April 10, 2012

Is it immoral to have children?

Oh, what a world… Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry responds to a New Yorker article about several books espousing the idea that it is immoral to have children because, for example, the world is made worse due to the needless suffering represented by new children. Or, as David Benatar puts it, “a life filled with good and containing only the most minute quantity of bad — a life of utter bliss adulterated only by the pain of a single pin-prick — is worse than no life at all.”

I actually agree with Benatar: all life involves suffering. But this is precisely why it cannot be a criterion for whether a life should be lived (or else you reach Benatar’s conclusion that all human life should be extinguished). All life involves measures of terrible suffering and measures of bliss. And, most importantly, we cannot know ahead of time what the mix will be, for anyone. Including those with a “genetic disease”.

It is the height of arrogance to believe otherwise. It is, in a fundamental sense, inhumane because it entails a lack of real empathy: yes, even the sick, even the handicapped, even the poor, even the downtrodden, have life experiences that are worth living.

If you truly put yourself in others’ shoes — truly, not as “How would I feel if I were…” but truly take others’ perspective, it is impossible not to see this.

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But once we’ve decided that we can determine a priori which lives will be worth living, that some people have a duty not to bring into the world people who are different, then truly we are missing something fundamental.

Ross Douthat has also posted a response. Via Notes from a Small Place