• schopenhauer1
    2.8k
    Let's say that you lived in a slave-owning society, and you were in fact a slave-owner. Let's say that the slaves you own work in conditions that are close to the standards of working-class people that are not slaves as long as they do not rebel or refuse to work each day. In fact, one slave writes a whole philosophical treatise about how enduring hardships help one become a more virtuous person, and that it is good to be born a slave. He also writes how one never knows the outcome of what is to happen in life, so one must remain indifferent what one cannot change. The slaves generally identify with their situation, and are happy they were born into slavery. They are forced to work, and the consequence of not working is simply not getting any food or other provisions. If they choose to continue working, they are again given their food and provisions.

    If this is the case that the slaves were generally happy to be born into their situation of forced work, is the slave-owner really culpable ethically-speaking? My answer is a definite yes. To force people to work, for some (X) reason (in this case to make the slave-owner money), is using people as a mere means to an ends. It does not matter the subjective state of the slave, in this case. The slave-owner is doing something wrong by forcing work/challenges on someone else.

    Any thoughts? @Theologian@tim wood@unenlightened@Metaphysician Undercover@Bitter Crank
  • DingoJones
    796


    I hereby anoint thee Sir Obvious of PoF’oria.
    What are you doing here? Just letting everyone know your virtue? A round of applause everyone...

    ...slavery isnt wrong because of the conditions of the slaves. You’ve never heard the expression about a gilded cage?
    Slavery is wrong because people are not property, and on the basis of people being awarded equal rights within society. What you have stated is not interesting philosophy, or at the very least utterly uncontroversial.
    Did you expect someone to disagree?
  • schopenhauer1
    2.8k

    Hold your horses there, DingoJones. I was going to up the stakes in a bit, and going somewhere with it, but I wanted to establish something first with something everyone agrees with. I was going to go with what intuitively seems wrong, and apply it to what most would not think is intuitive, but still wrong in the same way..

    So the point is yes, you are correct, I would say most people would think the slave-owner is wrong. Here's where it gets controversial- I think having children is also wrong for the very same reasons. Like the slave, the child will be forced to work to survive and deal with challenges of life (these challenges are both structural and contingent.. I can get into that later if you want). In fact, most parents think they are justified in having kids because, like the slaves in the OP, they may learn to identify with the challenges in some way, and say "they like it". I think this does not matter. Also, there will be an objection that the slave is forced into constraints and other people not, so it's different. Fair enough, but let's not be myopic here- life itself entails that work and labor has to be done by someone in order for survival to take place. Also, life has many adversities both seen and unforeseen, that will fall upon the new person born. The child is also being exposed to all suffering, where this did not need to happen, as a means to some X reason the parent had for the child to be born. The child is now provided challenges and exposed to suffering where there did not need to be a child who experienced challenges and suffering, AND would not even be around prior to their birth (obviously) to be "deprived" of any of the "goods of life". Exposing people to challenges to overcome and suffering, in order so that they might experience some unknown amount of "goods of/from life" is still using the child for an X reason.

    So, though at first unintuitive, the same standard should be applied in the situation of procreation as well. Simply because the constraints are widened to challenges of life in general instead of a particular set of challenges set by the slave-owner doesn't negate the fact that suffering and challenges are being DE FACTO foisted on a person with their birth.
  • ZhouBoTong
    290
    How many hours a week do your slaves work? If it is less than 40, I volunteer :smile:

    More seriously:

    The slave-owner is doing something wrong by forcing work/challenges on someone else.schopenhauer1

    I agree with this. However, if we were ever to know FOR CERTAIN that
    the slaves were generally happy to be born into their situation of forced workschopenhauer1
    , and we also knew FOR CERTAIN that there was ZERO chance they would be happier as non-slaves...I might be willing to reconsider. But I do not see how we could ever know these things for certain.

    one slave writes a whole philosophical treatise about how enduring hardships help one become a more virtuous person, and that it is good to be born a slave.schopenhauer1

    Well if that slave did not have the comparison of freedom, I am not sure why their opinion of slavery would be of much value.

    My first thoughts, were "hell no. You can't justify slavery any more than rape. It is definitionally bad." Your hypotheticals made me think, but outside fantasy, I think I stick with my original idea.

    Did you expect someone to disagree?DingoJones

    I mostly agree with this sentiment, but having read a lot more on philosophy threads than I have contributed to...I am always amazed that there seems to be a couple people willing to defend even the most outlandish ideas (like that one idiot who keeps saying Transformers is better than Shakespeare, haha).
  • ZhouBoTong
    290
    In fact, most parents think they are justified in having kids because, like the slaves in the OP, they may learn to identify with the challenges in some way, and say "they like it". I think this does not matter.schopenhauer1

    So I guess this parallels what I said about not trusting the slave who writes about how good slavery is...because he has no idea what freedom is like.

    Why trust people who say life is good/valuable when they don't know any alternative?

    What if we can do some Gattaca/Brave New World stuff. If we completely understand neuroscience and genetics, we could BE SURE that everyone is happy; and if we also had enough resources (a la Star Trek) we could entirely remove suffering. I get these examples are possibly more outlandish than the ones you gave, but would that situation change your view at all?
  • schopenhauer1
    2.8k
    So I guess this parallels what I said about not trusting the slave who writes about how good slavery is...because he has no idea what freedom is like.ZhouBoTong

    Correct.

    What if we can do some Gattaca/Brave New World stuff. If we completely understand neuroscience and genetics, we could BE SURE that everyone is happy; and if we also had enough resources (a la Star Trek) we could entirely remove suffering. I get these examples are possibly more outlandish than the ones you gave, but would that situation change your view at all?ZhouBoTong

    I don't think it is a possibility for humans to be happy, as suffering is structural to life. There would still be want and need. However, the situation describe may be better for contingent suffering (i.e. suffering that is based on circumstances). If people were still people though, other people and circumstances would somehow find a way to cause negative experiences and create new contingent pain.

    A sort of rule comes out of this formulation. Any X thing that is put as a reason to have the child is still using the child in light of the fact that no child needed to be born in the first place to experience X thing. So someone who says, "I want a child to experience accomplishment, love, laughter, amusement, and friendship", is still putting these values before the child itself. Thus, the child having to overcome adversities and dealing with suffering, is being ignored for other X reasons. But the truth is, the child did not have to be born to even NEED love laughter, amusement, and friendship. But certainly the child will experience challenges and suffering. Why create something for the X reason (when the consequence is suffering for that child), when it did not need to occur in the first place? That would be putting the X reason over the suffering and challenges the child will face. The child is being used to experience these things that are supposedly good for the child, that didn't even need to be born in the first place to experience these X things.
  • ZhouBoTong
    290
    I don't think it is a possibility for humans to be happy, as suffering is structural to life. There would still be want and need. However, the situation describe may be better for contingent suffering (i.e. suffering that is based on circumstances). If people were still people though, other people and circumstances would somehow find a way to cause negative experiences and create new contingent pain.schopenhauer1

    I feel like I could come up with examples to refute this, but they all assume a level science knowledge that we do not know we will ever achieve, so probably not worth a lot of our time.

    A sort of rule comes out of this formulation.schopenhauer1

    We have sort of discussed this before. I think as opposed to me saying, "I want a child to experience, X, X, and X", can't I just say, "well I am CERTAIN that I am glad some other person chose to bring me into this world, so I can apply that logic to future babies?" It does not refute your points, but is enough logic for me feel comfortable that this baby will also PROBABLY prefer existence to non-existence (I do understand your point, that once they exist, what else would they prefer?)

    In any case, I will not be having kids, so I obviously agree to an extent. I just don't know that I would go as far as calling the breeders immoral.
  • schopenhauer1
    2.8k
    but is enough logic for me feel comfortable that this baby will also PROBABLY prefer existence to non-existence (I do understand your point, that once they exist, what else would they prefer?)ZhouBoTong

    Right, this is why I used the example of the slave being subjectively happy with his situation. This does not negate the slave-owner putting him into a position of constraints, challenges, and forced work- generally making the slave a slave in order for them to be a means to his ends.
  • Theologian
    105

    Well, as I posted elsewhere, fundamentally I am a meta-ethical subjectivist, so I don't think that anything is wrong.

    I am not devoid of moral sentiment; I definitely feel that certain things are wrong. I just don't see any evidence that those feelings have any greater significance than the feelings I have that tell me that chocolate is delicious or that vomit is revolting. And I think that the burden of proof is on whoever wants to claim that our moral feelings are anything more than that.

    I also think that regardless of whether we believe that moral sentiment is just another feeling, of no greater significance than an orgasm or a migraine, or whether we believe otherwise, there remains the challenge of modelling that system of feelings. If you believe as I do, it is a problem for psychology. If you do not, philosophy. [it's a little more complex than that I know; after all, there is sociology, anthropology, phenomenology... but, you get the gist.]

    Either way, I am quite sure that deontological, consequentialist/utilitarian, and virtue based ethical systems all have valid insights. Pure utilitarian and pure deontological approaches clearly produce moral absurdities. When I see people who are wholly devoted to just one of these systems, it seems to me to be a classic case of becoming so enamored of one particular insight that it becomes the insight, and permits no others.

    Consulting my own moral sentiments, I have no particularly strong reaction to the particular dilemma you raise in either direction.

    To say that having children is wrong because you're using another person purely as a means to an end and terminate the discussion there seems excessively deontological to me (not that I'm saying you do that). On the other hand, I can't deny that life, as you also observe, is pervasively pretty nasty. Reading your post I couldn't help but think of the Buddhist "noble truth" that life is inherently unsatisfactory.

    And yet, even though I do not believe in the wheel of reincarnation, I have so far not killed myself. Nor do I have any plans to do so.

    But maybe that's just because evolution has programmed me not to do that...
  • DingoJones
    796


    Oh, you are THAT guy, that keeps trying to backdoor this topic. Even worse that I thought.
    Master/slave relationship compared to parent/offspring relationship is superficially analogous at best.
  • Theologian
    105

    Two things to add to my previous post...

    1. I'm not sure you're on entirely solid deontological grounds asserting that having children is using people as a means rather than treating them as ends in themselves. Are you completely certain if your goal is to have children, you can't say that you have treated the person as an end in themselves?

    Don't forget: even Kant allows us to use others to achieve our ends. We're just not allowed to treat them in a way where we're only using them as an means to an end.

    2. Consulting my feelings rather than logic, I can't help but think of an argument I once heard about colonizing Mars. The speaker, who was an astrobiologist, said he felt that a universe with life was fundamentally richer than one without.

    I'm not saying I am wholly won over by this argument. But I am not entirely unmoved by it either. I'm a bit wild and woolly here I know, but perhaps you could all it an appeal to virtue ethics, but in this case the "virtue" and the "flourishing" belong to an entire planet, or even the universe, rather than just one individual organism.
  • schopenhauer1
    2.8k
    Oh, you are THAT guy, that keeps trying to backdoor this topic. Even worse that I thought.
    Master/slave relationship compared to parent/offspring relationship is superficially analogous at best.
    DingoJones

    No, it is not the relationship I am comparing, Dingo. Rather, it is the circumstances of being foisted challenges and suffering for someone else's ends...The actual relationship is much different, and would be a strawman made from emphasizing the wrong aspect of the analogy.
  • DingoJones
    796


    You are comparing the state of slavery (forced challenges/suffering) with being born and living life. Living life is not forced challenges/suffering except to the very very weak. In order to compare the two you must skew life into some sort of unethical oppression. Its not, except from the weakest, most pathetic viewpoint. I understand you might just be pontificating rather than feeling this deeply so that isnt directed at you personally but to consider life in that way you must take a very weak view of the ups and downs of life.
  • Theologian
    105

    most people would think the slave-owner is wrong. Here's where it gets controversial- I think having children is also wrong for the very same reasonsschopenhauer1

    I can see similarities, but I can also see non-trivial differences.

    One is that a slave can be freed. A child can only be "freed" by being killed. So the slaveowner has an option the parent does not: releasing the slave to go on and have an experience of life other than the one you describe. Unless one believes in an afterlife, the parent has no such ability to "free" the child.
  • schopenhauer1
    2.8k
    1. I'm not sure you're on entirely solid deontological grounds asserting that having children is using people as a means rather than treating them as ends in themselves. Are you completely certain if your goal is to have children, you can't say that you have treated the person as an end in themselves?

    Don't forget: even Kant allows us to use others to achieve our ends. We're just not allowed to treat them in a way where we're only using them as an means to an end.
    Theologian

    In a sense, there is no person for there to be an end for yet, so it is always for the parent, prior to birth. Going a bit beyond Kant, I just call this a circular contradiction. Creating a new person would create the challenges that need to be overcome in the first place. Why create challenges to overcome in the first place for another person? Well, if it so another person can enjoy life, then why create a person to overcome challenges to enjoy life in the first place? Not being born means no actual person suffers. There is no "they" that is deprived of any good either.

    Similarly, the slave-owner might say that the slave will be happy, and there is nothing wrong with foisting challenges and suffering for another person if they are subjectively "ok" with it.
  • schopenhauer1
    2.8k
    said he felt that a universe with life was fundamentally richer than one without.

    I'm not saying I am wholly won over by this argument. But I am not entirely unmoved by it either. I'm a bit wild and woolly here I know, but perhaps you could all it an appeal to virtue ethics, but in this case the "virtue" and the "flourishing" belong to an entire planet, or even the universe, rather than just one
    Theologian

    The universe does not get anything or not get anything by what humans do or feel.If so, the universe itself would be using people for a game of net good or whatnot.
  • schopenhauer1
    2.8k
    You are comparing the state of slavery (forced challenges/suffering) with being born and living life. Living life is not forced challenges/suffering except to the very very weak. In order to compare the two you must skew life into some sort of unethical oppression. Its not, except from the weakest, most pathetic viewpoint. I understand you might just be pontificating rather than feeling this deeply so that isnt directed at you personally but to consider life in that way you must take a very weak view of the ups and downs of life.DingoJones

    Besides the fact that you are waving off the fact that there many subtle and not so subtle harmful, negative states, I am indeed saying that the de facto forced overcoming of challenges to live and maintain in the world, and the exposure to various kinds of suffering (disorders, disease, bad luck, unfairness, etc. etc.) being created for another person is indeed not so different a scenario than the slave-owner foisting challenges. Having the freedom of choice of how to survive doesn't negate having to survive. Whether someone is subjectively happy with whatever their situation is at the time, doesn't negate the foisting of challenges and suffering on another.
  • Theologian
    105

    In a sense, there is no person for there to be an end for yet, so it is always for the parent, prior to birth. Going a bit beyond Kant, I just call this a circular contradiction.schopenhauer1
    I am not completely convinced that this is a circular contradiction. Let me run three arguments by you.

    1. Assume an eternalist view of time, in which the future is just as real as the past. The fact that the person you're doing things for is not around yet seems of no more relevance than whether they are around here. So doing something for someone in the future is no different from doing something for someone in a different city - or even just next door. So if we assume an eternalist view, doing something for someone who does not exist yet is not incoherent.

    2. Ask: "What is implicit in the idea that you should always treat humans as an end in themselves, never only as a means?" Doesn't this imply that humans have intrinsic value? And if humans have intrinsic value isn't creating more humans intrinsically good?

    3. Consider your own starting argument: that having children is wrong for the reasons you outline. But... is not your argument dependent on the idea that you can do something to someone who does not yet exist? So how can you now turn around and say that you can't do something for them?
  • Theologian
    105

    The universe does not get anything or not get anything by what humans do or feel.If so, the universe itself would be using people for a game of net good or whatnot.schopenhauer1

    Well, I guess we're just bits of universe ourselves. So the universe gets whatever we get. Good, bad, and in between.
  • Theologian
    105

    PS I'm sorry. I just can't resist...

  • DingoJones
    796


    It doesn’t seem like your paying any attention to what Im saying, so lets at least drop the layer and talk about what you actually want to talk about. The immorality of having kids. Go ahead, make your case but please do it one step at a time. Im just letting you know now im not interested in watching you barf out an argument, keep it simple and start at the beginning, one step at a time. In return I promise I will be earnest and open minded to this position, which I think makes no sense. Convince me. Fair enough?
  • schopenhauer1
    2.8k
    1. Assume an eternalist view of time, in which the future is just as real as the past. The fact that the person you're doing things for is not around yet seems of no more relevance than whether they are around here. So doing something for someone in the future is no different from doing something for someone in a different city - or even just next door. So if we assume an eternalist view, doing something for someone who does not exist yet is not incoherent.Theologian

    So keep in mind this idea of using as a means is regarding suffering and foisting challenges. By the act of procreating a new person, you are disregarding these for X other reasons. There was no person who existed prior to need anything- no challenges to overcome, no suffering, no desires that are not fulfilled, no absurdity of finding various daily purposes and goals. The parent is creating the very conditions of challenges, need, adversity in the first place, and usually for some X reason. Thus the X reason is put above exposing the child to these conditions. Thus, having a child who experiences X, Y, Z and who produces ABC, would be to put these values above the child's exposure to the structural and contingent harms of existence. However, there is no reason the person needs to experience XYZ or produce ABC in the first place. The child is being used in a way to fulfill some X reason destiny that they are supposed to live out.

    2. Ask: "What is implicit in the idea that you should always treat humans as an end in themselves, never only as a means?" Doesn't this imply that humans have intrinsic value? And if humans have intrinsic value isn't creating more humans intrinsically good?Theologian

    There are two ways to answer this. First, would be what I said above, you are creating the very need for value in the first place, which is already using someone as a value-creator. "Someone must exist for value to exist, ergo I will procreate someone who will manifest value" is ironically Kant's formulation used against its own very idea of value. But secondly, this ethic is not completely reliant on Kant's second formulation. There is an element of negative utilitarian as well. That is to say, it is most important to not bring more suffering into the world, if one can prevent it. Thus, used with deontological principles, in the case of procreation, when there is no person who already exists, it is more obligatory to prevent suffering for a future person than to create happy people. Since there is no person who yet exists, there is no person who actually gets deprived of any goods of life. Further, there is no duty to bring people into the world to experience the goods of life. No one needs to experience XYZ or produce ABC things in the first place. To create suffering and overcoming challenges for someone else, who would otherwise not exist to experience this, would be wrong. This is especially so since there is no actual person "deprived" or "missing out". The slave-owner thinks that living is good for the slave, who happily identifies with their situation. However, it is wrong to foist challenges and suffering onto someone, for the sake of XYZ reasons.

    3. Consider your own starting argument: that having children is wrong for the reasons you outline. But... is not your argument dependent on the idea that you can do something to someone who does not yet exist? So how can you now turn around and say that you can't do something for them?Theologian

    I'm not saying that though. I'm saying that you are creating people so that you can have an ends to begin with. In the light of suffering and challenges experienced by an individual (the whole point of this thread.. not so much how it comports with Kant), means that someone is created for the sake of which XYZ experiences can take place. These experiences are put above the child's experiencing of harm and challenges that must continually be overcome. They are creating people that must endure challenges and suffering in life for whatever X reason the parent had in mind that the child must live for.
  • schopenhauer1
    2.8k
    My main position regarding life in general and antinatalism as a response to the conditions of life, are outlined here, more-or-less:

    https://thephilosophyforum.com/discussion/5981/schopenhauers-deprivationalism
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