Saturday, 18 April 2015


In response to the antinatalists, e.g. Benatar, Shiffrin (I’ve not given this any research, this is just off the top of my head), I’d like to propose pronatalism, that is, that you ought to have children.

Antinatalism is the view that giving birth is always wrong as you are imposing/forcing a lifetime of suffering on a new being which would not have suffered had it not been born. Strong versions of antinatalism argue that one should in fact abort all pregnancies to prevent this harm.

Pronatalism objects:

1. If humans are the only beings of great moral worth that we know of (e.g. greater than whales, dogs, chimps), it follows that by creating more humans we are increasing the moral value of earth, and therefore the overall moral goodness in the universe;

2. Statistically I think it is false. Only persons in third world conditions suffer more than they enjoy life; claiming otherwise is hyperbole and supports at most the problem of evil against theism; it does not support the view that we should pre-emptively kill foetuses to prevent them being born, or always use contraceptives.

3. Antinatalism is coextensive with genocide, or amounts at least to pre-emptive genocide.

4. Each human generally has great potential to become something great and thereby improve life on earth. Granted, most humans are wasteful and damage the environment. However, were we to properly create education systems and give such education to all persons, we could create billions of benevolent beings that improve life on earth. Pre-emptively killing persons prevents this possible great good.

5. Antinatalism entails the extinction of all sentient animal species. Since all animals of any moral value are also sentient animals, e.g. mammals, antinatalism entails that to prevent animals suffering (as they will), we should make all animals extinct, or at least prevent their giving birth by making all animals sterile. This is absurd. Antinatalism could even be taken to be arguing that only plants should exist.

6. It may not be the case that suffering and evil are the same thing, and therefore, that even if evil ought to not be done, it does not follow that suffering ought to not be experienced (i.e. I reject utilitarianism). For example, the suffering of a burn on a hot stove is a necessary evil without which we would not survive, and therefore it promotes our pleasure.

7. It does not seem true to me that evil and good, and suffering and pleasure, are commensurable. I do not believe, for example, that any suffering I have experienced outweighs the pleasure I get from my child greeting me. And yes, I have suffered far worse than you may care to imagine; I consider all my past sufferings to be naught by comparison.

8. I do not see that antinatalism can account for sadomasochism. I believe some people genuinely derive pleasure from pain, and therefore that his account of suffering, pleasure, good and evil, do not gel with reality. They are naïve models.

9. I do not accept the additive or Benthamite model of utilitarianism, that is, that we can tally our suffering, tally our pleasures, and say that the bottom line is that all lives are more suffering than pleasure. Benatar adduces scientific evidence that we overlook just how much we suffer, but I do not believe this can work unless we accept a Benthamite additive model.

10. Whilst this contradicts (1) and 3) above, I am a moral skeptic. I do not see that suffering entails that we ought to not exist, and that pleasure entails that we ought to exist. Our existence is a brute fact of biology and evolution, as are our persistent attempts to stay alive despite suffering. “Ought” does not enter into it. If anything, for evolutionary reasons, we ought to be able to suffer. Therefore, since, as argued above, suffering promotes our survival, suffering is not evil, but a necessary side effect of being alive, and part of the evolutionary process.

11. Benatar’s argument requires conclusive or gnostic atheism, given the drastic nature of his recommendations/views. If you’re going to abort every pregnancy on the grounds that the child’s life will be mostly suffering, you need to first establish that the suffering is not for example God’s way of testing the childs’ worthiness of heaven, or that God did not give you the capacity or pregnancy itself with a divine inscrutible purpose. Just giving a low probability to theism won’t do; Benatar has to refute theism, and show that there is no heaven, because of the severity of his exhortations.

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