Would it surprise you to learn that there are folks who sincerely believe that it is morally wrong to have children - to procreate?
Sometimes this view has been called anti-natalism and comes in two main versions: local and global. Local anti-natalism would suggest that there are some individuals for which their existence is so miserable or unbearable that it would be better (for them?) if they had never been born. Whereas global anti-natalism is the much stronger claim that it is always wrong for anyone anywhere to procreate.
For those who haven’t heard of this view before, it can be difficult to take it seriously. You might think “Are there people that honestly believe such a thing? - Of course it is morally permissible to procreate!”
Well...why? Why do you say “of course”?
Give yourself a moment - think of your top 1-2 reasons to think it is not morally wrong to procreate.
It’s harder than it seems at first, right?
It is one of those deeply held assumptions that upon being challenged actually is a bit tricky to articulate and marshal a solid defense for. The reason for this is how many foundational philosophical ideas are touched on in the debate - the value of human life, the nature of pain and pleasure, the proper method of ethical analysis, and the nature of rights and who has which ones.
But fear not! Thankfully the philosophical tradition has offered many powerful tools to help us wade through the morass of tricky concepts.
The simplest argument for anti-natalism goes something like this:
You ought to eliminate or prevent suffering when it is within your reasonable power to do so.
All procreated human life will contain some suffering.
You have reasonable power over whether to procreate or not.
Therefore, you ought not procreate.
Premises 2 and 3 seem obviously true. Suffering abounds in our world, and outside of horrifically, tragic abuses, it is within your purview whether to conceive human life.
But, premise 1 needs a closer look. It seems fine at first, but upon inspection, it may be too shortsighted.
What do you think? How would you respond to premise 1?
My response would be: well, I actually don’t know if I should prevent some suffering even if I have the power to do so. I’m missing some crucial information. I want to know what the potential results would be down the road of allowing some suffering. It may be that allowing some suffering will open up the possibility of great beauty, love, goodness, and satisfaction to emerge at some point.
This is precisely what we might say of a new human life. Parents are not going into it deliberately intending to manifest suffering in the life of the child - what they hope for their children is to experience the great goods of what conscious existence has to offer. Feel free to color that in with whatever your worldview promotes as the summum bonum - the greatest good. We want that for our kids, and it is very arguably “worth it” for them to exist and experience some suffering, perhaps even great suffering, in order to lay hold of that highest good.
There are other versions of this anti-natalist position: some focus on overpopulation issues, climate change, adoption needs, and more. In any case, it can be an instructive discussion for getting clear on what we value and why.