Saturday, September 8, 2012

The heuristic of antinatalism

A key issue behind many moral philosophies lies in the following question:

"When is it permissible to inflict suffering on another individual without their consent?"

If the answer is "never" then antinatalism follows. Apologists of pro-natalism face an awkward balancing act of justifying the imposition of harm in some cases while denying it in others. Thus if the question is not answered with sufficient care then unintuitive consequences can arise. Perhaps for some people there may not be any way to answer this question without unknowingly violating some other principle they took for granted. Most justifications of antinatalism use this fact to their advantage.

When this question is presented in the context of antinatalism, answers are frequently given with the sole intent to avoid the conclusion of the wrongness of procreation; answers that wouldn't arise if the question was considered in isolation.

For example, one might take issue with what precisely is the cause of harm inflicted on someone in the morally relevant sense. Someone who has children might be absolved of any hypothetical wrong doing if they weren't directly responsible for the harms that befall their children. However, arguing along these ontological lines is risky because it doesn't attempt to reconcile the harms with any benefit so could just as well apply to a world that contains only suffering.

Outside of the antinatalism specific arguments, the primary responses to this question are the following:

1. In self defense.

2. For punishment.

3. When the individual's psychological history suggests that consent would probably be supplied if it could be obtained.

4. When the one suffering receives something of sufficient compensation as determined by the past beliefs of the individual.

5. For religious reasons.

6. When the infliction of harm serves some greater good.

7. When the individual will probably believe in hindsight that the suffering was beneficial or a necessary evil i.e. retroactive consent.

8. When the suffering is outweighed by some quantity of pleasure or another good of which that suffering is a condition.

The first four don't concern antinatalism. I have nothing to say on religion other than that it can be used to justify anything and two people with different religions aren't going to agree on everything. The case of greater goods is like that of religion.

For retroactive consent, the question of harms can be thought to reduce to one of technology or of cunning psychological manipulation. We might phrase this in the form "what can someone be made to believe?" for anyone with sufficient technology can make anyone believe anything. Retroactive consent is problematic for this reason.

For the last and most common response, the goodness of something is tied to personal beliefs and is like the case of retroactive consent.

The key to arguing antinatalism lies in weaknesses of these responses but the whole issue is still very murky. There are numerous subtle issues that I don't seem to be able to conquer all simultaneously. However, I do see merit in the way the question can be used to focus attention and to expose and clarify the ways in which assumptions must be introduced (often artificially) to avoid the conclusions of antinatalism.


  1. "When is it permissible to inflict suffering on another individual without their consent?" I believe this to be *the* most important question, the most important consideration, in the universe. The only moral answer is never. I was horrendously harmed by being brought into this world. There is no justification that I will accept. I do not accept that some "greater good" will come from my life. I do not accept that maybe there is a paradise/heaven awaiting me (I do not want to go. I do not want to be with such a God, if there is one). I do not accept the justification that it made my parents happy to create a baby (me). It is all sick, and we have a right to be angry, and this message (antinatalism) needs to be "shouted from the rooftops." Because if you have a child, and that child is ever disfigured, or raped, or burned, or enslaved, guess what is entirely your fault.

  2. I don't find the typical responses convincing either but the question is what can be done about those that do? What can be done about those who have blind sighted by their own cognitive biases and mythical thinking?

    1. I think what we can do as antinatalists is refer people to clear examples of the horror of life and get them thinking, "hey...this actually could happen to me, this could happen to my child." I think many people will look at something like 9/11 and feel like it can never happen to them. And yes it is unlikely that we will die in a horrific terrorist attack but it is not impossible. And to point out that even though the odds are small of this particular event happening to us, there are billions of other horrific things that might happen, that we cannot protect ourselves from, or anyone else from. I know that with myself I did not recognize the horror of life as a child and teenager. I would see on tv, for instance, a lion eating a zebra, and I would think that it was horrible but I also thought "that's life." I did not have any idea how excruciating it would be to actually be the zebra being eaten, until I had come to experience the pain of my own disease, and was experiencing pain I could hardly bear, and now I imagine that zebra's pain as being trillions of times worse than anything I've ever felt. I think pro-natalists make so many assumptions about the quality of life their offspring is going to have, and assume it will all work out somehow, and our job as antinatalists is to shatter those assumptions by focusing people on the grim reality.

    2. My sister is a mythical thinker, she completely agrees with antinatalism. It is selfish. It is an imposition. It is beter to have never been. Yet when all is said and done, she says in the end :" God has a plan"." I can't believe this is all there is." She also says she doesn't want to die alone and she wants a family (she's married, marriage without family is pointless to her and i can bet she feels "eggy"). Even if she didn't have religion, she would be one of those breeding assholeatheists.

      What can we do? Nothing. Pointless. In my experience it's futile. We don't need to convince people, we need to kill em in the billions (omnicidal red button thing)..but that's just me.