the question is moot. Everyone else seems to recognize that as long as we acknowledge that when we create another life, the mere fact that it will suffer is enough to require us to refuse to create that life, regardless of whether it may or may not have a satisfactory life. It’s not our right to make that choice for a non-existent being.
Of course, that non-existent being isn’t around to have his opinion solicited, now is he?
It’s truly a conundrum, and an academic one at that, becuase in reality we do, in fact, create life, and as long as there is one person left on the planet (or actually 2) that disagrees, life will continue, suffering notwithstanding.
“…from the viewpoint of the non-existent being, before it comes into existence.”
By definition, a non-existent being has no viewpoint. It’s like asking “what was there before time?” The question is meaningless on its face because there was by definition nothing “before time.” The only reason we have a desire to prevent suffering is because life exists. The only reason I have a desire to prevent my opponent from scoring a touchdown is because I can play or am playing football. No football, no such goal (to prevent touchdowns). No life, no such goal (to prevent suffering).
“Everyone else seems to recognize that as long as we acknowledge that when we create another life, the mere fact that it will suffer is enough to require us to refuse to create that life”
This issue, whether correct or not, is belied by the lack of meaning of “suffering” or “prevention of suffering” in the absence of life. Just as the meaning of “scoring a touchdown” or “preventing my opponent from scoring” lacks meaning in the absence of the game of football. It is a question of logic and the ontological basis for the goal that is trying to be accomplished.
I’m not sure this football analogy is doing the work you seem to think it’s doing, but I’ll throw in my two cents.
Is it not possible that football players could eventually begin to realize that football, however fun and profitable it may be at times, is wildly and predictably dangerous, exploitative, and ultimately useless? And if they were to come to this realization, would it not make sense that they would try to dissuade people from signing their children up to play the game (even if they themselves continued to play for whatever reasons [they like the alternatives even less, they don’t want to leave particular teammates alone, whatever])? From within the game, one can realize that the game is not all it’s cracked up to be, and that inducting new players no longer makes sense.
>Suffering is not inherent to personhood
Wow. Put that one on your gravestone. I guess I didn’t miss anything, you’re just defining suffering/sufferer differently (and I thoroughly disagree that your definitions are more adequate); I’ll just stand by what I’ve already written.
To anyone working through these issues, here are a few scholarly, published, non-internet-based items that may be of interest:
Review responses: http://web.uct.ac.za/depts/philosophy/staff_benatar_betternevertohavebeen.htm
Author interview (audio): http://www.pod702.co.za/podcast/bestofredi/20090226BESTREDI.mp3
Article 1 (PDF): http://www.helsinki.fi/collegium/english/staff/Hayry/2004%20HF%20If%20You%20Must%20Make%20Babies.pdf
Article 2 (open PDF): http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1733883/
Article 3a (open PDF): http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1734020/
Article 3b (PDF): http://www.helsinki.fi/collegium/english/staff/Hayry/Publ%202010%20liite%206.pdf
Temporary PDF: http://www.public.iastate.edu/~jwcwolf/Papers/Shiffrin%20Wrongful%20life%20procreative%20responsibility%20and%20the%20significance%20of%20harm.pdf
Sorry. More than 3 links and my spam filter holds it.
>Suffering is not inherent to personhood
“Wow. Put that one on your gravestone.”
Ummm, ok. In any case, I was referring to the category of “personhood.” It’s all about the categories. Suffering can occur within the category of people, but it is not an essential component of the definition/ category of personhood (except maybe in certain religions like Christianity, where humans are inherently “sinners” and all that).
“…I thoroughly disagree that your definitions are more adequate); I’ll just stand by what I’ve already written.”
Ok, end of discussion, I guess. No counter-argument there.
“Is it not possible that football players could eventually begin to realize that football… is ultimately useless?”
Sure. The equivalent would be to say “is it not possible that humans could eventually realize that human life is ultimately useless?” If you believe or are willing to argue that human life is ultimately useless, then that’s pretty much the end of the discussion. Most people who truly believe that are no longer with us. As humans we assert on blind faith that human life has value, and that has moral implications. But if you would assert on blind faith that human life has no value, or is pointless or whatever, there is no logical way to defeat that position. It’s just another blind faith axiom, but leads eventually to the death of the species.
“From within the game, one can realize that the game is not all it’s cracked up to be, and that inducting new players no longer makes sense.”
Now you have moved the discussion from talking about ending football to end opponents’ touchdowns, to ending football because it is a waste of time. In other words, from talking about ending life to end suffering, to ending life because it is pointless/ meaningless, etc.
Again, simply a different blind faith axiom. Not better or worse, just different. And most who truly believe that are no longer with us.
BTW, those of us who swallow the blind faith axiom that human life has some inherent value are probably oriented to creating more of it (not necessarily irresponsibly, of course). The potential for suffering within human life does not belie that inherent value.
Does the burden of proof not lie with the one who says that x does exist and/or does have inherent/non-relative/non-subjective value or meaning? (Also, is it not obvious that the notion that anything at all has inherent value is of a piece with theistic imaginings?)
That’s true. Good point. The burden of proof is on the one who would make the assertion “this thing has value.” I am willing to admit that I have blind faith in the inherent value of human life.
On the other hand, (I won’t argue this here) one could argue that insofar as I am thinking/ talking, I am automatically investing myself with some value (inherent or otherwise). I must value myself on some unconscious, unspoken level before I have even uttered a word or had a single thought. Which might lead to an argument that valuing human life is somehow automatic or the default state of the human mind, before logic itself kicks in. But I suppose we have some agreement in there.
“Also, is it not obvious that the notion that anything at all has inherent value is of a piece with theistic imaginings?”
This conflates blind faith propositions. As far as blind faith is concerned, yes a blind humanist value of human life, and a blind theist value of God are equally legitimate. But one of the main things distinguishing “theistic imaginings” is the idea of a world outside the natural world–the supernatural. By contrast, a humanist value system requires only this natural world. This is a fundamental difference, between naturalism and supernaturalism. The naturalist-humanist approach requires fewer assumptions.
In any case, if you are to really take the anti-natalist position, then in fact you are also investing human life with some inherent value, because you want to prevent suffering. As I have said, suffering or the prevention thereof has meaning only in the context of human life. So this human life must have some value that makes it worth protecting from suffering. Just like the green slips of paper in my wallet have some value that make them worth protecting from thieves.
No, it’s real-world subjective suffering of real people that bothers me. I don’t see any need to invest it (or people) with transcendent/inherent meaning (even if that was a valid or coherent intellectual move) in order to want to prevent it.
(By the way, before you once again suggest that perhaps I should logically be “no longer with us”: I’m no more a fan of dying and death than I am of suffering [doesn’t mean I’m in love with life, just means I don’t look forward to dying and death]; death is part and parcel of this reprehensible gift [the gift that can only be refused or returned by murdering oneself].)
If there is nothing special about humans, then there is no logical reason to prefer they do not suffer, versus preferring, say, asteroids are not destroyed. It’s totally arbitrary.
If, on the other hand, yours is simply a subjective preference (it just “bothers you”) then, well, that’s that. No logic need apply.
Welcome to earth.
(P.S.: I certainly don’t think anything I’ve said is illogical [and I don’t think you’ve demonstrated that I have], but of course I haven’t come up with any ultimately authoritative ethical knowledge here, which is just as well since no such thing exists.)
Lol, so there is no such thing as ethical knowledge, yet you’ve been arguing ethics for the last 3 days. Love it.
I’ve merely been trying to suggest that people who give a crap about other people’s suffering might want to think more about what it means to procreate before they do so (or do so again).
But I’d love to see your proof for the existence of ethical knowledge.
Welcome to earth.
(P.S.: I certainly don’t think anything I’ve said is illogical [and I don’t think you’ve demonstrated that I have], but of course I haven’t come up with any ultimately authoritative ethical knowledge here, which is just as well since no such thing exists.)
Sorry for this duplicate post; I meant to stick the original up there in the previous sub-thread. (Feel free to delete this one, SI.)
It seems very academic to me. I certainly would rather have my life with its attendant suffering than never to have been born. I fear the suffering my children will face, but I trust they would make the same choice. And the love and joy I experience in life and in my children outweighs the measure of suffering, with no accounting for an afterlife required (as David notes in comment above).
Your concluding thoughts about future children is funny to me, being done with having children myself. I have 4 boys, and it often seems like too many. So then I think of what life would be like without #3 and #4, and of course I would never trade them in for any measure of peace or reduction of hardship. The same tension again, but they become academic arguments to me, with no resolution possible or necessary. Maybe that is because my life is relatively comfortable, I don’t know.
Why did you deprive #5; don’t you think he would rather have his life with its attendant suffering than never to have been born? Oh, wait, that doesn’t make sense (either).
If you get a dog, it’s just going to die someday.
Yes; if you want a dog, please get a shelter dog (there are all too many to choose from at any given shelter), and don’t support puppy mills or other animal breeders.
Congrats on the book jim. Though I haven’t read it, I would hope you provide an argument for accepting the premise “suffering should be avoided.” It would seem such a premise would be vital to your argument, which I ultimately see as an iteration of, “the glass is half-empty not half-full.” For example, you say,
I don’t think that’s an argument as much as a declaration of value. When we create a life, we also *automatically expose* that life to the risk of great joy, love and fulfillment, and there’s not always an answer for why we do this. Some people reproduce consciously. Others not. Your implication that “what’s left is plain selfishness” seems awfully premature to me.
*though not technically correct, I kept the original usage to preserve form.
Exactly. To me, jim’s position is the same as seeing a glass of water as half-empty. So far, I haven’t seen any actual justification for a prescription against reproduction. The argument seemingly has no basis other than, “I don’t like suffering.”
I stumbled for a moment there, too, but reading on, I think the crux of SI’s argument was contained in the line, “It’s not our right to make that choice for a non-existent being.” Not that I agree with him; just pointing out that I think it would be a mistake to focus on the slip-up in delivery when one might challenge the underlying moral prescription.
That’s really unconvincing. I could just as easily say the mere fact that another life will experience joy is enough to require its creation – but then I’d face the same challenge as jim: on what grounds can I justify my assumed premise that experience of joy justifies procreation?
>So far, I haven’t seen any actual justification for a prescription against reproduction. The argument seemingly has no basis other than, “I don’t like suffering.”
What sort of grander justification do you imagine exists for any “ethical” problem/issue? Whether the issue is tripping someone in the schoolyard or mass murder, if someone isn’t bothered by causing suffering (or if they think it’s worth it to achieve some treasured end), do you think some contrived ethical/metaethical theory or ancient belief is going to provide “actual justification” for a prescription against it? (You may convince someone, or somehow force someone, to live by some invented code, but you wouldn’t succeed in making them any more justified than someone who simply wishes to avoid creating unnecessary suffering for other people.)
Of course, the fact that actual/ultimate ethical justifications don’t exist and therefore can’t be demonstrated to would-be parents and would-be mass murderers makes it difficult to convince would-be parents and would-be mass murderers (and others who see causing unnecessary suffering as somehow palatable) to rethink their plans, but that’s life; I imagine the best that can be done is simply to point out that this causes that, and do you really want to cause that, since you really don’t have to, etc. (Of course, when it comes to mass murder, you can also point out that they might end up being executed or sent to jail.)
How about simply adopting sensible family planning over the wanton permissiveness that society engages in, this day and age? Then, maybe we wouldn’t be talking about this fanatical and deluded antinutalism, which, to me, is a poor substitute for merely taking charge of one’s life and living it with the concern and welfare of others in mind, instead of one’s own selfish desires.
People pump out kids, these days, citing it as an obligation, with the rest of society obliged to pay the bill. No matter if the country can afford it or not, it’s like many young parents, these days, think we’re obligated to pick up after their sexual adventures. A society drunk on sex and debauchery and self-seeking is now reaping the crop they’ve sewn. Too bad, so sad! Now, comes the time when they’re forced to zip it up and take ownership for their selfish ways!
Antinutalism is simply another finishing touch on the dehumanizing science and religion of humanism. As with Darwinism, which reduces man to the status of a mindless animal, here entirely by chance, Antinutalism teaches that herd management is now necessary and preferable to simply acting and thinking like human beings designed and created by an intelligent and benevolent God.
>taking charge of one’s life and living it with the concern and welfare of others in mind, instead of one’s own selfish desires.
By all means, take charge of your life and work toward the welfare of others; but creating more others whose welfare will need to be tended to is just absurd (especially if you claim to be concerned about selfishness). If you really want to be unselfish and caring, take care of the actual people in need who are already here. WWJD?
>Antinutalism is simply another finishing touch on the dehumanizing science and religion of humanism. As with Darwinism, which reduces man to the status of a mindless animal…
No Darwinism, humanism, or any other theory or belief (or even science) necessary; just some foresight mixed with something along the lines of empathy and/or mercy, and an awareness of personal responsibility. Not all that nutty. While we are obviously animals, we are just as obviously not mindless, and our great advantage over other animals is that we can resist and question our instincts and impulses and consider the consequences of our actions before we act.
>preferable to simply acting and thinking like human beings designed and created by an intelligent and benevolent God.
It seems clear (as ThatOtherGuy has also noted below) that people who take some of their cues from allegedly ghostwritten legends and propaganda are part of the problem here. Good ol’ Genesis 1:28. But on the other hand, there’s always the chance that people might actually start taking WWJD seriously (better yet, what Jesus actually DID; I’d love to see more of you actually take up your cross and follow his actual example by devoting yourselves entirely to helping the existing needy, instead of self-servingly creating your own little needy diversions).
or to be more precise, what he didn’t do (procreate). 8)
“People pump out kids, these days, citing it as an obligation, with the rest of society obliged to pay the bill. No matter if the country can afford it or not, it’s like many young parents, these days, think we’re obligated to pick up after their sexual adventures. A society drunk on sex and debauchery and self-seeking is now reaping the crop they’ve sewn. Too bad, so sad! Now, comes the time when they’re forced to zip it up and take ownership for their selfish ways!”
*Cough cough* http://www.quiverfull.com/
Got news for you, dude; atheists don’t do that shit.
Supporting data, woo!
Still looking for more, maybe later…
“Got news for you, dude; atheists don’t do that shit.”
Well, moron, they do, because I’ve seen it with my own eyes in my own family, where there are more than just a few infidels. I don’t need to scour the Internet to find the evidence I need like you do. And, if you don’t believe me, that’s just one other thing that won’t keep me awake, tonight!
Even if Christians were the only ones having large families, it still doesn’t negate what I’m saying. There is no reason for anyone, including those you cited, to have ridiculously large families. It’s like the old campfire adage: The bigger the fire, the bigger the fool.
People want to be irresponsible about procreation, it doesn’t matter what Holy Book they subscribe too. However, as TOG shows, religionists as a whole tend to be more irresponsible that those without much religion. Why? Lot’s of reasons.
But none of them have anything to do with antinatalism. You should read the book, Giddy.
Oooh, he sure showed me, though. He met my data with an unsupportable anecdote, whatever will I do?
well, it’s Gideon, FFS. What do you expect? “I don’t need to scour the Internet to find the evidence I need like you do” says it all, don’t ya think?
“However, as TOG shows, religionists as a whole tend to be more irresponsible that those without much religion. “
TOG, other than demonstrating his innate and remarkable talent for being a weenie, has proven only that he places his trust in polls, that, at best, only reflect a particular opinion at a certain time, often subject to change on a whim or after careful consideration. There’s nothing conclusive in polls with regard to hard and irrefutable facts.
Oh, and I’m glad that you didn’t negate religion from the rest of the society, necessarily that segment also comprised of atheists and infidels.
Maybe there’s hope for you, yet!
Unfounded prescriptions are unfounded prescriptions whether made by theists or atheists.
Ooh, I guess he sure showed you! ‘Cuz, you know, the fact that some Bible thumpers are turning them out means so much!
That’s not my question to answer. I’m not the one making the argument that reproduction should be avoided. Remember, the burden of proof falls to the positive claimant.
That may or may not be a fact, only the future might tell. As of today, however, that’s an opinion that you’re touting irresponsibly as a fact.
Yes, but “life causes suffering” is a horribly one-sided argument. Life also causes untold joy. At least, for me and many others, it does. I recognize not all are so privileged.
>…burden of proof…
Since I’m unaware of any grander or more ultimate ethical justifications/proofs for any problem/issue, I don’t see how I could provide one for you. All I’ve claimed is that reproduction should be avoided by anyone who doesn’t want to create unnecessary suffering for others.
>That may or may not be a fact, only the future might tell. As of today, however, that’s an opinion that you’re touting irresponsibly as a fact.
Sure, I’ll be on the lookout for unicorns too; only the future might tell. I beg your pardon for my gross irresponsibility; I hereby amend my statement to read: “…the fact that actual/ultimate ethical justifications don’t exist (as of today) and therefore can’t be demonstrated…”. But irresponsibility is a good word; let’s talk about irresponsibility…
I’m glad you apparently have a “charmed life.” However, if you were never born, there would have been no one to miss out on all that magical joy. And, as you point out, not everyone is as privileged as you, and it’s impossible to know beforehand whether one’s would-be child will suffer minimally or horrifically. The only thing we can know for sure is that those who are never born won’t suffer and won’t miss your vaunted untold joy, because they won’t/don’t exist. There’s your fact.
If you’re more concerned about gambling without consent with the fortunes of others in hopes of winning the untold joy jackpot for them than you are about avoiding the creation of unnecessary suffering for others (after all, “ya can’t win if ya don’t play” is of course also a fact; although in this case, “they can’t win if I don’t force ’em to play” would be more appropriate), then I think it’s easy to see where the irresponsibility lies.
cl, as I’ve stated, TOG’s ‘proof’, conversely, is on par with that faith that many infidels chide Christians for exhibiting in lieu of hard, ‘scientific’ fact, which, to infidels, is the only criterion admissible for drawing definitive conclusions.
The world of the infidel is becoming increasingly complex. More and more ‘proof’ is needed, every year, to substantiate what only a fraction of it was able to do at a previous time. Opinions run rampant, giving rise to more questions instead of solving them.
This, to them, is progress. To the Christian, it is just baggage. The Bible, for instance, declares that murder is wrong. It doesn’t cite any other authority for it’s declaration save God. Science, only after numerous and expensive studies and trials, reaches the same conclusion, taking the credit for ‘revealing’ it to the rest of us unwashed.
“the burden of proof falls to the positive claimant.”
Funny how you can remember this fact HERE, but seem to lose touch with it in your deity claims. Unless you finally have some evidence beyond your CDs that fell over to look like the Pyramids! LOL!
Cute John. Very cute. Thing is, I’ve never lost site of the rule. That you chose not to believe what I say does not mean that I chose to ignore the burden of proof. Nor have I ever once pretended that the video game incident should be perceived as successful on its own. So, tighten it up.
It’s also funny how you pretend the video game incident is the only thing I’ve ever offered as evidence for “the supernatural,” but whatever. I accept that you’ll see what you want to see. Still, I’m always here for you, if ever you wish to get serious.
You’re right, it only shows you haven’t met it.
So what are these other things you’ve offered as evidence of the supernatural? I’m curious.
I’m sure he means the disappearing tumors. You know, the ones that occasionally go into remission – in every country of the world, regardless of religious faith and regardless of whether there was prayer associated or not.
and regardless of initial misdiagnosis. Ever watch House? They must go through a dozen diagnoses per patient before concluding what the problem is, including thinking masses on MRIs are tumors.
This brings up an interesting point though. Isn’t it amazing how the possibility of a misdiagnosis is never even considered by a believer, as if the doctors are infallible, yet when it comes to successful treatments, especially surgery, they thank their god? Infallible when it comes to diagnosing something which later miraculously disappears, yet inept when it comes to treatments without the help of their god.
“Ever watch House? They must go through a dozen diagnoses per patient before concluding what the problem is…”
Wow. Now, Hollywood is our criterion for demonstrating tangible reality.
Hollywood… the land of make-believe!
Speaking of make-believe, I guess this is sock puppet day, huh Rudy? er, I mean Chris, or Gid, or whatever.
“disappearing tumors… yada, yada… regardless of religious faith and regardless of whether there was prayer associated or not.”
Then, there’s the disappearing “science”, regardless of whether or not there was any legitimate research and/or supplementary observation concluded.
Just goes to show that there are many ways and places that faith can be misplaced.
“I guess this is sock puppet day, huh Rudy? er, I mean Chris, or Gid, or whatever.”
Another Tequila sunrise, there, Phil?
For Christ’s sake, Giddy, not Piltdown man. Talk about flogging a dead horse. That was “science” from a century ago. Even evolution has undergone major changes since then.
Are you sure you’re not a POE?
Hey, whatever works, there, Johnny! There truly are more examples than that one… just trying to go easy on you!
“Even evolution has undergone major changes since then.”
Yeah, and God is still the Supreme Force in the universe, Who changeth not, even though man and his bullshit theories are in constant flux. *Yawn*
(I dunno… you try and help people!)
Bah… I’ve never lost sight of the rule. Too much time in webland.
I wasn’t going to correct you on it, cl. Your life must be difficult enough, with all of your superstitions, without having some bonehead mocking you for incorrect usage.
Glad you were able to find it “cute”. It kind of tickled me too. 😉
As to your references to other bits of “evidence”, well, I feel very confident in proclaiming that, put altogether, they don’t come anywhere near the burden of proof for supernatural events, let alone the existence and dominion of the god of Abraham. If you were at least a bit more of a deist, you could be making some arguments that are a little intriguing. But I’ve never met a god I couldn’t disprove beyond a reasonable doubt – and Yahweh/Jeebus is one of those.
Hey, are you and Gideon a TEAM now or something? This post is a month old. You come in a week ago, then Gideon, and now you again. Just sayin’…. you seem to miss the same posts, the first time around. If you have teamed up, I think it’s a great idea. He would be sort of your Fundy alter-ego, wouldn’t he?
Feh… bet you the only difference between Gideon and cl is that Gideon will say what cl will only think.