Sunday, January 9, 2011

Better Not To Have Children

I thought this one was worth highlighting.

Thanks to commenter filrabat!

95 comments:

Todd said...

Audible sigh. More enviro-nonsense, in the first half at least. The second half is good, though.

At any rate, it's encouraging to see more antinatalist stuff popping up in non-fringe-blogger contexts. :)

Compoverde said...

Todd, or anyone..Can you help me try to defend antinatalism.. Here is what someone said.. Any responses that can help me would be much appreciated and strengthen our cause:

If this were a real time public forum for debate and these were our closing statements, it is here that I believe you would have lost. Your view of whether an individual is doing evil or not is irrelevant in cases where there is no standard for utility but for a person's own view of an action that has been taken upon them. That is to say that in the conditions the antinatalist argument puts forth here, literally the derived benefit of birth is calculated solely by if he or she determines that an action is overall good or overall bad. The decision to be born is the epitome of a decision that belongs in such a category because it is the HARM UPON THAT INDIVIDUAL BEING BORN adding to negative utility in a system that you are using as your sole element for justification, and harm to an individual is only harmful (only creates negative utility) if it is interpreted as such by an individual. Furthermore, the only harm that can be derived from external sources would be in turn derived from that entities acknowledgment of feeling harm (you can feel bad for a person who has committed suicide, but this doesn't mean that the person would have overall benefited from continuing to live. And such is the way one must make decisions about the utility of a birth by virtue of the statement that the child "will inevitably be harmed". A definition of harm that ignores the experience of the "harmed" detracts no actual utility in a utilitarian system except for you as the observers own personal emotional anguish (or whatever other emotion implicates your happiness or lack thereof) over believing that an individual is being harmed even if after the even they judge it to not have harmed them. In such a case one would have to put up one's personal emotional anguish (or whatever) against the individual effected view of benefit or harm in the equation of utility. So schopenhauer1's argument is deconstructed to say that his personal emotional anguish will outweigh any determination by the individual born in every single case because he has chosen to devalue an individuals perception of harm done unto them. My final point is that I am not here to argue your opinions of things, I have no problem with the nature of people having their own opinion, but your argument is not logically sound and has exceeded the parameters and assumptions of its own design by implying that the use of utilitarianism can define antinatalism as not based on a subjective conclusion which is incorrect. Or to put it in more fanciful terms: what logical argument is there for the definition of a utilitarianism as being a system that maximizes the benefit for one element in the system by using only his perception of good and evil/utility negative utility/benefit harm. Answer: there is none! Each element in a system has properties that add and detract from the system, and to ignore the elements properties is to take them out of the system.

Compoverde said...

(continued)To put another way the root of your failure of logic probably lies in your belief that the maximum good is reached in a scenario where ALL good is sacrificed if any bad is present or in other words IF X(GOOD)>Y(BAD) AND X AND Y ARE POSITIVE+ (PRESENT/adding to the existence of) THEN X(GOOD)-Y(BAD) CAN = 0 (impossible). The good in this situation includes all the good and bad for all individuals so in a case where you ignore their experience you may see X and Y as equal or perhaps X<Y, but unless you put forth that other people do not experience their own determination of benefit, you cannot deny that it is part of the equation.

On somewhat of an aside. As I have told GordonJ, my philosophy informs my life. So I think it is important to identify the implications of a discussion, especially in a public forum, and especially with an argument that is much better understood when discussed at a higher (or is it lower) level. The argument that nobody should be born because they will experience any level of harm suggests that a person should never make a decision that has potential to have any harm (the assertion in our particular debate being that an antinatalist determines that the potential harm in a potential human being born is only important in the utilitarian equation and the potential benefit does not count towards the morality of a decision (since any harm negates it as being a good decision)). Where is the logic and or justification behind why potential harm should be a part of a utilitarian equation and not potential benefit? Even if I acknowledge that you are redefining utilitarianism in this way because upi experience that any bad outweighs ALL good for a decision, it is illogical to say that others experience this same position when they claim not to. And you cannot shift the definition of utilitarianism away from the experience of benefit for others because they are elements in the system.

For example according to antinatalist logic, I should not stop a baby carriage from rolling into traffic because I might stub my toe. If I were to ask an antinatalist why? They would say that you should stop the carriage because the baby is already born and able to experience harm, but . This is to say that no good element can ever outweigh any bad element. If morality is viewed as manifestation on the number line ..1,0,-1..., an adherer to the given arguments would not believe that morality manifests in this way but rather as

Compoverde said...

(continued)has been mentioned here I believe under the guise of a logical argument. Now that we have discussed (and will probably continue to discuss) the technical intricacies of such a debate, I think one would find a higher (or is it lower) level discussion of antinatalism important. The point I want to bring up is that we do not find it logical or reasonable to make decision in our life using this kind of logic: any bad effects instantly negate all good effects. Beyond the fact that this sort of posture towards ANY action is immediately recognized as completely unreasonable not counting some sort of psychological trauma (the emotional distress of an action is so great that outside viewpoints do not understand the true elements of an equation as the trauma victim does)which would naturally explain but not justify an antinatalists argument. Utilitarianism has been largely misconstrued by the antinatalist argument here. Utilitarianism is made contrary to its own definition as maximizing benefit to all individuals in a system when you choose to ignore those individuals experience and determination of benefit. That becomes a desire for tyranny and the preference of eliminating the lives of all future humanity taking into account by the best means we have without being omniscient (statistics and scientific method) that the majority of them will want to have lived and yet still justifying their elimination as logically moral because of determinations present only in your own entity despite acknowledging the outside experiences of others is the philosophy of sociopaths and super villains.

Of course on top of that...it is beyond even the need for scientific observation which will lead you to determine that most people want to exist and statistics which will determine that this is true for many if not most potential people. Since these are the only methods that can bring us close to what we define as logic in the world of theoretical philosophy when dealing with random events in reality, these are our strongest conclusions and it is well defined as completely sociopathic to want to prevent the existence of all future humanity featuring many members who interpret their experience as of GREAT UTILITY which is the eventual result of the implementation of doing the right thing for an antinatalist. And also this is why any rational person who has not over analyzed the detritus of their own experience to the point of completely fogging up their view on what should happen to the rest of humanity, sees the antinatalist argument as illogical, irrational, only able to exist on the framework of false assumptions on every level.

Anonymous said...

^
I’m not sure where to begin with that…The response isn’t especially clear and rambles on a bit but I’ll drop some ideas here because the tone of it stinks of arrogance. Hopefully someone else will pick out the points.
………..
At the start I think he(?) is saying something like this: A bad life is subjective and only the individual can determine if it worked for them. , “and harm to an individual is only harmful (only creates negative utility) if it is interpreted as such by an individual.”
………….
Are they saying I would not be harming a person if I was to steal a small amount of money from them and they don’t notice I was doing it? I could do this to again and again over years. They would have lost money – money which has to be earned in time they could have spent doing something else. Is that really win win? It harms them and they don’t know it.

The memory of pain and suffering is not reliable (Polly Anna principle) and prolonged but graduated pain is remembered less well than a shorter burst of pain that is not tapered off. A person might suffer quite considerably but might not remember it as well as a person who has had staggered pain throughout life. Is it the memory of pain that counts or the experience? When people make assessments on life it is often from memory but what's to say that life isn't more of a tapered pain experience.

I'm not saying these are great answers... The best ones are explorations of the asymmetry argument but I can't make out if the guy is claiming much more than what I've already tried to answer at the moment.

Anonymous said...

This is what I was originally going to say before I got distracted with the above responses.

"70% of Parents Say Kids Not Worth It’",

This bit of data appears to be skewed. It wasn't a random sample from what I can tell. I would love to be wrong.

Anonymous said...

returning to Compoverde's opponent:

“To put another way the root of your failure of logic probably lies in your belief that the maximum good is reached in a scenario where ALL good is sacrificed if any bad is present or in other”

This is obviously incorrect.

“but unless you put forth that other people do not experience their own determination of benefit, you cannot deny that it is part of the equation.”

If the guy is saying what I think he is saying (determination = self-assessment counts) then you can probably can say that it doesn't. Even so, this should mostly be about the original Asymmetry argument that David Benatar discusses because it focuses on the offset that exists prior to self-assessment.

“The argument that nobody should be born because they will experience any level of harm suggests that a person should never make a decision that has potential to have any harm”

This is an argument about net harm as far as I’m concerned and this person hasn’t took that in.

“For example according to antinatalist logic, I should not stop a baby carriage from rolling into traffic because I might stub my toe. If I were to ask an antinatalist why? They would say that you should stop the carriage because the baby is already born and able to experience harm, but . This is to say that no good element can ever outweigh any bad element. If morality is viewed as manifestation on the number line ..”

This confirms the misunderstanding. Net harm is the issue. A tiny harm would not outweigh a genuine good but the balance is not set that way. The asymmetry argument has to thunder in so that the subjectivity can be ousted.

“Utilitarianism is made contrary to its own definition as maximizing benefit to all individuals in a system when you choose to ignore those individuals experience and determination of benefit.”

This is interesting because it is not about maximising benefit but about minimising harm. “Negative utilitarianism” is where antinatilism ) takes from.(at least my version).

Anonymous said...

returning to Compoverde's opponent (final post):

The first 3rd of the last post is ad hominem and repetition until this (which is worse):

“That becomes a desire for tyranny and the preference of eliminating the lives of all future humanity taking into account by the best means we have without being omniscient (statistics and scientific method) that the majority of them will want to have lived and yet still justifying their elimination as logically moral because of determinations present only in your own entity despite acknowledging the outside experiences of others is the philosophy of sociopaths and super villains.

This is ad hominem and slippery slope paranoia... “eliminating the lives”… lives that don’t exist? (the arrogance). No one has to be eliminated. The only outcome is that people who want a hobby should find something a little bit less reckless to do. If reducing harm is the goal, then eventually bullying people into not reproducing becomes an issue that a negative utilitarian will factor in.

“Of course on top of that...it is beyond even the need for scientific observation which will lead you to determine that most people want to exist”

If the world were completely full of starving children, most of them would still want to live because that’s what evolution has shaped us in to… They want to exist because they have been programmed not to want to die and that doesn’t become a factor until a creature exists.

“and it is well defined as completely sociopathic to want to prevent the existence of all future humanity”

A sociopath lacks empathy. Why would a sociopath care about suffering?… (This guy is jerk)The heat death of the universe will at some point prevent the existence of humanity - I guess we'll need people around for that to take pictures. (Probably best not to use that.)

Not sure if that helps but I don't rate the guy. He thinks this is about extermination and that is fogging his judgment.

Compoverde said...

Anonymous thank you so much for your contribution. I have used some of your arguments if that is okay with you. I will update you on the response. If you want in on the conversation for yourself just get a username and password. The forum thread is here:

http://forums.philosophyforums.com/threads/five-reasons-for-antinatalism-44541-8.html#lastpost

Compoverde said...

Anonymous thank you so much for your contribution. I have used some of your arguments if that is okay with you. I will update you on the response. If you want in on the conversation for yourself just get a username and password. The forum thread is here:

http://forums.philosophyforums.com/threads/five-reasons-for-antinatalism-44541-8.html#lastpost

Anonymous said...

Compoverde...

That's ok. I doubt I've said anything new.If you're in for the long slog you'll probably have to draw it back to the asymmetry argument though(which I haven't covered) because people like to make this about "opinions."

I might look in on the thread but I'm tired right now.

Anonymous said...

This might interest others but is particularly related to an earlier response I made in the comments.

Daniel Kahneman: The riddle of experience vs. memory
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XgRlrBl-7Yg

The pain experience is at about 4 minutes.

timcooijmans said...

Re: 70% of parents...

Here is a document that discusses the survey and its problems:
http://www.stats.uwo.ca/faculty/bellhouse/stat353annlanders.pdf

It also gives the results of similar but more random surveys: 90+% of parents say kids worth it.

Sister Y said...

I'm surprised ANY parents would admit that it wasn't worth it to have kids.

I was surprised recently, though, listening to AIDS Diaries on Hearing Voices. A 19-year-old girl who knew she had AIDS but had a baby anyway admits that it was probably wrong (at least in part because she's going to die and the child will be without a mother). That's something you almost never hear.

Compoverde said...

For anyone whose interested and wants to help me out.. here is the response from the guy on philosophy forum:

schopenhauer1 (me) wrote:

Bad is a harm
Good is a benefit
I have created a better state of affairs by not creating more harm (or a platform where all other harms will be enacted to an individual..life itself).
I have not created a worse state of affairs by not having good, because unlike harm which is good "in and of itself' not to have occurred (or keep occurring), in this case, order for there to be a worse state of affairs, there needs to be an actual person existing for "not having good" to be a harm. Since there is not, this is not a worse state of affairs.
Therefore, being that the prevention of a birth is creating a better state of affairs, this is the best course of action. First I will put what I said, then what opponent said. If anyone has a good rebuttal please share.

There, semantically, I have taken away talk of non-being and kept it wholly about "existence" and does not mention non-existent beings.

Compoverde said...

(opponent)As in your other points I believe you contradict yourself because: counter to what you have said you have in fact created a worse state of affairs by not having good if that situation were to result having more utility than negative utility. I cannot think of a much simpler way to put this. If you delete a potential person who's life may experience/add to the system more positive utility than negative utility (which every person has the potential to do even if they do not appear likely to) then you are increasing negative utility or in other words adding harm because the equation is being deprived of positive utility. That is opposite to the goal of utilitarianism, to have more good than bad period.

Since you cannot tell how a potential person will add or subtract to this equation we arrive at the conclusion that the decision to have a child that cannot yet experience EITHER HARM OR BENEFIT is neutral and NOT a decision that will inevitably lead to less overall negative utility as you assert. You have an illogical bias towards negative utility. You are positing that the deletion of potential good activity is neutral when it in fact acts as a counter to negative actions as in a mathematical equations concept of positive and negative numbers. This is how people experience the world! If you deny someone an action that results in more good than bad which will inevitably happen if you deny all births then you will be stopping the maximization of utility over negative utility. In fact, almost every decision that we deem good, or of positive utility includes some degree of negative utility.

The goal of your concept of utilitarianism is to attain 0 utility (not negative not positive) the goal of logical utilitarianism (that which man finds useful to intersect with what multiple entities define as desirable) is the maximization of utility x > 0. On a fundamental level, for a potential entity to have none of what they desire and none of what they do not desire is not a good thing as you assert, I will say again: IT IS A NEUTRAL THING and the point of utilitarianism is not to reach neutrality but to maximize positivity. If every action were sure to result in negative utility then perfect neutrality (such as that afforded by non existence) would be preferable, but this is not the reality that we live in. The mere existence of harm does not make a every action sure to be a negative decision. If you cannot wrap your head around such a simple idea, then you will not be able to relate to why most people instantly dismiss "antinatalist" arguments.

This really has nothing to do with wanting those who have children that are very likely to have miserable lives to amend their ways. Your philosophy is attacking the fundamental utility of being alive, not an attempt to take in context every persons decision to have a child. Whether or not it has anything to do with the issue from your point of view: I am completely pro-choice, but the arguments make assertions with a blind eye and/or a blanket statement to a persons assessment of a child's potential future.

Compoverde said...

(opponent)As in your other points I believe you contradict yourself because: counter to what you have said you have in fact created a worse state of affairs by not having good if that situation were to result having more utility than negative utility. I cannot think of a much simpler way to put this. If you delete a potential person who's life may experience/add to the system more positive utility than negative utility (which every person has the potential to do even if they do not appear likely to) then you are increasing negative utility or in other words adding harm because the equation is being deprived of positive utility. That is opposite to the goal of utilitarianism, to have more good than bad period.

Since you cannot tell how a potential person will add or subtract to this equation we arrive at the conclusion that the decision to have a child that cannot yet experience EITHER HARM OR BENEFIT is neutral and NOT a decision that will inevitably lead to less overall negative utility as you assert. You have an illogical bias towards negative utility. You are positing that the deletion of potential good activity is neutral when it in fact acts as a counter to negative actions as in a mathematical equations concept of positive and negative numbers. This is how people experience the world! If you deny someone an action that results in more good than bad which will inevitably happen if you deny all births then you will be stopping the maximization of utility over negative utility. In fact, almost every decision that we deem good, or of positive utility includes some degree of negative utility.

Compoverde said...

(continued)The goal of your concept of utilitarianism is to attain 0 utility (not negative not positive) the goal of logical utilitarianism (that which man finds useful to intersect with what multiple entities define as desirable) is the maximization of utility x > 0. On a fundamental level, for a potential entity to have none of what they desire and none of what they do not desire is not a good thing as you assert, I will say again: IT IS A NEUTRAL THING and the point of utilitarianism is not to reach neutrality but to maximize positivity. If every action were sure to result in negative utility then perfect neutrality (such as that afforded by non existence) would be preferable, but this is not the reality that we live in. The mere existence of harm does not make a every action sure to be a negative decision. If you cannot wrap your head around such a simple idea, then you will not be able to relate to why most people instantly dismiss "antinatalist" arguments.

This really has nothing to do with wanting those who have children that are very likely to have miserable lives to amend their ways. Your philosophy is attacking the fundamental utility of being alive, not an attempt to take in context every persons decision to have a child. Whether or not it has anything to do with the issue from your point of view: I am completely pro-choice, but the arguments make assertions with a blind eye and/or a blanket statement to a persons assessment of a child's potential future.

Abbie said...

The original post was about the article by Harrison and Tanner.

It seems to me that they are presenting a shopping list of antinatal arguments.

The first seems to be broadly utilitarian insfoar as it is claiming that humans cause an awful lot of harm without, presumably, bringing enough compensating benefits. They aren't making a negative utilitarian case. Just a utilitarian case.
Todd says 'more enviro-nonsense'. Not sure what to make of that as it isn't really nonsense that humans kill vast numbers of animals every year. Maybe it is the stuff about global warming.

Their second argument is more Kantian and focuses on consent. and their third argument is about self-interest. The ann landers survey might be a bit dodgy, but it shouldn't be ignored entirely.

Abbie said...

Compoverde,

why do you think the anti-natal case depends on negative utilitarianism or neutral utilitarianism?
If the goal is to maximise utility the best way to do this is probably to stop breeding humans. We are not exactly the happiest of creatures, and we make the lives of other creatures contain less utility by treating them badly and killing them prematurely.

Anonymous said...

"Abbie said...

Compoverde,"

Many people believe that we are happy on the whole - if not, they believe we are content or capable of being happy if we just-do-a-little-more. Many of them don't care about other creatures. This is why I personally take the negative utility angle. It eases people in to the idea of what harm is.

Abbie said...

But negative utilitarianism isn't very plausible. And clearly people think that the antinatalist case is in some way hostage to the viability of negative utilitarianism - which it isn't.

Isn't it better to point out that just normal utilitarianism yields a case against procreation? there's no need to make the case more controverisal than it needs to be

Anonymous said...

@Abbie

If you can show it then so be it...

Even so. There are degrees of negative utilitarianism. There are always going to be practical limits to fight against and we can attempt to reduce harm until we hit a wall. Sometimes this will involve advocating benefit because that can also reduce harm.

The asymmetry argument demonstrates that there are no benefits to existence. I'm not sure how that can be flipped.

Compoverde said...

Abbie, can you explain how antinatalism is "normal" utilitarian? His case is we are not maximizing utility by not having babies. You have to justify it. I know that Derek Parfit had something about this in his Repugnant Conclusion. Since I don't have the Benatar book, I am not sure how he used it. Admittedly, I do not know how to use it myself when looking at it online.

Todd said...

What's so implausible about NU? To my way of thinking it only makes a million times more intuitive sense than the other varieties.

At any rate, the central case for philanthropic antinatalism seems to boil down to the notion that it's wrong to cause suffering, but not wrong to withhold pleasure. I shouldn't steal your wallet, but I'm not obligated to give you mine.

Abbie said...

Compoverde,

Our duty to achieve the maximum balance of pleasure over pain is a duty owed to moral patients. So moral patients have to exist for the duty to exist. If only you existed, then your duty would be to yourself and would be to maximise your own happiness and minimise your own pain. If only you and a member of the opposite sex existed you wouldn’t have any duty to create new life. For to whom is that duty owed? (A point Harrison and Tanner made in their article – p.
SO the only way we could have a positive duty to bring new life into existence is if such a duty were owed to existing moral patients.
Harrison and Tanner make an empirical claim that humans cause a great deal of suffering to other creatures. We, the existing humans, have an obligation to other creatures (both those that exist at the moment and those that will exist in the future) not to bring any more humans into existence.
So, once a moral patient is in existence the obligation to achieve the maximum balance of pleasure over pain encompasses it too. But there is no duty to bring into existence new lives, even very pleasurable ones, because there is no one to whom that duty is owed. There would be no-one who’d be wronged if you failed to fulfil it.

Abbie said...

Todd,

depends exactly how you are characterising negative utilitarianism.
I would accept that a view that gave some sort of priority weighting to alleviating suffering versus bringing about pleasure is plausible.
But the view that alleviating suffering takes absolute priority and can never be trumped by a gain in pleasure is, I think, fairly absurd and counter-intuitive.
Harrison and Tanner do seem to admit that there is an asymmetry - that it is more important to prevent pain than to bring about a benefit - but that is all their argument seems to need. Unless I've misunderstood it, it doesn't seem to require the belief that relieving pain takes absolute priority. In fact, a lot of their points seem to do with the point I've made above about obligations being owed to people. Maybe I've misunderstood, but I don't see any commitment to negative utilitarianism in their paper

Compoverde said...

Abbie, I am not talking about the Harrison and Tanner argument, so this is slightly separate. Just thought I should mention that. However, what the opponent seems to be arguing is this:

Since the majority people want to exist who already exist, it is safe to assume that a majority of future children will want to exist. Also, utilitarianism relies on the greatest happiness. Since, most people want to be born, creating more people who want to be born will create the greater happiness. Benatar does go into how people over-assess the quality of their lives by a sort of optimism bias. I am not sure how else to address this. I think Derek Parfit might have had something to say that can refute this, but I am not sure how to apply it.

The reason he can use future people, is because Benatar also uses the idea of a future person possibly being harmed from coming into existence.. Otherwise if he is wrong to talk about a future person, so is Benatar.

Abbie said...

Compoverde,

I think you need to distinguish between ‘total’ utilitarianism and ‘person affecting’ utilitarianism.

Total utilitarianism is the view that we ought to bring about the greatest amount of happiness and that this obligation is not owed to anyone, it is just basic – it is sort of ‘owed to the universe’. On this view 2 million creatures living lives that record only a tiny positive net balance of happiness each is preferable to 1000 creatures living lives of bliss.

Personally I think that view is absurd. The other view says that the obligation to maximise happiness is owed to patients. And I think it makes much more sense. According to this view an act can only be obligatory if there’d be someone who’d be wronged were you to fail to perform it.

This type of utilitarianism is far more plausible and it doesn’t result in an absurd obligation to swell numbers. In fact, the reverse. We almost certainly shouldn’t procreate.

Let’s say that a young couple know (an oracle has told them) that if they have a child, that child will have a very happy life. Do they have an obligation to create that child according to this version of utiltiarianism? No. if they fail to create the child there is no one who is wronged – no one who is deprived of this happiness.

Of course, by the same token if they do decide to create the child they will not have done wrong, other things being equal. But other things are not equal and creating new human life harms other forms of life. So we probably shouldn’t do it.

This argument does not assume negative utilitariansim and it does not assume that human lives are miserable, yet it yields an anti-natal conclusion.

Compoverde said...

Abbie, I liked most of what you said until you came to " But other things are not equal and creating new human life harms other forms of life." I am of the conclusion that, though disturbing in some cases (how animals are killed for food in some instances), humans have a innate higher value than animals, simply because we are humans, and have more duty for moral obligations to our own species more than others. Also, we have barely done well with human to human moral obligations, let alone applying an equal status with animals. However, I think overall your take on utilitarianism being for person affecting utilitarianism. I would still find a stronger argument than hurting animals or environment for humans to not have other humans, all things being equal.. Since there is no oracle, the only thing holding positive life affirming potential parents back from procreating is the possible risk the child would endure.. Since the parent estimates an on balance good life for the child, they will go ahead and do it.. The parents do not perceive risk as great enough to prevent the child. To them, the decision is net neutral, as there is no way to tell the future child's perspective but that based on statistics most people would have wanted to be. However, now we are moving away from the asymmetry and into inductive reasoning. Its no longer a mere matter of logic, but finding the statistical analysis of how likely a child would want to be born... We should try to go back to the asymmetry and make it an airtight case (for the most part). How to do that when a parent views the statistical analysis of a majority of future children's views as the major factor in having a child? Or as opponent said:

On a fundamental level, for a potential entity to have none of what they desire and none of what they do not desire is not a good thing as you assert, I will say again: IT IS A NEUTRAL THING and the point of utilitarianism is not to reach neutrality but to maximize positivity. If every action were sure to result in negative utility then perfect neutrality (such as that afforded by non existence) would be preferable, but this is not the reality that we live in. The mere existence of harm does not make a every action sure to be a negative decision. If you cannot wrap your head around such a simple idea, then you will not be able to relate to why most people instantly dismiss "antinatalist" arguments.

Abbie said...

Compoverde,

the 'opponent' assumes that utilitarianism = total utilitarianism. Their criticism cuts no ice against the (more plausible and more popular) person affecting view.

I think it is possible to make a watertight case against procreation and it is in the Harrison Tanner paper. I will quote it:

"And note: if you don't gamble, if you don't procreate, then you haven't harmed the non-existent. The person you didn't bring into existence hasn't been deprived of anything. They don't, didn't, and never will exist."

So, not procreating risks nothing, morally. Procreating, however, does. So procreating is a morally reckless gamble that should not be taken.

Pandarello said...

Well, I´m new to antinatalism, so I´m going to play devil´s advocate here a little bit.

What about my life? I mean, I´m 23 years old, do not have sufficient income for now, but maybe, 5 years or so from now, I intended to get married... and have a kid with some girl I like.

You know, that same old, same old experience, boy and girl meet, plan to live together. This experience is so beautiful, two young people starting a new life together, to form a familly and etc...

But, if I become an antinatalist, all of this is gone. I´m gonna say to the girl:

"Ok, we can live together, but... NO KIDS."

And she´ll just call me nuts and leave me. And I cannot even blame her. I know she wants to use her youth to have a kid with some guy, that might´ve been me.

So if I meet this good girl... I´m not gonna be able to be with her, because when I say: "no kids", all girls will walk away. Pretty much all of them will.

So I´m asking, what about young´peoples lives, who are living right now, and want to have their happy little fairy tale? what of that? I´m thinking about protecting someone who is not even born, but what about my life story, anybody thought about that?

Anonymous said...

Pandarello--
If you believe antinatalism is for the greater good, but you'd also like to procreate, then the balance between the 2 involves either self sacrifice or self compromise. Antinatalism is not the only thing in the world that works that way. I'd like to own a really nice car. I'm too poor to buy one for myself, but I could steal one. However, I think it's wrong to steal. Therefore, I decide to avoid stealing and learn to live without that nice car. In doing without the car, I'm engaged in a form of self sacrifice. On the upside, I can "live with myself" this way, and that's priceless. Be true to thine own conscience, I say.

Pandarello said...

Yeah, you know... I know what you mean, anonymus. I don´t know if this love thing is even worth it you know.

We have this whole expectation of living with someone and all that, and don´t even know how far that can turn south.

I´m just playing devil´s advocate and wanting to see responses.

Anonymous said...

How to create an Artificially Intelligent Toy

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lfD2uWwEdZM

;)

Anonymous said...

Haha! That AI Toy video was brilliant.

Abbie said...

Pandarello,

putting moral considerations to oneside, having children is unlikely to make you happy.

In general, childless couples are happier than ones with children.

Childless couples have more sex.
Childless couples are richer
And childless couples are more equitable and so harbour less resentment.

Pandarello said...

Childless couples have more sex.
Childless couples are richer

--

So sign me up, then.

Pandarello said...

And I never said that I personally want to have kids, I was only trying to bring here a question of the 'common man'.

Sister Y said...

So I´m asking, what about young´peoples lives, who are living right now, and want to have their happy little fairy tale? what of that? I´m thinking about protecting someone who is not even born, but what about my life story, anybody thought about that?

It's a valid question. Women, as a group, do seem to want babies. And heterosexual men, as a group, want sex with women. I can definitely see how a man could be tempted into producing a child, even though he knew it was wrong, in order to try to ensure a source of sex for the future (with the child's mother).

I've written about why it's actually in both men and women's sexual best interests to avoid producing children (see How Babies Destroy Your Fuckability: Male Edition and How Babies Destroy Your Fuckability: Female Edition). But I think it IS hard for a young guy who knows it's wrong to make babies.

How about this: some things are more wrong than others. Having a baby to get sex is less wrong than lying about maybe wanting to have a baby in the future in order to get sex. Just make sure you don't actually accidentally conceive.

Todd said...

Sister,

I think you've got your priorities crossed in that last paragraph. Surely forcing a new life into the world who will suffer and struggle and die, just so you can get laid, is MORE wrong than telling someone a lie about your possible future aspirations toward that same end.

Sister Y said...

More wrong. Yup. That's what I meant. Lying is not as bad as making babies.

Not priorities, just complicated binary words. <3

filrabat said...

Substantially added to my blog Why I'm Sold on Antinatalism, particularly the Personal Reasons Page. Added paragraphs under the heading "The Lack of Consent is not Proportionate to the Plausible Potential Consequences"

Karl said...

Filrabat, I just read your latest blog postings. Well done, I thought they were exceptionally lucid and accurate. You make a very good point about the danger of critics of anti-natalism latching on to the misanthrophy accusation. I also enjoyed the fact that your points were clear and straightforward without employing any excessively technical philosophical jargon. In other words, anyone new to the debate could read and understand the argument immediately. Well done!

Cactus Jack said...

Bravo for those well articulated postings filrabat. This kind of material should be in pamphlet form. Just imagine a government mandate for its compulsory distribution with any family planning service. It must be shoved in people's faces and too bad if they find it uncomfortable, it's too important to stay quiet! I will continue to try for some general public understanding in my own small circles. How I wish for the means to take this to the big stage so to speak. If that ever becomes possible, I'm taking all you contributors with me.....only with your consent of course....

Compoverde said...

Hey Filrabat, a lot of that stuff on your blog would be a great addition to the "Antinatalism Manifesto". If you would like to put some of what you wrote in the manifesto, I am hoping to use that as a community website where we can give and take from to use in the real world or to get more information out to people about what we stand for.

filrabat said...

Thanks for the kind words, all :)

@Karl

I try to be concise, perhaps I wrote it that way because I don't have much fluency in philosophical jargon myself:P -- but I am willing to learn. To me, the more jargon-loaded philosophical discussions do have their place (particularly in the deeper technical details of logic and argumentation), but to gain at least a modicrum of respect (if not agreement) with most people we have to use common everyday language w/o being simplistic. But that's just my natural style and strategy, despite accusations of others that I use big words in ordinary everyday conversation :D (Ironic isn't it?)

@Cactus Jack

Carry on, Jack. But if you charge money for it, I want royalties :P.

You're free to print out all you want. Spreading the word is all fine and good, but think about the types of people LEAST likely to object strenuously about bringing it up. We don't want to make the same mistake so many Evangelical Christian types make -- just go into big time missionary mode about our message. We don't need THAT reputation either (if anything the public will be even less tolerant of evangelical antinatalist than evangelicals of any religion).

@Compoverde

I was tempted, but decided to restrain myself - mainly because I don't want to make a "hostile takeover" of the wiki. Besides, it's easier if you just use the link to my page at the bottom :) However, grab as much as you want from my page and put it on the wiki.

Todd said...

As I type this, the other people in the room are watching a nature show filmed in South Africa, which presently features a baby zebra being slowly and horribly murdered by a lion. The whole scene is treated as an example of the glorious majesty of the natural world. It makes me want to fucking puke.

But it also makes me think that there might be a very good reason one of the most visible modern champions of antinatalism is South African.

rob said...

@Compoverde: I'm a bit irritated about you calling that person an "opponent" and about making [our case] "airtight" (but then I'm not an english nativespeaker and might misinterpret the words?). It seems to me that such words miss the point of philosophy somewhat, because I believe that the point is not being right, it is truth. Either it is airtight or it is not - but it cannot be made so. We can only _discover_ wether it is. We aren't antinatalists because we want to or because it's cool or whatnot. We are, because we have come to the conclusion that it is the most logical and moral position.
If someone were to come up with better arguments and explain why it really is fine to have more babies then one should be ready to abandon the antinatalist view. So if pro-natalist argument X comes up the right question is not "help me to refute X" but "is X right or not?".

That said, I don't regard the chances of convincing pro-natalist arguments to be very high ;-)

Regarding the discussion:
"In fact, almost every decision that we deem good, or of positive utility includes some degree of negative utility."
That is certainly true. But usually the positive utility does something positive for existing people and it is something without which their lives are effectively worse and which they often consciously lack/want.
That creating the recipient of the positive utility is a special case can also be exemplified thus: if the good, that hypothetical lives would contain, is relevant and if the vast majority of people think that the good in their lives outweighs the bad, than there would be a moral duty to create as many people as possible - until, in fact, poverty/hunger/overpopulation would tip the scale so that the net utility of all these lives would become negative. Seeing that even those who live under extremely crappy circumstances often do not regret their own existance this tipping point would probably be so far removed from what we call a nice and comfy live, that most people, even of those who think babymaking is fine, would not approve of this as-many-babies-as-possible-theory. That gives reason to doubt either the assessment of our lives quality or the value of hypothetical happiness (i.e. happy hypothetical lives).

Regarding this point I'd like to quota Benatar: "[...] mistakenly assumes that the value of happiness it primary and the value of persons is derivative from this. However, it is not the case that people are valuable because they add extra happiness. Instead extra happiness is valuable because it is good for people"

I can really recommend the book (BNTHB).

rob said...

Regarding what Abbie said:
"But other things are not equal and creating new human life harms other forms of life."

I'm not sure what this encompasses, but I'd like to point out that creating new human life also harms other humans (unless the new human would be one who never hurts another in any way - which I'd consider to be impossible (but here I'm not talking about net harm, because it is, of course, possible that a person does more good for others than bad)) and also that new human himself.
The latter because there is not a "risk", as Compoverde mentioned, that this new human will have to suffer. It is a complete certainty. In the real world there exists no conscious life without some amount of suffering. While some people could imagine possible future lifes that are somehow devoid of suffering (perhaps throuh drugs or genetic engineering), for every person, that faces the decision to procreate today, it is certain that their child, born in the very near future, will not be among those living a life of pure bliss - and even if that were not the case, most people would not even want such a life for themselves or for their children, because of the view that suffering is a necessary part of life anyway.

rob said...

@todd:
"it's wrong to cause suffering, but not wrong to withhold pleasure."

I think it is not necessary for antinatalism to include such a strong position. A duty to make [existing] people happy does not contradict the point that we need not create new people, who will, as a direct result of coming into existence, experience the deprivation of a whole lot of pleasur, no matter what we do.

filrabat said...

Rob:It seems to me that such words miss the point of philosophy somewhat, because I believe that the point is not being right, it is truth. Either it is airtight or it is not - but it cannot be made so. We can only _discover_ wether it is.

filrabat, @ Compoverde: I definitely agree with Rob, Comp. I haven't followed that debate closely, but if Rob accurately portrayed your use of "opponents" and "airtight" on that forum, it DOES come off as unnecessarily aggressive and partisan. Philosophy is not like politics, where ideologues compete with each other for power. It's purpose is to discover the truth, whether we like that truth or not. A little humility might be more becoming (again, assuming Rob's accurately portraying your tone on the forum).

rob said...

Sorry for being unclear. I didn't critizise Compoverdes style in the philosphyforums, which I didn't even take the time to check out myself. Maybe I should have read the discussion there too. So no offence meant! I was just wondering about the comments here on this page. Those reminded me of the fact that everybody needs to verify the status of their opinions and arguments from time to time in order to not let them slip into dogma.
All the best,
rob

Compoverde said...

rob, my style here is a bit different as, rather than purely debating, I am looking for support for the argument, as I don't think I have all the answers. I am not the sole interpreter of Benatar's argument. I was seeing if anyone else had some input that might help. I see philosophical discourse rather as an exercise in dialectic that may strengthen or weaken an argument at the end.. but before I concede, I feel I must "ask around" to those who may have different points of view on the matter. Although the the people I am arguing against frustrate me, because it forces me to think deeper, I am grateful for the chance to strengthen my arguments or see their points of view. I don't think philosophy, necessarily is a "search for truth". Those kinds of debates are more about who is a better sophist.. not necessarily truth.. Self-reflection, critical reading, and friendly dialog has provided me more "insight" than any philosophy forum ever did or formal philosophical dialog with (IMO) arrogant condescending "philosophy" people.

My use of "opponent" was simply to describe the other party I was debating with; not trying to denigrate them or make them an "enemy of the state"..Should I say debating partner if that sounds PC? Also, if you look at my actual discussion on that forum (I provided a link).. It is quite formal with a lot of hard thinking on both sides (if I do say so myself). So, be careful where you judge.. Lest ye sound condescending and brutish.

rob said...

Compoverde, I'm sorry if my last comment did not manage to explain that I had no intention of "judging" anybody. I was explaining my view of what I would expect in a "philosophyforum" in order to calibrate it with what You expect, which I did not properly understand, based on what You had written so far.
I already acknowledged that I should have checked out the forum.
I also stated that I might interpret too much into Your use of words and that that would be my deficiency.
And no, I am not usually a friend of political correctness for its own sake.

But if my remarks are sufficient for You to lump me in with the 'arrogant condescending "philosophy" people' then I get the feeling that You might be a little thin-skinned for someone who starts his posts with "If you have been paying attention" ;-)

Compoverde said...

rob, sorry on my initial comment. I wasn't sure of your tone either. I wasn't lumping you with arrogant condescending, but I am definitely describing a lot of so-called "philosophers". I always thought philosophy was an exploration of subjects that were esoteric in nature and implicitly, cannot have a clear "solution" accept for the opinion one makes based on the arguments and claims. This version is for everyman, and is basically Man using his curiosity and reasoning abilities to understand things in his own mind better...

More and more, however, I get this "other" version.. which is this academic-based understanding of philosophy.. since academic philosophy doesn't have any real facts and institutional procedures (like for example a biotech lab would), they hide the very fact of philosophy's inherent ungroundedness, abstractness, and generally impractical nature by spewing unnecessarily complicated technical language, arrogant suppositions and posturing themselves with an aurora of "better than thou" arrogant arguing "style" (rather than genuine friendly dialogue). Lord knows, that if you just let your guard down and let go of the jargon, and arrogant arguing styles you might be seen as just as human, unsure, and driven by self-interested arguments as anyone else.

rob said...

@Compoverde:
"I wasn't sure of your tone either"
The good old problem of written communication :-)

I agree with Your assessment of the different styles of philosophy. I also prefer the first one over the second. What You call "Man using his curiosity and reasoning abilities to understand things in his own mind better" seems to be exactly what I shortened a bit radically to "truth". I.e. truth not as something objective that can or need be found at the end of the discussion but more as a symbol for the process of refining our understanding of things.

I think there is also a third way, in which a debate is more focused on debating and on the participants themselves rather than on the insights one could gain on the topic of the debate. Like a game, where everybody tries to have fun and maybe even win. This would be more like a political debate, but applied to philosophy as just another thing to argue about. And I don't think there is anything wrong with that, as long as participants agree that this is the mode they're working under.

Compoverde said...

rob said: "I think there is also a third way, in which a debate is more focused on debating and on the participants themselves rather than on the insights one could gain on the topic of the debate. Like a game, where everybody tries to have fun and maybe even win. This would be more like a political debate, but applied to philosophy as just another thing to argue about. And I don't think there is anything wrong with that, as long as participants agree that this is the mode they're working under."

That is fine.. As long as the "winner" knows he hasn't actually "beaten" anyone. Philosophy is ongoing, and you cannot just take a debate competition as what is right and wrong. First, one can have a good argument and not present it well. Second, one can have a terrible argument but make it seem really compelling. Third, you cannot just take a snapshot of a debate between two people as the be all end all of the subject matter as its only two people, what they might think about on further reflection at a later time will change.

Abbie said...

Robb,

I don't think procreation necessarily harms the person who's been procreated. Surely harms can be offset by pleasures?

If one gives 'harm' a very general reading according to which 'being wronged' counts as being harmed, then I agree that procreation harms the person who's been procreated because they did not choose to be procreated.

But if you are just talking about the harms that inevitably come with any life, then it would seem prejudiced not to include the pleasures too.

If you insist that harms cannot be compensated for by plesaures, then you'll surely end up having to conclude that we should kill existing people. Granted, killing them harms them too, but it spares them more harm than it causes them.

filrabat said...

@Abbie

Abbie:But if you are just talking about the harms that inevitably come with any life, then it would seem prejudiced not to include the pleasures too.

I address this on here. Skip to about half way down the page to the section titled The Lack of Consent is not Proportionate to the Plausible Potential Consequences

Abbie:If you insist that harms cannot be compensated for by plesaures, then you'll surely end up having to conclude that we should kill existing people. Granted, killing them harms them too, but it spares them more harm than it causes them.

Killing people in any fashion violates one of the basic cores of "Philanthropic Antinatalism": suffering prevention. Furthermore, I find murder is wrong because it destroys one's right to exercise their choice to live if they want to. At any rate, murder causes a lot of anguish for family, friends, community, etc. Again, this creates more of the very suffering we seek to prevent (FYI, this explains why so many of us also oppose suicide - including Prof. David Benatar himself)

rob said...

@Compoverde: agreed!

@Abbie:
"If you insist that harms cannot be compensated for by plesaures, ..."

At least I'd say it is very hard to calculate HOW this compensation works. How many tears are worth one smile? How can they be measured? I guess they can't, leaving us without an objective way to determine what compensates what.

"... then you'll surely end up having to conclude that we should kill existing people. Granted, killing them harms them too, but it spares them more harm than it causes them."

No, I wouldn't come to that conclusion. First, because of the reasons filrabat gave. And second because one of the (at least my) core-arguments for antinatalism is this: we do not have the right to make the aforementioned compenstation-calculations for others. That is why we may not gamble with the happiness of our potential children. We would decide that they have to be more happy about the good things they will enjoy than they are sad about the bad things. But we cannot make that judgement for them.
And in the same vein it is not for me to decide if the death of another person would cause [to him] less harm than would his continued life. Therefore I cannot be allowed to take action to force my evaluation of his life on him, especially not in such a permanent way.
It is the same principle as with the child, only with the child I would be forcing my decision about his life on him only if I create him. If I don't, there is nobody for whom I have decided anything, so that is the safer alternative.

filrabat said...

Great one, Rob. I agree entirely

Abbie said...

Filbrat and others,

It is important that we use arguments that actually work, rather than arguments that are wholly implausible and will just allow our opponents a field day.

Normally, we accept that pleasure can compensate for pain. So, we are willing to endure some pain for some greater amount of pleasure. This is not irrational.

Subjecting someone else to pain in order to secure them some greater amount of pleasure benefits them. It may be a benefit we are not entitled to bestow (for reasons to do with consent or risk). But that’s a different point. The point is that if someone subjects you to a small amount of pain but as a result you gain some greater amount of pleasure, you’ve been benefited, other things being equal.

If you’ve been brought into existence and your life contains more pleasure than pain, then you’ve been benefited.

Doesn’t mean that whoever brought you into existence was entitled to do so. But the fact is, you’ve been benefited.

One way to deny this is to deny that anyone can be benefited by being brought into existence.

The problem with this is that it means that you cannot be harmed by being brought into existence either. So, on this view bringing someone into existence whose life will be utterly miserable from beginning to end doesn’t ‘harm’ them.

That’s ridiculous – so we can reject that view.

So, you can be benefited by being brought into existence. Doesn’t mean you ‘ought’ to be brought into existence. But let’s just get clear that you can, in principle, be benefited by being brought into existence.

If you give avoidance of pain an absolute priority then you should kill other people. Why? Well, I’ve explained but I’ll explain again. Although killing others harms them, it prevents them from being subjected to harms in the future. And thus overall the utility calculation is likely to come out positive in a great many cases.

Similarly, you should commit suicide. Again, in this way you prevent yourself coming to any further harms.

This is what you’ll be committed to if you insist that pain avoidance takes absolute priority over pleasure generation.

Antinatalism does not depend upon such arguments - so it is foolish to use them.

Preventing pain does take some kind of priority over generating pleasure. But not an absolute priority. And furthermore, we should focus on the pains caused to other animals (rather than just to the person who is procreated).

There’s enough material here to generate a convincing case against procreation. But the idea that pain prevention takes absolute priority over pleasure generation is utterly absurd.

Compoverde said...

Abbie, the point is that when you don't know what the benefit and harm is to a future person, all things being considered, you are preventing harm and not depriving good. That is all that is needed.. not any "after the fact" justifying on whether it was good or bad for that child. None of that is needed with Antinatalism. I do not think resorting to "harm to other animals" is necessary. You said previously that you need there to be "person-affecting" utilitarianism, which seems to be about utility as it affects each individual person in each case, and all of a sudden you are discussing suicide and such for the sake of some elusive universal version of utilitarianism which seems to not be "for" anyone but some weird summation of "utility" on the whole. Which is it then? Person-affecting or this universal summation variety?

Abbie said...

COmpoverde,

everything I said would apply to a person-affecting utilitarian.

If preventing pain takes absolute priority, then we ought (if we are person-affecting utilitarians) to kill others and ourselves for we owe it to others (and ourselves) to minimise our experience of pain.

filrabat said...

@Abbie

CONSENT

Actually, I think consent is an essential part of the point, if not THE essential point itself. Consent is one of the basic building blocks of freedom of choice, if not THE ultimate building block - usually considered a human right. Therefore, regardless of the emotional compensation received for the pain, it still doesn’t make it right to subject others to it - except in certain cases where going through pain is absolutely necessary to prevent an even greater harm, especially to others (military draft in times of a very high probability of war, testifying against a friend or your boss if you know he or she committed a serious crime, risking sunstroke or hypothermia to get help for auto accident survivors, etc).

But in normal circumstances, it’s simply not right for others to subject you without your consent to terrible risk or conditions even if you do benefit from it. Example: A financial advisor of a household wanting only low-to-moderate risk investments sells 50% of the original portfolio and invests the proceeds in futures contracts (which are VERY risky investments – as in “For Highly Trained Professionals ONLY). Even assuming a very high return (a benefit), the facts remain that (a) the household didn’t want their money in risky investments, and (b) there was a VERY substantial probability of loss on that investment (a harm). This makes the financial advisor’s actions at the very least unethical, and maybe even criminal, too.

I think the same basic principles - consent and meeting of the minds applies at least as much to childbirth as it does to investments, even it’s not possible to give objective risk-return rates regarding life. As Jim said in an earlier blog piece, it’s one thing to gamble with your own money, another to gamble with other people’s.

The ulitimate point, however, is consent to be subjected to the “Rules of ‘The Game of Life’”. Some of those rules are those that either abrase on our conscience or that we simply would not willingly endure were it entirely up to us (beyond the merely inconvenient rules of day-to-day living, one of those rules is that “Everybody dies in the end, no matter how strong your desire to live”). There is a certain subjectivity in this, as Rob said - which is precisely the point. Who are we to judge for others whether their lives are worth living? More to the point, who are we to decide for others that they themselves are (or ought to be) happy with their lives? Even anything that most people would call a benefit – no matter how great in other people’s eyes – is not the point. The point is Consent – in this case “consent to be subject to the “Rules of ‘The Game of Life’”, as recently discussed.

HARM AND BENEFIT

These are not two sides of the same coin. They’re two different things. Harm doesn’t guarantee any sufficiently compensatory benefits. Actually, it’s possible learn something without being harmed. Even if this previous sentence is false, it’s just one more example of how the rules of the game can be objectionable. Though I’m not Mormon, I’ll paraphrase one of its “Great Books” – The Pearl (of pleasure) is, for many people, not worth its Great Price (of suffering, hating the rules, guilty conscience when you do have to go against the rules, etc).

filrabat said...

SUICIDE
(I’m ignoring physician-assisted suicide for the terminally ill, for this kind of suicide and the kind Abbie speaks of involve so many different kinds of issues they are practically irrelevant to each other).
As for the suicide part - again, suicide causes needless anguish and suffering to friends and family members. The great majority of them won’t even begin to understand our motivations because they’re so trapped in the idea that “life is worth living, end of story” that they can’t even begin to see there’s a whole other side of the human race that wants nothing the hell to do with life – calling us depressed , suicidal, even insane for it if they ever found out about our beliefs. By contrast, NOT committing suicide and dying in ways not by our own hand is not nearly as anguishing for them. In short, when there’s a legitimate conflict of this sort, then do what is the least harmful to others .

filrabat said...

@Abbie

Chip Smith addressed this very issue in Part II of his essay series Initial Harm.

Note: Smith is not a Libertarian. In this case, he's merely exploring libertarian concepts for the sake of conjuring up a Libertarian approach to antinatalism that's not vulnerable to extrapolations to permitting murder, genocide, etc.


Smith's basis for such a libertarian-based antinatalism draws from a combination of:

*Kantian Deontological (duty-obligation-based) Ethics
*Murray Rothbard's "Right of Self Ownership" and its corrolary "Axiom of Non-Aggression".

The basic point that Smith draws is that procreation = an act of aggression (initiation of force [i.e., harm] against another person.

I highly reccommend clicking on that link, as it definitely helped me articulate what my own form of antinatalism is really about.

Abbie said...

But my point is precisely that it is 'other' arguments, such as ones to do with consent, etc, that really do the work.

The argument that creating someone subjects them to harm is not a good one. That was my point. That one can appeal to other considerations - ones to do with consent - is irrelevant to my point.

My point is that if you say that being brought into existence harms the person in question then you cannot, without prejudice, ignore the pleasures it brings them too.

If one insists that one can ignore the pleasures because preventing pain takes absolute priority (as some seem to be suggesting) then you end up having to say we should kill ourselves (and kill others).

Benatar avoids this but only by insisting upon an asymmetry according to which absent pain is bad even if there's no one around, absent pleasure is not bad unless there's someone for whom it is a deprivation. So the person-affecting condition only seems to be applied to pleasure and not to pain.

An asymmetry needs defence - and Benatar gives a defence by providing certain examples that he thinks elicit intuitions that support the asymmetry. This is a dangerous strategy because a) the intuitions are not very powerful and a lot of people may not have them and b) there may be a better explanation that does not invoke an asymmetry.

Abbie said...

The tone of my response above is a bit snippy - not meant to be

filrabat said...

No problem Abbie. You should see antinatalist comments on YouTube and the philosophy forum Compoverde participates in.

Absolute Priority to Prevent Pain: I don’t think philanthropic antinatalism requires going this far – it only requires the belief that the pleasures of this world/universe do not compensate for the pleasures received from it. That means even if life does contain some pleasure, for more people than we think, the pleasures of life do not outweigh its hardships. Benatar himself explicitly said this in a radio interview (here and here.

Secondly, murder is wrong because it destroys a person's power to exercise his or her choice to live if he or she wishes to do so. Because violating consent in intimate matters is a universal belief, it follows we shouldn't force death on others (with the exception of self-defense or defense of community or nation).


Still, even if there is admittedly a subjective component to anyone's pain-pleasure calculation (which is what makes consent so central to at least my antinatalism), most people agree there are circumstances in which they would not want to raise children (e.g., if the child has a serious genetic or other health disorder). An extreme case, but still illustrative of the larger point. To less extreme cases, there’s even the fundamental disagreement with the way the game of life operates. You could agree that it's cruel to force a person to endure what Karl called a few month's back "the horrific structural features of existence - imprisoned in time, old age, ill-health, death, loss and on ad infinitum"

Also, there's always the possibility that the person could disagree with too much of human nature itself to want to create his or her own children.

filrabat said...

Absolute Priority to Prevent Pain:

I don’t think philanthropic antinatalism requires going this far – it only requires the belief that the pleasures of this world/universe do not compensate for the pleasures received from it. Benatar himself explicitly said this in a radio interview (here and here.

Still, I’ll admit there is a subjective component as to how much pain any one person suffers. Even so, most people would agree there are circumstances in which they would not want to raise children (e.g., if the child has a serious genetic or other health disorder). An extreme case, but still illustrative of the larger point. To less extreme cases, there’s even the fundamental disagreement with the way the game of life operates. For example, consider this quote Karl months back

“Apart from the horrific structural features of existence - imprisoned in time, old age, ill-health, death, loss and on ad infinitum - when once sees how much misery humans wilfuly inflict on each other, either through delusion or outright malice, it's difficult not to view our biped crew with at least a fair dollop of contempt and outrage.”

This kind of existence, being this kind of species, can easily cause a person to think that the pleasures of living do not compensate for existing – especially if we are, to quote Jim “at best, monsters yearning to be saints”. In other words, if humans have a strong tendency to act this way, do we really need to continue giving birth to more members of such a species?

rob said...

filrabat:
"do we really need to continue giving birth to more members of such a species?"

Aren't we already in the realm of misanthrophy with such a question? Humans suck, so don't create any more?
While I agree that many of them do, there are also many who do not (of course how many are in which group is again higly subjective).
And this arguments is also open to the "then why not kill everybody?"- extrapolation as well as to the "then the more moral people should raise more nice kids"-response ;-)

That is not to say that it is not a valid reason... a lot of the risks that await each new human come from other humans, after all.

Abbie said...

Why is it misanthropy? A misanthropist hates mankind. But one can recognise that it would be better, all things considered, if humans became extinct without having to 'hate' mankind. One simply judges that, on balance, we cause more bad than good overall.

If I discover that I harbour a horrific contagious disease I 'might' conclude that it would be better if I killed myself. That doesn't mean I hate myeslf.

filrabat said...

@Rob

You can also reframe that remark (credit to Karl) as "does another human being really deserve to be forced into inevitable exposure of human nature?" -thereby making the focus one of preventing suffering from human nature's actions.

Also, for philanthropic antinatalism, concern for others necessarily overrules any negative opinions we have for them. This means taking their wishes into account - i.e., giving them the freedom to choose their own actions even though we may not actually like it. Allowing =/= Condoning, after all.

In particular, there's the consent issue - which I consider ultimately almost, if not completely, synonomous with dignity and happiness. If you ask me, anyone who doesn't take consent and "freedom of choice" into account is condoning totalitarianism at best and outright slavery at worst.

At any rate, I do call myself a "Soft, Genteel Misanthrope" (specific definition, as seen on my website). That means I'm not particularly fond of humanity as a whole, but nevertheless am against even a guaranteed planet-wide painless instant killing of all people - as that destroys their ability to exercise their right to choose to live if they so desire.

BTW,

Karl said...

Very good exchange going on on this post. Congrats to all. Seeing as how Filrabat quoted me (cheers, mate!) I feel like making a few general points.

The thrust of the comments appears to be focusing on the individual, but I think antinatalism really comes into its own when we pull the camera back a bit and look at the bigger picture. To quote Schopenhauer:


"History shows us the life of nations and finds nothing to relate but wars and tumults; the peaceful years appear only as occasional brief pauses and interludes. In just the same way the life of the individual is a constant struggle,and not merely a metaphorical one against want or boredom, but also an actual struggle against other people. He discovers adversaries everywhere, lives in continual conflict and dies with sword in hand".

Unless one has religious beliefs that provide a transcendental guarantee to the whole life process, I genuinely fail to see how one can justify the thing morally once we adopt a clear-eyed non-sentimental, non-subjective perspective on life and the species. Unless one genuinely believes in a worthwhile telos or goal to life, we are left stranded as mortal creatures in an indifferent universe subject to all the vagaries I mentioned in the quote Filrabat used.

Consequently, we are then reduced to the subjective perspective which inevitably decays into hedonism, ie. "I like life and I do whatever makes me feel good and that's all that counts". Fine, as long as we adopt the John Stuart Mill position of not causing harm to others, but given that practically everything we do impacts on someone else, that principle has very limited application or else becomes such a complex calculation as to be practically worthless. It's all lovely as long as certain people get pleasure from helping others or developing the longer-lasting lightbulb, but the fact is that most people's actions are morally neutral at best and infringe upon others more often than not. And of course the kind of people who run the political show tend generally to be of a sociopathic, non-empathetic dispostion who are mainly in it to satisfy their own egos or are in the grip of some ideological delusion. So that's the kind of world we're stuck in. How jolly.

I also think that Benatar's use of John Rawls's 'Veil of Ignorance' principle is highly useful. For those unfamiliar with it, it basically involves imagining that you exist as a kind of pre-life being with the ability to design the kind of world that would maximise your chances of an optimal life in terms of fairness, justice etc. As Benatar and others have pointed out, a genuine appraisal of life and the species would lead any rational individual to reject life altogether given the unavoidable risks, structural limitiations, violence of the species etc. I have yet to hear a good counter-argument to this conclusion.

As a hint to the kind of world we do live in for those yet unconvinced, I read recently that there are twice as many trained professional soldiers in the world as there are doctors and nurses put together. Think about that for a moment. There are TWICE as many of your fellow human-beings trained to kill you on a moment's notice than there exist to help you or bring you succour. Would you really choose to exist in such a scenario if you had been asked the question beforehand? I think only the glory-hunters or the guys chasing the synthetic cheese (to use a phrase of Inmendham's) would agree to such terms. And whatever about choosing it for onself (which, of course, no one does anyway), to drag someone else into it needlessly by procreating while acknowledging these facts has to be the act of a morally thoughtless at best, utterly selfish individual at worst.

filrabat said...

Agreed with everything here, Karl. Quoting you again now (your last post on this thread)

"Unless one has religious beliefs that provide a transcendental guarantee to the whole life process..."

Even then, there's still the possibility of a hideous afterlife of some sort (which most religions have, most famously Christianity and Islam). Jesus didn't say "many are called but few are chosen" for nothing, after all. The Hindu religions (yes, note the plural) say a bad person will be reincarnated as a bug or slime mold if he or she's been bad.

Buddhism, I don't know for sure, but I think their goal is to end their existence in a limbo - a nothingness. This seems practically the same eternal result as not being born at all (but I'm admittedly going a bit beyond my knowledge of this religion)

filrabat said...

P.S. refering Karl's post.

I used Rawl's idea without even knowing it (not that I'm all that hard core into academic philosophy). On my blog, I used the concept of a nonembodied, pre-born spirit, and came to the same essential conclusion.

rob said...

Ok, about the misanthropy, just to explain a bit. What I said only makes sense in combination with the quotes by Jim and Karl before it. Humans act like monsters and are viewed with contempt. That evoked the image in me of humans as hopelessly bad creatures, totaly ruining it for each other.

Regardin Karl's statistik: at least in germany there are more doctors than (active) soldiers. But I don't know numbers about ex-soldiers, of which there are, or course, a great deal more, if you count every person who has served in the army at all. But then it doesn't seem too fair to compare that to an active full-time nurse.

Abbie said...

Todd,

but antinatalism doesn't = misanthropy. There are bad arguments for any position. But a very good case can be made for antinatalism without having to be misanthropic. As I mention above, one can recognise that humans cause more harm than good without thereby 'hating' humans. And the arguments about consent etc, don't commit one to misanthropy either.

filrabat said...

@Rob

Humans act like monsters and are viewed with contempt. That evoked the image in me of humans as hopelessly bad creatures, totaly ruining it for each other.

filrabat: I see mere semantic disagreement more than substantive. When Jim said "monsters", I think he meant it highly figuratively - as in "anyone who tends to do something even moderately rotten". Therefore, "monsters" don't have to be anywhere near the "serial killer" or "SS Guard at Treblenka" types. Still, as an aside, I will say everyone has the capacity to be a monster even in the way you used the term. Search for videos of the Milgren Experiment and Stanford Prison Experiments to see what I mean.

Abbie said...

I think Rawls’ argument is a good one but we have to be careful how it is made. I don’t think Rawls’ thought experiment ‘directly’ supports antinatalism. This is because by definition, the deliberator behind the veil of ignorance is devising rules that they will have to then live by or be regulated by when they come out from behind the veil. So, right from the outset it is a given that you – the deliberator- is going to exist – indeed, if this were not the case the deliberator would lack the required motivation to devise the rules.

filrabat said...

@ Abbie

I think I constructed a pretty relevant analogy, inadvertently similar to Rawls' "Veil of Ignorance". here, in the middle of this long page (go to the browser word search and enter the word "Proportionate" and it'll take you there). In particular, read the part about "disembodied consciousnesses" I constructed.

FYI: I had no clue about either Rawls or the "Veil of Ignorance until you all brought it up.

Abbie said...

I don't think your thought experiment is really the same as Rawls's. Rawls's is designed to model our concept of fairness according to which luck cannot ground desert.
The basic idea is this: it is fair to make us all abide by rules that we agree to prior to knowing what hand we are dealt. 'The hand we are dealt' are all those features of us that, due to luck, lead to some of us faring better than others. So the fact that some of us find ourselves with marketable skills is, ultimately, a matter of luck and it is unfair that some of us have these things and others don't.
So, in Rawls's thought experiment, you figure out what fairness demands from you (and what you can legitimately demand from others) by imagining what rules what be agreed on if we all lacked knowledge of our skills and other natural attributes.
Rawls thinks that if we were all ignorant of our natural attributes, were rational and self-interested, then we'd all agree to rules that would give priority to the worst off, becacause (in our position of ignorance) we'd want to make sure that if we turn out to lack any marketable skills we want to be protected.

filrabat said...

Abbie,

I think that the only scenario in which childhood could be even arguably legitimate is in the following cases:

1. Our Pre-Existent Selves (OPES) had sufficient information about the following to make a reasonably informed decision:
a) the rules of the game of life
b) "human nature" as commonly defined.
c) the likelihood of any one bad occurence happening vs the good occurences (i.e. risk vs benefits)

2. OPES understood that once they consent to play the game, death is the only way out of this game (and that death is highly unlikely to be a pleasant experience)

3. If OPES found the combination of all the above insufficiently satisfactory for any reason, then he or she has the power to refuse to play the game at all - even refusing to be conceived.

I'm thinking of this in terms of a legally binding contract, particularly one to purchase an agreed-upon item in an agreed-upon quantity at an agreed-upon price - and all the above agreed to on the condition of what the law calls "the meeting of the minds" (pretty much self-explanatory).

This is particularly true regarding hugely expensive items like a house. No sane and saavy person would buy a house without checking whether it has liens on it, or ask about the type of soil the foundation sits on, or even inspect the house for hidden damage.

In the same way, I don't think it's right to force a person to play the game of life, even if that person would have a good one (due to the possibility the opposite could well have happened AND the person didn't agree to come into this world).

Abbie said...

I'm not really persuaded that a pre-existing self would choose not to be born. Any argument you bring to this effect will surely work just as well to persuade an actually existing person to stop existing.

It seems to me that once you exist in some robust sense, then you have an interest in continuing to exist provided it is reasonable to think that your future existence will be one that will be on balance happy.

It seems to me that it can therefore be in your interests to have been brought into existence.

For me, the reason we shouldn't procreate is the harm we do to the interests of other animals and the fact we cannot give our consent to be procreated.

filrabat said...

Abbie,

I think that last objection isn't really relevant because in reality, there are no pre-existing spirits. Therefore, any preexisting spirit we talk about for the sake of advancing an argument can take on any traits we want them to.

Therefore, if the argument demands it, we can have a pre-existing spirit without a survival instinct -- just separate life from the desire to live (like we imagine a hypothetical robot to be).

In this case, a pre-existing spirit, as I imagine it, can be aware of its existence, the existence of this world, can know what existing in this world entails, and can have the freedom to choose or not to live in it. In fact, that's one of - if not THE - basis for why I believe consent matters (though the consent matter doesn't depend on this argument - the argument is more of a "visual aid" than anything else)

Abbie said...

But if you can endow the pre-existing spirit with whatever characteristics one wants then one has simply rigged it to give the answer one wants, and so the thought experiment will lack power.

I also have difficulty understanding exaclty how to think about a pre-existing spirit, as the idea seems to me to be incoherent. Pre-existence is no existence at all, and so one cannot talk of what a pre-existing person would want. So, those are my worries about that particular sort of argument.

filrabat said...

@Abbie

Your last paragraph first: Pre-existing spirit...that's just bad phraseology on my part. My apologies. I used it due to the abortion-issue-related question "does life begin at conception or birth?" issue (even abortion debate aside, it's still a highly legitimate question in it's own right). Therefore, I used "pre-existing" to accommodate all possible understandings. In this case, interpret "pre-existing" to mean "before whatever point Abbie considers life to begin" :).

"rigged" accusation: I can see how this can be a weakness. On the other hand, for the "rigged" accusation to truly stick, one has to show why we should believe my "pre-loaded" criteria are either inadequate, incomplete, or just plain wrong. Otherwise, one could counter that we shouldn't have performance standards at work at all, on the basis that - for example, a required loading 350 widgets per hour is just "rigged" by the company. I hope this clears things up for you.

Abbie said...

Yes, thanks for that. My main concern about these sorts of thought experiment is that they tend to become over-complicated and to obscure issues rather than adding clarity to the debate.

As a more general point I'd say that it seems to me perfectly consistent to on the one hand, value one's own life and be glad that one was born, yet at the same time accept that one's own creation was immoral.

We can, in other words, be benefitted by the wrongdoing of another. If a mafia friend 'whacks' someone who is annoying me, then I might be very pleased and grateful, yet at the same time think that what they did was terribly wrong.

It seems to me that thought experiments that try and show we would, in certain idealised circumstances, prefre not to have been born, tend to encouage the thought that antinatalism depends upon a negative assessment of the benefits of living.

CM said...

Abbie-

I don't think the fact that people are willing to endure pain for a greater amount of pleasure (which can be redefined in terms of avoiding the pain of being deprived of said pleasure) means that anyone is benefited by being created. If you were dying of thirst in a desert, you'd probably be willing to give up all your worldly possessions for a bottle of Aquafina, and it would not be irrational of you (assuming the preference for survival is rational, which, of course, is highly dubious). This doesn't mean that two cups of water are really worth that much. The fact is, people who exist are already stranded in this shithole of a universe with little to say in favor of going on living except a strong survival instinct. I don't think the concept of benefits makes any sense when taken separately from harm prevention/avoidance. Everything we now about human psychology suggests that if the only kind of experience humans ever had was constant excruciating torture occasionally interrupted by being kicked in the groin, everyone would extol the virtues of being kicked in the groin and confidently assert that it makes life worthwhile.

CM said...

*know about human psychology... I'm sleepy

Abbie said...

CM,

but what if you're completely wrong - what if life is great on the whole and benefits those who have them? Then you'd conclude that procreation is fine.

I wouldn't. My claim is that even if life is great, it is immoral to procreate.

The appeal of your argument is limited to those who share your pessimistic assessment of life.

My argument appeals to everyone inasmuch as it doesn't require a negative assessment of the benefits of living.

Karl said...

This may be of interest to some people here. Debate with Clarence Darrow (the guy who defended the teaching of evolution in American schools) on whether life was worth living or not. Darrow spoke against the motion! Features a great quote from Arthur Balfour below the link.



http://openlibrary.org/books/OL7173090M/Great_public_debate_on_the_question_Is_life_worth_living



"We survey the past, and see that its history is of blood and Man, so far as natural science by itself is able to teach us, is no longer the final cause of the universe, the Heaven descended heir of all the ages. His very existence is an accident, his story a brief and transitory episode in the life of one of the meanest of the planets. Of the combination of causes which first converted a dead organic compound into the living progenitors of humanity, science indeed as yet knows nothing. It is enough that from such beginnings famine, disease, and mutual slaughter, fit nurses of the future lords of creation, have gradually evolved, after infinite travail, a race with conscience enough to feel that it is vile, and intelligence enough to know that it is insignificant tears, of helpless blundering, of wild revolt, of stupid acquiescence, of empty aspirations. We sound the future, and learn that after a period, long compared with the individual life, but short indeed compared with the divisions of time open to our investigation, the energies of our system will decay, the glory of the sun will be dimmed, and the earth, tideless and inert, will no longer tolerate the race which for a moment disturbed its solitude. Man will go down into the pit, and all his thoughts will perish. The uneasy consciousness, which in this obscure corner has for a long space broken the contented silence of the universe, will be at rest. Matter will know itself no longer. "Imperishable monuments" and "immortal deeds," death itself, and love stronger than death, will be as though they had never been. Nor will anything that is be better or be worse for all that the labour, genius, devotion, and suffering of men have striven
through countless generations to effect."

Karl said...

Full link:

http://openlibrary.org/books/OL7173090M/Great_public_debate_on_the_question_Is_life_worth_living

Not sure if the full link has come out, but if you put "open library" "is life worth living" "clarence darrow" into Google, that should get you there.