Antinatalism, or anti-natalism, is the ethical view that procreation is morally wrong. A philosophy championed by David Benatar in the book Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming into Existence. This view has its deep roots in Buddhism and ancient Greek thought.

The question of having a child is not just a personal one but an ethical one as well. Usually, many child-free individuals opt out of procreation because of their own individual reasons and not necessarily for the ethics of it, while antinatalist opt out of procreation for the hypothetical child’s sake.

There are many reasons that would dissuade one from procreating for example: environmental degradation, the toll pregnancy bears on the body, the lack of interest in dedicating one’s life to bringing up another human being, among others, but the justification among antinatalists is that, bringing a child into a world where it will experience suffering without its consent, is morally problematic.

In other words, living things can be harmed and non-living things cannot be harmed.

This is because one cannot guarantee the hypothetical child a life without suffering, and we can all agree suffering is undesirable. Suffering can be brought about by events outside the parent’s control for example: natural disasters, pandemics, accidents, war, disease, among other. Furthermore, the children we bring to the world have a capacity to cause suffering to others as well, compounding to the suffering in the world. It is important to acknowledge that suffering does happen in degrees and that the more the suffering the more the repulsion to it, and if possible, we’d all prefer not to experience any suffering at all. The bottomline being, there is no reason at all to subject an individual to any amount of suffering by bringing them into existence. Nobody is disadvantaged one bit by not coming to existence.

Pain and pleasure aren’t perfectly asymmetrical and this coud be illustrated by an example as follow; if you were given an option to experience 5 minutes of the most intense pleasure followed by 5 minutes of the most intense pain, would you take the offer? Most probably not, because pain will carry more weight than pleasure. Benatar proposes an asymmetrical argument between good and bad things and presents it as follows:

  1. The presence of pain is bad
  2. The presence of pleasure is good
  3. The absence of pain is good, even if that good is not enjoyed by anyone
  4. The absence of pleasure is not bad unless there is somebody for whom this absence is a deprivation
Scenario A (X exists)Scenario B (X never exists)
1. Presence of pain (Bad)3. Absence of pain (Good)
2. Presence of pleasure (Good)4. Absence of pleasure (Not bad)

The argument follows that coming into existence generates both good and bad experiences, pain and pleasure, whereas not coming into existence entails neither pain nor pleasure. The absence of pain is good, the absence of pleasure is not bad. Therefore, the ethical choice is weighed in favour of non-procreation.

The above asymmetry is further explained as follows:

  • We have a no moral obligation to bring a child into this world even if we could ensure it would be happy its entire life, on the other hand, we have a moral obligation not to bring a child to this world if it can be foreseen that it will be unhappy. The reason we think there is no moral obligation to create happy people is that although their pleasure would be good for them, the absence of pleasure when they do not come into existence will not be bad for them either, because there will be no one who will be deprived of this good.
  • We would feel saddened by a scenario where people came into existence and suffered, and we would not feel saddened by a scenario where people did not come into existence in a place there were happy people. This is because the absence of pain is good even when there is no one to experience this good. And the absence of pleasure is bad only when someone exists to be deprived of this good.

As the arguments above suggest, anti-natalism is against bringing non-existent individuals into existence and not taking lives through suicide or homicide. This is simply because the unconceived hypothetical child has no aspirations, goals or reasons for existing, whereas, an individual already in existence has aspirations that they may need to pursue. For this and any other reason an individual in existence may give, is sufficient to justify its continued existence. An example to illustrate this would be going to the cinema and then realizing the movie isn’t that great but it’s also not that bad that you’re going to leave before it’s over, however, you wouldn’t recommend it to anyone.

Although it is obviously too late to prevent our own existence, it is not too late to prevent the existence of future possible people.

Do you agree with the anitnatialist argument?

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