Most potential parents I speak to – even generally wonky and nerdy ones – don’t think much about the morals concerns surrounding creating new people.
My wife and I struggled with this for years.
If you read what others have thought there are clear anti-natalist who believe it is always wrong. They have much to offer. Schopenhauer was in part responsible for my Pessimistic Awakening. Everyone should read Benatar even if you come away still thinking its lunacy.
On the other hand there are an almost endless list of pro-natalists. Being an economist I was attracted to the externality arguments of Simon – more people make a better world. And, the utility maximizing arguments of Bryan Caplan – children make your lives better.
However, I had a hard time finding pro-natalist who grappled deeply with whether or not having children was morally right for the child. There seemed to be a dearth of answers to the problem of “wrongful life” – the notion that brining people into existence is a crime against that person.
Even more puzzling the space seemed to be fairly empty of persons who gravitated towards my final view which I can summarize in parts
- Bringing people into existence is a morally ambiguous exercise that depends in large part on your estimation of how much the person will suffer vs. enjoy life. Though this seems like an arrogant “god-like” judgment, you cannot avoid making it because you do in fact have the power to create life and all of the moral responsibilities that go along with it.
- Having created life you do have a special responsibility to that life. From a purely utilitarian perspective once a child is born his or her suffering is no less important than the suffering of millions of children around the world. However, your imposition of life creates a special moral obligation. Imposition is the word I think most appropriate. I can talk more about that later because I know it confuses some folks.
- If your reasons for creating life were selfish – and mine certainly were – then you need to acknowledge that every day. The fiction that you somehow did your child a favor for which they owe you is vicious and cruel.
- Suffering comes first. This I believe generally but I will restate for children. You might have all sorts of hopes and dreams for your child but the alleviation of suffering comes first. I won’t go so far as to say you should never impose suffering on a child because you think its for their own good later. However, you should be extremely wary of such arguments and whether or not you are really willing to make this trade because your own dreams about your child’s future are more important to you than your child’s first person experience.
There are so many other philosophical issues that children bring up: Does my son have human rights. If so are they different than mine. And, if I think his rights are some how curtailed by his mental development does that mean that the rights of adults vary with their mental faculties? Am I sure that anyone has human rights?
At what point does he “wake up.” I have watched him intently determined to see if I could tell when the light came on. I have lots of thoughts on this but they should go in a separate post.
However, to close this out I will say that the morality of creating life is a big deal that we need to struggle with more. It is perhaps the most pressing moral question of the 21st Century.
In the past we could be resigned to the fact that our biology was going to drive us to do this no matter what. However, we are facing an era where we may be able to create sentient life synthetically. Either through artificial intelligence or by growing individuals en masse outside the womb.
The excuse – my biological clock made me do it – will no longer cut it and we may be talking about trillions of lives here. If we get this wrong it will be the greatest moral crime ever committed.