Saturday, October 27, 2012

The harm of risks

In discussions on antinatalism, the following exchange of dialogue sometimes occurs:

Pronatalist: "Most people have a favourable view of their own lives. While some may have different views, the majority are still glad to have come into existence. On balance, procreation is thus acceptable."

Antinatalist: "Yes, but whenever one procreates, the risk that the created person suffers greatly in life and wishes they were never born is a risk whose consequences are born by another individual. While people are free to take risks with their own lives, creating another person is rolling the dice with someone else's life. The seriousness of the potential harms to those who come into existence makes that risk an unacceptable imposition."

There's nothing particularly wrong with this line of reasoning but there may be a subtle reason why it's unlikely to be successful (apart from the ordinary reasons). The counterargument engages with the idea that there's risk involved in procreation. This is true, of course, but the problem is that most people don't think in terms of probabilities. People typically don't think there's a realistic chance that bad things will happen to them - until those bad things actually happen to them.

It seems rather that the following is more appropriate:

Antinatalist: "Because of the widespread adoption of pronatalist ideals, many people will inevitably be created who hate their lives and wish they had never come into being, perhaps even wish to kill themselves. In some sense, the happiness of some is supported by the suffering of others. To justify procreation then is to justify the institution of inflicting suffering on some so that happiness may be experienced by other people in other places."

The above response is essentially equivalent to the former but it highlights the sheer sickness of the whole culture of procreation. It bypasses the matter of risk entirely by invoking considerations of actual harms and leaving abstractness aside. But who knows? Perhaps this counterargument will be equally unpersuasive. After all, it's easy to justify suffering when that suffering is not happening to you.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

The right to life

I previously wrote about the how right to life could be used to justify forcing women to have abortions, the irony of which will only ever be appreciated by a select few. Using this as an actual argument is, however, clearly fraught with problems because it positions most people against the use of logic and in favour of emotive prejudices. But if my argument really does imply that counter intuitive claim then there probably exists additional supporting evidence which may lessen its perceived repugnance.

Consider the following:
Imagine a world where people ordinarily live forever. Would the right to life mandate against creating people with finite lifespans?

One key difference between that world and this one is that active steps would need to be taken to ensure that someone dies. In our world, there is no such option and death is something more of a mere passive and incidental outcome of the decision to procreate, at least in the perception of those who have children. Note that if the above scenario is insufficient for some purpose then we can alternatively consider a world where no one suffers and then imposing suffering on an unfortunate would-be person.

Getting back to the main issue, the point of the thought experiment was to make plausible the notion that adhering to the right to life could preclude one from procreating because the person would die eventually. Even if one disagreed that it was wrong to create a person who would die at some point, it's not hard to imagine that the immortal inhabitants of that world might argue against that behavior on considerations of a hypothetical right to life and my original argument therefore wasn't totally absurd.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Preference utilitarianism

A common alternative to classical utilitarianism is that of preference utilitarianism. This typically arises out of opposition to the tendency for various moral theories to treat opposing views in terms of pathology. For example a utilitarian might believe that one can be mistaken as to what is actually in their best interests - they might see the forcible altering of the physical, chemical and electrical makeup of the brain of any contrarian to be a good thing. A preference utilitarian would reject such intervention.

However, there is ambiguity as to how this theory should operate. Specifically, it could do any of the following or a combination thereof.

1. Satisfy all preferences currently in existence
2. Create and satisfy as many preferences as possible
3. Prevent the emergence of any unsatisfied preferences

Point 2 is, however, incompatible with the foundational principle of preference utilitarianism alluded to in the opening paragraph.

Consider which of the the following is better: a life that contains no preferences or one that contains many preferences all of which are satisfied. One who believed in point 2 would say that the latter was better while others might say that neither was. The way in which the incompatibility arises is the way in which the lack of preferences is pathologised just as in the hedonistic case. The the very state of having no preferences might be seen as misguided because their life would allegedly be much better if they had fulfilled preferences even though the person who has no preferences clearly disputes this. As an amusing aside, one who believed in point 2 would have to concede that the advertising industry is one of the best of all; being that which creates and fulfills preferences.

If point 2 is rejected while the others hold then I needn't carry on this post any further; preference utilitarianism has become negative in its formulation and thus antinatalism is already implied. The preferences of people to procreate surely cannot outweigh the sheer magnitude of stifled preferences that result from them. The other fine details are not of great importance as with all negative moral theories.