• Bartricks
    626
    There has been a lot of discussion of antinatalism here, but what I am trying to do here is create a more focussed discussion on just one argument - the deontological or Kantian argument - against procreation.
    It is, for me, the most compelling of the arguments as it appeals to intuitions whose probative force is hard to deny.

    If an act is going to have a great impact on another person then it is standardly wrong to perform it unless the person in question consents. And if such an act is performed, then the fact the person it significantly affected did not consent is typically going to be a morally bad feature of that act.

    For instance, spiking another person's drink is standarly wrong. Having sex with someone who is incapable of giving consent is standardly wrong. And making false promises to others is standardly wrong. And plausibly all of these actions are made wrong precisely by the fact that they are acts that affect others in ways that they have not consented to.

    There are no doubt exceptional circumstances, such as where a great harm will come to the person unless the act is performed or where the person in quesiton positively deserves to be treated in this way. But that's why I said 'standardly'. We might say that an act is 'default' wrong/bad if it has the above qualities, though not necessarily wrong. As such we can reasonably assume an act that has the above qualities is wrong until or unless we are provided with reason to think that the act in question is an exceptional case.

    The act of procreation has this feature. It seems undeniable that in procreating one significantly affects another person, for one thereby commits someone else to living an entire life. And it also seems undeniable that the person who is affected in this way has not consented to it.

    So, it would seem that on these Kantian grounds - Kantian because it is something about the nature of the act, namely the fact the act is one that has not been consented to - we have reaosn to believe that procreation is wrong.

    And it is no good pointing out that it is impossible to consent to be born. For there are many acts that, by their very nature we cannot consent to, but this does not stop the fact we have not consented to them from counting as a moral negative. One cannot consent to be coerced, for instance. Yet coercion is standardly wrong and standardly wrong becusae the affected party has not consented to it.

    And having sexual relations with someone who is incapable of consenting to them is wrong, and wrong precisely because they did not consent to those relations.

    And no good arguing that we cannot affect people by bringing them into existence, for that falsely assumes that to be affected by something you need to exist prior to being affected.

    And no good arguing that by procreating you prevent the affected party from coming to a great harm. For by hypothesis, they did not exist prior to you creating them. So you did not rescue them from some worse fate.

    And no good arguing that most of those who have been created are glad about it and probably would have agreed to it had they been able to. For even if that is true, it does not prevent the fact that they actually did not agree to it from making the acts standardly wrong and bad. For example, if you spike someone's drink then you have standardly done something wrong to the other person, and that doesn't alter if later they so enjoyed themselves due to the alcohol or drug that they would give you retrospective consent to put it in their drink. Liikewise, if you have sex with someone who has not agreed to it and they later give you retrospective consent, that doesn't alter the fact you raped them and that what you did was serously wrong.
  • Sunnyside
    33
    That is an interesting argument. I'd say doing something without someone's consent is wrong most of the time but I think who is born isn't so much a direct act of the parents, it's more like a lottery where one sperm won out. From what you've said in another thread I know you believe in free will, so it shouldn't be hard to imagine that a great number of people could have been born but only one actually got to. I'm glad I'm alive. I think most people are. Conception is just part of nature, I don't think it is right or wrong just a means. I suppose I could try to argue that as the highest creature on this planet with the ability to reason we have a responsibility to continue our species. Perhaps where it would be wrong to allow the population to increase is areas that already have too great a burden, places where overpopulation has already strained resources to the point that people couldn't be taken care of.
  • Bartricks
    626
    Yes, it is a lottery insofar as we cannot guarantee that our attempts to create a person (or bring a person into this realm if they already exist elsewhere) will succeed. But most Kantians would say that it does not really matter if the act is succeeds in bringing about the agent's ends, for what matters ethically is the nature of the act itself.
    So, if I plan on spiking someone's drink but the drug I am using only stands a 20% chance of having the desired effect on my victim, I have still done wrong if I spike someone's drink with it despite the fact it is a matter of chance whether I succeed in my plan.

    Re being glad we're alive - I think we can be glad about something and still think the act that brought it about was wrong. That's certainly what Kant thought anyway, and I think our rational intuitions concur. For example, imagine I am in a hospital and I desperately need a vital organ if I am to survive. The doctor - who thinks I'm just great - decides secretly to kill the patient next to me so that the necessary organ becomes available and I survive. He does this and I live on. When I become aware of what has happened I might be very glad that I am still around yet at the same time think that what the doctor did was seriously wrong. Indeed, I might even be very grateful to the doctor - he saved my life - and still think he did wrong.

    So I think there the fact we may be glad we're alive - and perhaps even grateful to our parents for having created us - does not imply that they did nothing wrong in creating us.
  • TheMadFool
    3.9k
    How is anitnatalism a Kantian moral argument? It looks very much consequentialist - the unhappiness outweighing the happiness.

    Deontology, if I understand it, would look into other morally relevant features of an act. Kant would've checked whether anitnatalism could be universalized or not.

    What do you think? Can anitnatalism be universalized and made a duty for everyone? China's one-child policy comes to mind. Europe's declining birth rates?
  • Echarmion
    646


    You cannot just call something "Kantian deontology" without actually looking at Kant's reasoning. There's not even any mention of the categorical imperative here.

    What maxim are we talking about? At what level does it fail the categorical imperative?

    Kant's moral system relies on reciprocal acceptance of others as moral subjects. How can future people take part in this?
  • Mww
    994
    The foundation proper of Kantian deontology has to do primarily with the transcendental freedom of the will necessarily, the conditional lawful moral action itself as secondary to it.

    1.) law can have no exception whatsoever, otherwise it be merely a rule;
    1A.) every human is endowed with a will, therefore every human is a moral agent;

    2.) if procreation were deemed an immoral act, the imperative corresponding to it for any moral agent must be as if it were in accordance with a universal law for all moral agents;
    3.) the universal law must be that no moral agent shall make the immoral procreatic act;
    4.) that no moral agent, re: no human, shall make the procreatic act leads necessarily to the extinction of the human species;
    5.) it is contradictory that the extinction of the human species shall follow from a universal law;
    6.) it cannot be in accordance with a contradiction that cessation of the act of procreation be a moral imperative;
    7.) the procreatic act, in and of itself, cannot be deemed immoral.
  • Terrapin Station
    12.5k
    It seems undeniable that in procreating one significantly affects another person,Bartricks

    It seems anything BUT undeniable. There is no other person that the people procreating are doing anything to.
  • T Clark
    4.2k
    You cannot just call something "Kantian deontology" without actually looking at Kant's reasoning. There's not even any mention of the categorical imperative here.Echarmion

    Yes. This is just the same old anti-natalist argument as we've seen in five other threads recently. Those have all been combined by the moderators into one thread, which is still active. This discussion belongs there.
  • schopenhauer1
    3.3k
    The foundation proper of Kantian deontology has to do primarily with the transcendental freedom of the will necessarily, the conditional lawful moral action itself as secondary to it.

    1.) law can have no exception whatsoever, otherwise it be merely a rule;
    1A.) every human is endowed with a will, therefore every human is a moral agent;

    2.) if procreation were deemed an immoral act, the imperative corresponding to it for any moral agent must be as if it were in accordance with a universal law for all moral agents;
    3.) the universal law must be that no moral agent shall make the immoral procreatic act;
    4.) that no moral agent, re: no human, shall make the procreatic act leads necessarily to the extinction of the human species;
    5.) it is contradictory that the extinction of the human species shall follow from a universal law;
    6.) it cannot be in accordance with a contradiction that cessation of the act of procreation be a moral imperative;
    7.) the procreatic act, in and of itself, cannot be deemed immoral.
    Mww

    I disagree with 5 - 7. Actually, I don't even know what that means.. a better formulation:

    Kant's First Formulation: Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.

    If everyone coerced others into a game/challenge that they thought was best for the other person then everyone would assume they know what is best for everyone else. The very ability to coerce others would be coerced by yet another person who knows better than yourself. Coercion itself would be nullified and contradict itself.

    There are other applications too, but that is one I thought of right now.

    Kant's Second Formulation: Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never merely as a means to an end, but always at the same time as an end.

    Assumption- One is looking out for the ends of a potential person (who has no interests or personality yet) when one is concerned about a potential future person that does not exist yet. Thus, in the procreational situation, prevention of harming a future person is the highest priority as there is no actual person who has interests yet. Thus, having a child for ANY reason is putting the parent's/society's agenda above and beyond the interest of the future child (which is to not be harmed).

    Better application...

    If you can prevent all harm with no cost to any actual person (no one exists to be deprived of not experiencing good, let's say), and you have the ability to do this, this would be the best choice in terms of looking out for any future person. If you do anything outside of choosing this optimal scenario (preventing all harm to future person with no cost of depriving an actual person), you are putting your own agenda above the ends of someone else.

    @Bartricks @Sunnyside @TheMadFool you may want to comment.
  • Mww
    994


    All I wanted to show was Kant wouldn’t consider the act of procreation, in and of itself, as immoral.
  • schopenhauer1
    3.3k

    But I was trying to show the contrary.
  • Mww
    994


    Which presupposes you think that Kant thinks no one should procreate. I mean, if it’s immoral, right?

    And how can a thing with no will be a member of the kingdom of ends? How would you know what the benefit is to a merely possible person? And who would formulate an imperative based on a universal law that obliterates the species?
  • Bartricks
    626
    But my case above makes no appeal to actual consequences. Rather, the point is that procreative acts are ones that cannot be consented to by the affected party. So it is not consequentialist at all. There is, of course, a consequentialist case to be made too, but here the focus is on the nature of the act of procreation. Those who intentionally procreate are acting in a way that cannot be agreed to by the affected party.
  • Bartricks
    626
    Premises 5 and 6 are false. Not procreating does not necessarily lead to the extinction of moral agents.
    And even if it did, how is that any kind of 'contradiction'? No moral agent would be willing his/her own demise.

    Imagine that tomorrow all the world's women freely decide that they do not wish to have children. Is it respectful to rape them? No, obviously not. It would be wrong to rape them and wrong, in no small part, because rape, by its very nature, is something one cannot consent to.
    If one fails forcibly to impregnate them then, forseeaably, the human species will most likely become extinct. That, we might agree, is bad. But the whole point of a deontologist position is that it matters what means you use to prosecute an end. The fact - if it is a fact - that the demise of the human species would be a bad thing does not justify doing anything and everything to prevent it. We are only permitted to prevent bad outcomes using means that pass the categorical imperative. And clearly acts of rape do not. Again, why? Because the nature of such acts is such that those affected by them cannot consent to them.
    Well, that applies to procreative acts themselves. The fact is it is the most important thing, if one is a Kantian deontologist anyway, is to honour the intrinsic value of persons by not treating them in ways that they cannot consent to. Seeking to create a person, precisely because it is something that cannot be consented to by the person who is to be created, therefore fails to demonstrate that respect.
  • Bartricks
    626
    Yes there is - the person who is created. You're falsely assuming that to be affected by something you need to exist prior to the affect occurring.
    Imagine you know that any child you have will live a life of total agony from the instant it comes into existence until the end. Well, are you seriously maintaining that the child is not affected by the agony it suffers because it did not exist previously? That's just silly.
  • Bartricks
    626
    And Kant had how many kids?
  • Mww
    994


    I don’t care about any of this. It is absurd that one would consider that Kant thinks procreation to be an immoral act, and one who uses Kant to justify his ignorance is even worse than absurd.

    “....It might deserve to be considered whether pure philosophy in all its parts does not require a man specially devoted to it, and whether it would not be better for the whole business of science if those who, to please the tastes of the public, are wont to blend the rational and empirical elements together, mixed in all sorts of proportions unknown to themselves, and who call themselves independent thinkers, giving the name of minute philosophers to those who apply themselves to the rational part only-if these, I say, were warned not to carry on two employments together which differ widely in the treatment they demand, for each of which perhaps a special talent is required, and the combination of which in one person only produces bunglers....”
  • TheMadFool
    3.9k
    But my case above makes no appeal to actual consequences. Rather, the point is that procreative acts are ones that cannot be consented to by the affected party. So it is not consequentialist at all. There is, of course, a consequentialist case to be made too, but here the focus is on the nature of the act of procreation. Those who intentionally procreate are acting in a way that cannot be agreed to by the affected party.Bartricks

    But notice something. Consent is relevant only to the extent it affects consequences of birth and being alive.

    If the world was a utopia without any suffering consent would be irrelevant. Everyone would want to be born.

    Yes I agree consent (deontology) is an essential aspect of morality but it's a second fiddle to happiness/suffering (consequentialism)

    The choice to be born or not (consent) is relevant only if we can't guarantee a happy life for the baby.

    It's like giving icecream to a child. If we know for sure that the child likes chocolate then his choice is immaterial. However, if we don't know the ice cream preferences of the child then it becomes important to ask for consent.
  • Coben
    832
    The act of procreation has this feature. It seems undeniable that in procreating one significantly affects another person, for one thereby commits someone else to living an entire life. And it also seems undeniable that the person who is affected in this way has not consented to it.Bartricks
    If one, on the way to procreating, person reads this argument and does not have a child, that will change the lives of future generations in millions of ways we cannot predict. Their child might have been the best friend of someone, the police who shot a serial killer before what turns out to be 10 more torture deaths. And yes, it might be the next Hitler. But regardless you are performing an act of persuasion that will affect a lot of people, most likely, if we look forward in time thousands of years, say. but here you are performing that act without their permission,and without ours.
  • ZhouBoTong
    456
    1.) law can have no exception whatsoever, otherwise it be merely a rule;
    1A.) every human is endowed with a will, therefore every human is a moral agent;

    2.) if procreation were deemed an immoral act, the imperative corresponding to it for any moral agent must be as if it were in accordance with a universal law for all moral agents;
    3.) the universal law must be that no moral agent shall make the immoral procreatic act;
    4.) that no moral agent, re: no human, shall make the procreatic act leads necessarily to the extinction of the human species;
    5.) it is contradictory that the extinction of the human species shall follow from a universal law;
    6.) it cannot be in accordance with a contradiction that cessation of the act of procreation be a moral imperative;
    7.) the procreatic act, in and of itself, cannot be deemed immoral.
    Mww

    Sorry for labeling you a vague communicator in that other thread. You can be (can't we all), but this is just one of many examples where you are clear and direct. I also happen to like this argument, but mostly, I am just apologizing, as I don't think calling out yourself and poeticuniverse helped my argument much.

    I'm sure I owe @PoeticUniverse an apology too, but he just uses so much poetry...so I don't want to :grin:
  • Echarmion
    646
    Yes there is - the person who is created. You're falsely assuming that to be affected by something you need to exist prior to the affect occurring.Bartricks

    How is that a false assumption? It's exceedingly obvious both as a matter of logic as well as general language use that only something that does exist can be affected. If you want to argue otherwise, the burden to establish that logic is on you.

    Not procreating does not necessarily lead to the extinction of moral agents.Bartricks

    It does if it's universalised. Which is the whole point.

    We are only permitted to prevent bad outcomes using means that pass the categorical imperative.Bartricks

    "Means" are not input for the categorical imperative.

    Again, why? Because the nature of such acts is such that those affected by them cannot consent to them.Bartricks

    Are you claiming that only maxims that can assume the other party consents can pass the CI? Because that would be wrong.
  • TheMadFool
    3.9k
    I think consent straddles both the deontological and consequentialist world.

    Deontologically, consent is integral to treating a human as having intrinsic moral worth. From a consequentialistic perspective, if consent is not considered then it would lead to a lot of suffering.

    So, we have two possible routes to antinatalism. One is deontological and the other is consequentialist.

    A consequentialist would make the usual arguments about how there's suffering disproportionate to happiness. Whether one agrees is not important. What must be noted is the ease with which an antinatalist argument can be crafted. You will notice this when we compare it to a deontological antinatalist argument below.

    The deontological antinatalist hits a huge roadblock in that the affected party is absent/nonexistent. Can we then say antinatalism is justified because the child didn't give consent? Well, we can say that the child didn't consent i.e. affirm a choice to be born BUT don't forget that the child also didn't say no to life. In other words the accuser is guilty of the same crime as the person accused. Yes to think the child would have chosen life is an unwarranted assumption but so is the assumption that the child would've preferred nonexistence. The deontological argument fails to justify antinatalism.

    To summarize, the consequentialist argument for antintalism is better than the deontological argument. The latter shoots itself in the foot by being unable to prove that a child would've wished not to be born for the very same reason it's unable to prove that a child would've chosen life. After all consent is impossible.
  • Terrapin Station
    12.5k
    Yes there is - the person who is created. You're falsely assuming that to be affected by something you need to exist prior to the affect occurring.
    Imagine you know that any child you have will live a life of total agony from the instant it comes into existence until the end. Well, are you seriously maintaining that the child is not affected by the agony it suffers because it did not exist previously? That's just silly.
    Bartricks

    If you've procreated, so that you've made a child come into existence, something can happen to that child at a later time. That's fine.

    The point is that procreation isn't doing anything to anyone (other than the people who are procreating). You can't thus argue that procreation is doing anything to anyone nonconsensually.

    Antinatalists want to argue against procreation. You can't do that by claiming that we're doing something to someone nonconsensually.

    Antinatalists are trying to appeal to completely ignorant metaphysics--namely, the notion that there's someone that something can be done to prior to procreation. As if there are souls floating around waiting to be captured or some such.
  • Mww
    994


    Thanks, and, don’t be too sorry; I can get.....er.....obscure, shall we say?
  • boethius
    244
    So, it would seem that on these Kantian grounds - Kantian because it is something about the nature of the act, namely the fact the act is one that has not been consented to - we have reaosn to believe that procreation is wrong.Bartricks

    I'd just like to address the argument here that anti-natalism is somehow intrinsically or then thematically Kantian.

    First, Kantianism doesn't have a monopoly on "the nature of the act", which I understand you to mean the act in itself apart from it's consequences. The reason Kant rejects only considering consequences is that it just pushes the problem over, we then have to judge if those consequences are good. For instance, utilitarians strive to find consequences that make as many people happy as possible, with various schemes of how that could be in principle or in practice calculated, but it just begs the question "is it good to be happy" and what's "true happiness" (i.e. how do we test it).

    Kant's famous passage about this kind of reasoning mistake is the idea that "someone who is pleased to accomplish a duty is only motivated by the resulting pleasure" doesn't work because the person needs some idea of the duty independent of the pleasure of accomplishing it to identify it as a duty in the first place; otherwise, anything fits the bill equally well.

    Utilitarianism has the same problem that it needs to avoid "people are happy when they see the situation is good" -- i.e. "people are happy when they live in a good society, have good friends, and good things happen and they do good deeds", if any of those statements are true then utilitarianism gets stuck in a loop, unless a definition of "good" is inputted to close the loop (which the whole point of utilitarianism is to side-step, even the question of whether utilitarianism itself is good).

    Anti-natalism is fundamentally a utilitarian argument, just trying to get around the above argument by substituting "minimizing suffering" for "maximizing happiness".

    Kant, I would wager, would object on the same grounds, that the anti-natalists have not defined what the good is and hence nor the bad. This would be the start of criticizing anty-natalism from a Kantian point of view. Unless human existence is not more nuanced than "any suffering, tested by pain signals to the brain, at all makes life worthless and not worth living" the basic argument doesn't follow, on suffering grounds at least as suffering does not immediately equate to "evil / bad" (the athlete suffers, etc.).

    However, what's clear is anti-natalism is fundamentally anti-Kantian, the basis of the categorical imperative is that others have intrinsic value which is the basis to assume one's own intrinsic value (which is a necessary assumption to assign value to anything about oneself including any philosophical conclusions). Due to this foundation of Kantianism, the argument can't be derived that people shouldn't have babies as then one is arguing oneself should not have been born and one has no value. I.e. the maxim that "no one should have babies" cannot be universalized without collapsing the foundation of Kantianism; likewise, the maxim "people should have babies all the time as much as possible" also can't be universalized as that would convert people to the means to the end of making more babies, but people are ends in themselves; in other words, 'maybe people should have babies sometimes" is the only Kantian position here.
  • schopenhauer1
    3.3k
    And how can a thing with no will be a member of the kingdom of ends? How would you know what the benefit is to a merely possible person? And who would formulate an imperative based on a universal law that obliterates the species?Mww

    No one is obligated to the species, only individuals. If the outcome is no species, that would simply be the consequence. No one is beholden to a species though. As far as kingdom of ends, it would be about a future person who WOULD be the recipient of harm. All that matters is, that someone would be harmed when it could have been prevented. The kingdom of ends is not bypassed because at point X that person does not exist yet. Putting someone in a condition of harm, when it could have been prevented would be indeed a violation of the categorical imperative.
  • Mww
    994


    Kantian moral philosophy relates to present rational beings endowed with a will, and nothing else.

    “.... rational beings, on the contrary, are called persons....”

    End of story.
  • schopenhauer1
    3.3k
    End of story.Mww

    Great, so Kantian philosophy would think that if person A did not exist in second 1, but what person B did in second 1 would affect negatively person A in second 2 when person A did exist, then it would be ok, because in second 1 person A did not exist yet? I don't think so.
  • Mww
    994


    If no one existed in sec 1, how would they do anything in sec 1?

    Doesn’t matter. You’re perfectly entitled to think what you like, interpret Kant any way you wish.
  • schopenhauer1
    3.3k
    If no one existed in sec 1, how would they do anything in sec 1?Mww

    I rewrote the post to be a bit more clear.
  • alcontali
    538
    And having sexual relations with someone who is incapable of consenting to them is wrong, and wrong precisely because they did not consent to those relations.Bartricks

    Having sexual relations with someone is forbidden if the ruling authority would object to that. In the end, that is all that matters, because who else could be in a position to enforce anything to the contrary? There are lots of situations where women are not even asked for their opinion. History is full of them.

    Occupation by Soviet troops. When Yugoslav politician Milovan Djilas complained about rapes in Yugoslavia, Stalin reportedly stated that he should "understand it if a soldier who has crossed thousands of kilometres through blood and fire and death has fun with a woman or takes some trifle." On another occasion, when told that Red Army soldiers sexually maltreated German refugees, he reportedly said: "We lecture our soldiers too much; let them have their initiative."

    The sexual relations that Djilas complained about were not illegitimate because the ruling authority approved of them. It is not realistic to expect soldiers to be more disciplined than strictly necessary. Furthermore, the ruling authority had better approve of sexual relations whenever practical, because otherwise it will not stay the ruling authority for long.
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