• Benkei
    4k
    After a couple of years of spotty discussions on anti-natalism I've decided to combine some of the points I made against it over the years. The anti-natalist position is, paraphrased, that living causes suffering and that therefore it's better for people to never have been born.

    The position and metaphysical limitations
    I will address a position of anti-natalism that I think makes at least some sense, to avoid the metaphysical nonsense of "people never having been born, being better off than if they had been born". I consider that obvious nonsense because we are comparing nothing with actual, or possible, people. Since non-existing persons are basically nothing, we cannot ascribe properties to them.

    We cannot imagine a person's suffering "as if" they don't exist because that is to assign properties to "nothing" (it's akin to saying something exists that doesn't exist, which is a contradiction). We can imagine a person's suffering "as if" they do exist. And if they would be born into a situation of abject poverty, where the good does not outweigh their suffering or because of a biological defect that cannot be treated, we understand that "poverty" or that "defect" would cause unacceptable suffering and we should not have a child under those circumstances. What we are comparing then is a possibility of existence with other examples of possible lives lived and we find that possibility unacceptable. But this is fundamentally different from saying this "non-existent" child is better off never having been born because when we talk that way, it is neither a child nor a person nor capable of having any properties, because it is nothing.

    It is then the following position of anti-natalism that I suggest has some measure of logical rigour to it:

    that any possible persons, who will suffer more than is outweighed by the good they will experience, outnumber people who will suffer less than is outweighed by the good they will experience. Or in short form "unhappy persons outnumber happy persons".

    A question of causality
    If living entails suffering (e.g. philosophical pessimism) then living doesn't cause suffering. Much in the same way that me killing a person doesn't cause his death, killing entails death. Or if I enter a room at noon, I don't cause someone to enter the room at noon. And water, by its mere existence, doesn't cause itself to be wet.

    So if the position is, suffering is intrinsic to life then it must necessarily fail as an argument because living then does not cause suffering and the ethical question becomes moot.

    If the argument is that it is not intrinsic to life , then it becomes necessary to examine the causal chain. And then you run into problems because living is never a sufficient condition for suffering, merely a necessary condition.

    The fact that all living things suffer at some point in time, is not a valid argument to conclude that living is a sufficient condition for suffering so this does not resolve the causal chain. A disease causes suffering, being run over by a car causes suffering, a break up causes suffering etc. etc. Suffering is unique and particular and for an important part based on how a person experiences it and remembers it.

    A question of control
    We must therefore necessarily conclude that the suffering we should worry about from an ethical point of view is the suffering that is not entailed by living but is unique and particular. Then for the anti-natalist to continue to have a point it must be the case that there are currently more unhappy persons than happy persons because all the unique and particular circumstances cause a superfluous amount of suffering.

    However, now that we know that these circumstances are not intrinsic to life, it follows that we have some measure of control over them. We imagine that poorer people are unhappier, so we alleviate poverty. We imagine disease causes suffering, we treat diseases. Even if unhappy persons currently outnumber happy persons, it appears to me that we can control for circumstances to maximise happy persons over unhappy persons. It is, after all, not a lottery when we choose to have a child. See also Nordic exceptionalism with respect to happiness.

    So the solution is not to retreat from society but to engage it by taking care of our fellow man. Give to charity, get a job helping others, etc. In short, the only moral act here is to support the creation of societies that brings forth happy persons as opposed to unhappy ones.

    The reductio ad absurdums
    Finally, two unexamined points that occured to me.

    If living causes suffering we should be killing everything on the planet and murder would be a just act.

    If the anti-natalist plan is succesful, there would be no moral actors around to judge the world to be a better place, leading to another metaphysical nonsense comparison between what we have now and nothing - or at least a world where there are no moral actors to experience anything and have an opinion on the matter. Saying such a world is better than this one is meaningless.
  • khaled
    2.1k
    that any possible persons, who will suffer more than is outweighed by the good they will experience, outnumber people who will suffer less than is outweighed by the good they will experience.Benkei

    By whose standard? Where do we get this knowledge of whether the next child will be happy or unhappy?

    Then for the anti-natalist to continue to have a point it must be the case that there are currently more unhappy persons than happy personsBenkei

    Not exactly. As you said:

    And if they would be born into a situation of abject poverty, where the good does not outweigh their suffering or because of a biological defect that cannot be treated, we understand that "poverty" or that "defect" would cause unacceptable suffering and we should not have a child under those circumstances.Benkei

    And this applies even if literally 99% of the planet is happy. You cannot use a general statistic in a particular case. If 99% of the planet is more happy than unhappy that does not entail that there is a 99% chance the next child will be more happy than unhappy, you have to look at particulars, and that is impossible.

    And even if you don't, that 1% chance poses a problem. What justifies you taking that 1% chance risk for someone else?

    If living causes suffering we should be killing everything on the planet and murder would be a just act.Benkei

    Unless killing is a form of harm as well, which it is considered to be by most, antinatalist or not. Also you said:

    If living entails suffering (e.g. philosophical pessimism) then living doesn't cause sufferingBenkei

    But here you are arguing as if living causes suffering.

    Saying such a world is better than this one is meaningless.Benkei

    Antinatalits aren't striving for a better world. They just don't want to risk hurting people. Which is why some adopt.
  • Jack Cummins
    990

    You make the whole antinatalist approach sound as if it is about weighing risks, and choosing adoption in preference to procreation. However, when I have got into discussions over antinatalism the whole argument is very narrow.

    It tends to make sweeping emotional appeals about suffering, leading to the belief that it would be better to not having been born at all, with an overriding conclusion that it is wrong morally to bring children into the world.
  • leo
    877
    One important thing to point out is that suffering isn't entirely negative. While we experience it it is negative. But suffering can lead to positive changes, for instance to a greater understanding of some aspect of reality. There are people who are glad to have gone through the suffering they have gone through, because it has made them who they are today, and if they hadn't experienced it they would have remained stuck in their old flawed ways.

    Suffering can lead to enlightenment, to a higher awareness of oneself and the world. I wouldn't say all suffering does, but some of it at least.

    Difficulty isn't inherently negative. From a limited point of view it appears as negative. But from a higher point of view it enables positive things. If there was no difficulty, there would be no such thing as courage, adventure, discovery, achievement, the greater the difficulty the more positive they are.

    And so by seeing suffering and difficulty as not entirely negative, or rather as less negative than usually thought, we're led to the idea that there is more positive than negative in existence.

    There are beings who suffer most of their life here, but it is assumed that their existence begins when they are born here and ends when they die here, maybe their existence as a whole is very positive, and the suffering they experience here will be positive in some way for them elsewhere.

    At that point the antinatalist will say since we can't know for sure better not take the risk to bring a being here, and the antinatalist is free to not take the risk, and the natalist will remain free to take it, and the game of life will continue, potentially in a more and more positive direction overall.
  • leo
    877
    Antinatalits aren't striving for a better world. They just don't want to risk hurting people. Which is why some adopt.khaled

    Your very existence risks hurting people, yet you're taking that risk all the time. An antinatalist risks hurting a child he adopts. So why take that risk if the antinatalist can't know for sure?
  • khaled
    2.1k
    It tends to make sweeping emotional appeals about sufferingJack Cummins

    Then it's a bad argument.

    and choosing adoption in preference to procreation.Jack Cummins

    I just said that some antinatalists adopt. I don't mean to say that all antinatalists must adopt.
  • khaled
    2.1k
    Your very existence risks hurting people, yet you're taking that risk all the timeleo

    Because I am part of this calculation too. The "expected value" of the harm I would cause unto others is much lower than the "expected value" of the harm I would cause myself by killing myself. So I continue to exist. You have to consider alternatives.

    An antinatalist risks hurting a child he adopts.leo

    If he risks hurting them worse than the orphanage they're in would then he shouldn't be adopting, agreed. But that's why orphanages don't just give out kids to anybody. You have to consider alternatives.

    And unlike in birth, in adoption a child consents to getting adopted (after 12).
  • Jack Cummins
    990

    Perhaps what I am saying about antinatalism sounds like a sweeping statement and a bad argument. But the whole argument that life results in suffering and that this means that it would be better to have not been born at all is a bad argument. It has a lack of imaginative scope around the human response to suffering.
  • leo
    877
    Because I am part of this calculation too. The "expected value" of the harm I would cause unto others is much lower than the "expected value" of the harm I would cause myself by killing myself. So I continue to exist. You have to consider alternatives.khaled

    But you can't calculate that expected value. Like the butterfly effect, it is possible that you do something apparently innocent, which eventually ends up causing enormous harm in the world. How do you put a probability on that? It's possible that the act of killing yourself would cause less harm. But you can't put a probability on that either.

    So in the face of the unknown what do you do? You do your best. And that's how natalists see it too. They are faced with the unknown. But they do their best.
  • khaled
    2.1k
    But you can't calculate that expected value.leo

    For either side. In the same way you can argue that my existing risks harming others severely I may argue that my death risks harming others severely.

    it is possible that you do something apparently innocent, which eventually ends up causing enormous harm in the world.leo

    It is also possible that I stop this. And I cannot stop this if I'm dead.

    It's possible that the act of killing yourself would cause less harm. But you can't put a probability on that either.leo

    Exactly. So I do my best.

    So in the face of the unknown what do you do? You do your best. And that's how natalists see it too. They are faced with the unknown. But they do their best.leo

    But for natalists it is not unknown. They know for a fact that having a child will risk harming them. And they also know for a fact that that decision need not be made. It is not like the case where there are two alternatives both of which cannot be precisely calculated which you just cited, no. Here there are two cases:

    1- Take an unjustified risk with someone else's life (risk of harm)
    2- Don't. (no risk of harm)
  • khaled
    2.1k
    the whole argument that life results in suffering and that this means that it would be better to have not been born at all is a bad argumentJack Cummins

    Critical misunderstanding. Antinatalism isn't about how life is bad all the time. Antinatalism is about how the risk of causing a bad life is justification to saying that having children is wrong.

    In everyday life we never make decisions that may harm someone without their consent when a neutral alternative is available EVEN if we think those decisions would benefit them. I don't go around buying you things with your money (even if I am trying to help) without asking you, because there is an alternative where I simply don't. I don't go around changing people's internet companies (even if I am trying to help) without asking them, because there is an alternative where I simply don't. I'm not coming up with the best examples right now but you see the point.

    What other situations in life is it the case that:
    1- There are two options, one which can cause harm and one which doesn't take the risk.
    2- Consent is unavailable.
    3- We pick the option that can cause harm.
  • schopenhauer1
    5.1k
    that any possible persons, who will suffer more than is outweighed by the good they will experience, outnumber people who will suffer less than is outweighed by the good they will experience. Or in short form "unhappy persons outnumber happy persons".Benkei

    I am not sure I can agree on that formulation. For possibly some types of utilitarian-based antinatalists, this might be acceptable. Rather, they would say, it is best to maximize the minimum amount of harm (negative utilitarianism) which might default to antinatalist conclusion. However, one doesn't need this formulation. Rather, one that is closer to my stance is that it is wrong to force unnecessary impositions on people. Recently, I have been using the term "dealing with" situations (I'll just call DWS for short since I'll probably bring it up a lot). To force someone absolutely into DWS, is wrong to do. Absolutely here is defined as not needing to experience a DWS instrumentally to get a more desired state, but simply put people in DWS unnecessarily and by force.

    An example would be if I forced you into a game that you just had to play with no escape. The game lasted a lifetime, you cannot escape except through death, and you have to overcome minor and major challenges in the game. The game is also complex enough that it allows for unexpected contingencies to befall you. So, on top of the known struggles to overcome in the game, there are unknown probabilistic contingencies that could befall you that you would have to deal with as well. I may paternalistically say, "This game is good because you get to experience overcoming challenges and experience positive experiences". Of course, the person before this game did not need it in the first place (in the case of life, there was no life before life to need to live as you point out).

    If living entails suffering (e.g. philosophical pessimism) then living doesn't cause suffering. Much in the same way that me killing a person doesn't cause his death, killing entails death. Or if I enter a room at noon, I don't cause someone to enter the room at noon. And water, by its mere existence, doesn't cause itself to be wet.

    So if the position is, suffering is intrinsic to life then it must necessarily fail as an argument because living then does not cause suffering and the ethical question becomes moot.

    If the argument is that it is not intrinsic to life , then it becomes necessary to examine the causal chain. And then you run into problems because living is never a sufficient condition for suffering, merely a necessary condition.

    The fact that all living things suffer at some point in time, is not a valid argument to conclude that living is a sufficient condition for suffering so this does not resolve the causal chain. A disease causes suffering, being run over by a car causes suffering, a break up causes suffering etc. etc. Suffering is unique and particular and for an important part based on how a person experiences it and remembers it.
    Benkei

    There are several ways to answer this. The easiest way is to simply say that until all causal chains of suffering are worked out, it is not worth risking that suffering onto someone else. If we knew the world was a utopia without suffering, then we are in the clear. Otherwise, as you point out, we don't know every avenue of the causal chain, so precisely the reason to not impose the causes onto someone else. One need not know which cause to know that all causes are not resolved. Even if we are to weight some causes as "not as bad as others", there are some really bad causes out there that are indeed bad.

    However, that's not even a main argument. My main argument against this reasoning is in regards to the idea that suffering is unique. While I agree, each instance of a particular brand of suffering is suffered individually by humans, certainly there are categories that can be distilled down that are well known sources of suffering. Further, I do agree with philosopher's like Schopenhauer that life isn't just instances of contingent harms (that is to say situational, probabilistic, contextual, etc.) but rather there are necessary forms of suffering as well. Necessary here meaning, sort of "baked into life". These baked in forms of sufferings are overlooked for the more immediate (I'd characterize as Western) ideas of suffering (physical torture, hunger, disasters, disease, illness, emotional anguish, etc.). However, I do take seriously that we are imposed upon to "deal with" survival, finding comfort, and existence itself (overcoming one's own boredom). These are forms of suffering in the form of deprivation. There is always a lack of something to be overcome. Now add the usual (Western) forms of contingent harm that we must deal with and overcome and the bigger picture of an existence of both necessary and contingent harms comes into focus. All of these are DWS imposed upon the person born.

    However, now that we know that these circumstances are not intrinsic to life, it follows that we have some measure of control over them. We imagine that poorer people are unhappier, so we alleviate poverty. We imagine disease causes suffering, we treat diseases. Even if unhappy persons currently outnumber happy persons, it appears to me that we can control for circumstances to maximise happy persons over unhappy persons. It is, after all, not a lottery when we choose to have a child. See also Nordic exceptionalism with respect to happiness.Benkei

    Again, since it is not my position that contingent harms are the only harms, and further, even without the belief in necessary harm, we have not even been able to untangle the causes of contingent harms (even the worst of them), it would still be an imposition.

    So the solution is not to retreat from society but to engage it by taking care of our fellow man. Give to charity, get a job helping others, etc. In short, the only moral act here is to support the creation of societies that brings forth happy persons as opposed to unhappy ones.Benkei

    Of course, I do not think this is an either or. You can be both an antinatalist and do these things you mention. But certainly doing these things does not negate the imposition caused by being born in the first place.

    Finally, two unexamined points that occured to me.

    If living causes suffering we should be killing everything on the planet and murder would be a just act.

    If the anti-natalist plan is succesful, there would be no moral actors around to judge the world to be a better place, leading to another metaphysical nonsense comparison between what we have now and nothing - or at least a world where there are no moral actors to experience anything and have an opinion on the matter. Saying such a world is better than this one is meaningless.
    Benkei

    As far as the first part, one of the main reasons antinatalists are against birth is the idea that there is no possible consent, so this is an important part of most antinatalist claims. Certainly if consent is a factor for birth, it is also a factor for death.

    Now, as far as your idea bout no moral actors, this I find not a good argument. There's two ways to address this..

    1) Let's say it is almost 100% certain a baby that would be born would get tortured. Your reasoning would conclude, "Well, the baby would have to be born in order for there to be a person in the world to be tortured, so considerations of the baby being born don't matter until they are born". Clearly, that is faulty reasoning to say that the baby needs to be born so that torture exists so that we can say torture should not exist.

    2) No suffering in the world means no people who suffer, nor people deprived of happiness. The instant a person is put into the world, the antinatalist position becomes valid. You do not need people to exist in order to recognize that the "good" of not existing is taking place. All you need is the fact that if someone does exist, the position becomes valid at that point. We can have millions of years of nothingness, and then this position would be sort of "activated". Once something exists where suffering would take place, then it becomes valid.
  • Echarmion
    1.9k


    Good write-up. I would add that the core notion that any risk of suffering ought to be either mitigated or completely prevented is, on closer examination, a very dubious proposition. You allude to this in the reductio ad absurdum at the end of your post.

    The anti-natalist position necessarily treats suffering as an absolute evil. The idea is borrowed from standard utilitarianism. But utilitarian positions are usually concerned with relative suffering for a given number of moral subjects. This has it's own problems, but it can at least plausibly refer to the preferences of those subjects to choose the path that entails less suffering as the source of the moral imperative.

    Anti-natalism, on the other hand, doesn't have any such basis. There is nothing here to give the supposed imperative any weight. There are no subjects to benefit, and the actual addressee doesn't even feature in the consideration. It could only possibly be grounded in some divine principle, and that is in effect how the argument treats it. Which is also the reason why the anti-natalist position can imagine a world without moral subjects to nevertheless be a moral good.

    But for natalists it is not unknown. They know for a fact that having a child will risk harming them. And they also know for a fact that that decision need not be made.khaled

    But the decision does need to be made. Because not having children is also a decision. If you're going to treat a potential existence as a moral subject, you have to do so consistently for both options. So it's not:

    1- Take an unjustified risk with someone else's life
    2- Don't.
    khaled

    It's rather:
    1. Bring a life into existence and risk it suffering
    2. Deny that life it's existence.
  • Jack Cummins
    990

    Every act in life involves some degree of risk. To say that preventing people from harm by not allowing them to exist is overloaded use of the word 'harm'. Speaking of the consent of non existent people is questionable. We could argue that by preventing them from existing we deny their capacity to make decisions, although I know what your answer is, as you argue that it is too late.

    I am not saying this I have absolutely no sympathy with your beliefs about questions of bringing people into the world but the conclusions are two simple. We can find ways of transforming suffering. think it would be worth you going back to the original discussion by @Benkei because it gives a full description of the problems of the antinatalist view, and see if you can challenge that analysis.
  • schopenhauer1
    5.1k
    Anti-natalism, on the other hand, doesn't have any such basis. There is nothing here to give the supposed imperative any weight. There are no subjects to benefit, and the actual addressee doesn't even feature in the consideration. It could only possibly be grounded in some divine principle, and that is in effect how the argument treats it. Which is also the reason why the anti-natalist position can imagine a world without moral subjects to nevertheless be a moral good.Echarmion

    But I don't see a problem here. See what I said to Benkei here:
    1) Let's say it is almost 100% certain a baby that would be born would get tortured. Your reasoning would conclude, "Well, the baby would have to be born in order for there to be a person in the world to be tortured, so considerations of the baby being born don't matter until they are born". Clearly, that is faulty reasoning to say that the baby needs to be born so that torture exists so that we can say torture should not exist.

    2) No suffering in the world means no people who suffer, nor people deprived of happiness. The instant a person is put into the world, the antinatalist position becomes valid. You do not need people to exist in order to recognize that the "good" of not existing is taking place. All you need is the fact that if someone does exist, the position becomes valid at that point. We can have millions of years of nothingness, and then this position would be sort of "activated". Once something exists where suffering would take place, then it becomes valid.
    schopenhauer1
  • Echarmion
    1.9k
    2) No suffering in the world means no people who suffer, nor people deprived of happiness. The instant a person is put into the world, the antinatalist position becomes valid. You do not need people to exist in order to recognize that the "good" of not existing is taking place. All you need is the fact that if someone does exist, the position becomes valid at that point. We can have millions of years of nothingness, and then this position would be sort of "activated". Once something exists where suffering would take place, then it becomes valid.schopenhauer1

    This only makes sense if you presume there exists some divine logos which is the source of morality and also capable of recognising possible states of "good" and "evil".

    Otherwise, the phrase "You do not need people to exist in order to recognize that the "good" of not existing is taking place" just doesn't make any sense.
  • schopenhauer1
    5.1k
    This only makes sense if you presume there exists some divine logos which is the source of morality and also capable of recognising possible states of "good" and "evil".

    Otherwise, the phrase "You do not need people to exist in order to recognize that the "good" of not existing is taking place" just doesn't make any sense.
    Echarmion

    But it does. Only in situations where someone is capable of suffering, does the position become valid.
  • Echarmion
    1.9k
    But it does. Only in situations where someone is capable of suffering, does the position become valid.schopenhauer1

    The term "valid" usually refers to the structure of an argument. You're obviously not using it that way, the problem is I don't know what you mean by it.

    Morality is a practical consideration that arises when moral subjects interact. Outside such an interaction, there are no moral judgements. They're not somehow inherent in the state of the universe. To assume moral states of affairs is to treat morality as some object, like a physical law, which can be empirically described.
  • NOS4A2
    4.1k


    Thanks for putting that together.

    I also think the whole “preventing suffering” argument is lacking because it could be used as an excuse for the prevention of a variety of ills, to prevent greed or bad gas for instance. One could just as easily say it prevents any number of good things, too, even the exact opposite of suffering. That they present the prevention of life as a prevention of suffering suggests some degree of bad faith. We should not let them pretend that life is a one-to-one ratio with suffering.
  • leo
    877
    But for natalists it is not unknown. They know for a fact that having a child will risk harming them. And they also know for a fact that that decision need not be made. It is not like the case where there are two alternatives both of which cannot be precisely calculated which you just cited, no. Here there are two cases:

    1- Take an unjustified risk with someone else's life (risk of harm)
    2- Don't. (no risk of harm)
    khaled

    But we know for a fact that any decision we make risks harming others, whether they are alive now or will be in the future. And we can't foresee all the consequences of the decisions we make, using again the analogy of the butterfly effect.

    In your example, if the person decides not to have a child, this may have unintended consequences more harmful to existing people and to future children than if the person had decided to have the child.

    So really, antinatalist or not, the best we can do is do our best, and neither the antinatalist nor the natalist knows for sure which decision will end up being the best one.

    But you have a great regard for the well-being of others and that's commendable, the world would be a better place if more people didn't only focus on themselves.
  • khaled
    2.1k
    In your example, if the person decides not to have a child, this may have unintended consequences more harmful to existing people and to future children than if the person had decided to have the child.leo

    You can argue that your next child is going to cure cancer. But you can also argue that your next child is Hitler 2 electric boogaloo. So it makes no sense to me to argue in terms of the potential of the child in the first place.

    And I would argue that even if you somehow knew that your next child would do something great (which is impossible) it is the right decision not to have them. That it would be right to have them would imply that the suffering of the child doesn’t matter, as long as he alleviates the suffering of others which I find is a disgusting idea. If I knew my next child would cure cancer but also that he’d suffer severely during his life I wouldn’t have them. In my view: You do not have a duty to help people, but you do have a duty not to harm them.
  • Hanover
    6k
    If living entails suffering (e.g. philosophical pessimism) then living doesn't cause suffering. Much in the same way that me killing a person doesn't cause his death, killing entails death. Or if I enter a room at noon, I don't cause someone to enter the room at noon. And water, by its mere existence, doesn't cause itself to be wet.Benkei

    I don't think the argument that living logically entails suffering is one anyone reasonably makes. It seems a strawman. Surely one can envision a life without suffering, even if such a life has never been lived. I would think the philosophical pessimist would only need to commit to the proposition that all lives that have ever been lived and likely every life that will ever be lived will be filled with suffering; therefore we ought not propagate life. It'd be like me saying that cold medicine tastes bad. It might be the case that all cold medicine tastes bad, but it's not required that in order for the medicine to be cold medicine that it must taste bad. It's just the case that in every case it does.

    That any possible persons, who will suffer more than is outweighed by the good they will experience, outnumber people who will suffer less than is outweighed by the good they will experience. Or in short form "unhappy persons outnumber happy persons".Benkei

    This doesn't do justice to distinguishing between happiness and pleasure and so we are left with suffering being the counter to happiness. This becomes more clear when you provide examples of how we ought to find the sources of suffering so that we can eliminate them so that we can increase happiness. If I suffer from hunger, I'm sure I will be happier if I am fed, but I don't know you've made any real progress toward making me happy in the holistic sense typically needed to truly declare me happy just because you tended to my needs.

    What this means is that happiness is not alleviation of suffering and that suffering is not incompatible with happiness. In fact, considerable wisdom, growth, perspective, and gratitude arise from suffering, all of which are traits of someone who is happy.

    So the solution is not to retreat from society but to engage it by taking care of our fellow man. Give to charity, get a job helping others, etc. In short, the only moral act here is to support the creation of societies that brings forth happy persons as opposed to unhappy ones.Benkei

    I see this as a stab at creating a formula for societal harmony, but I don't see it as eliminating suffering entirely. I also see this as only half the solution for creating societal harmony. The half you provide is that those who have more should be generous and giving. The other half of this would therefore be that those who have less should be humble and gracious. This societal harmony is achieved I would think only upon recognition that everyone is both of these halves.

    My point being that I don't see suffering as demonic, devoid of all light, joyless, and evil. I see suffering as a necessary component needed to fully achieving one's full potential. This obviously means that I'm placing an intrinsic goodness to life itself and its promotion and development. I'm not entirely sure you can avoid pessimism about life if you're not able to posit the intrinsic value of life.

    What this means is:

    1. Although it is not logically required that every life have suffering, every life ever lived has had suffering.
    2. Suffering is required for happiness.
    3. Life is intrinsically good and worth living even if one experiences no happiness or only suffering because life is the end, not the means for anything higher.
  • Echarmion
    1.9k
    And I would argue that even if you somehow knew that your next child would do something great (which is impossible) it is the right decision not to have them. That it would be right to have them would imply that the suffering of the child doesn’t matter, as long as he alleviates the suffering of others which I find is a disgusting idea. If I knew my next child would cure cancer but also that he’d suffer severely during his life I wouldn’t have them. In my view: You do not have a duty to help people, but you do have a duty not to harm them.khaled

    The sense I get from this is that you somehow imagine the perfect life to be some form of solitary existence in a state of bliss, which I find kinda odd. Isn't the point of living in a community to help others? To imagine duties as only negative is to imagine yourself to be untied from everyone around you, which of course you are not.

    Tangential to the topic, I know.
  • ssu
    3.7k
    I think the whole discussion of anti-natalism is a symptom of a larger problem.

    Jack Cummins makes an important point about anti-natalism:

    It tends to make sweeping emotional appeals about suffering, leading to the belief that it would be better to not having been born at all, with an overriding conclusion that it is wrong morally to bring children into the world.Jack Cummins

    I see that here lies the motive for all the anti-natalist nonsense as it's a way to give for some a moral reasoning for not having offspring and to get a chance to have a whack at those institutions promoting natalism, starting from ones like the Catholic church. Perhaps it's like a response of a perceived hostility of the traditional society which universally and even quite logically values children, does see in positive light that people have children, especially at an age when birthrates are universally going down. For those who cannot or do not want children, other's emphasis on children and stories just how wonderful and important they are seems in our highly sensitive age as a veiled hostility against those without children, especially if they could have them.

    I haven't followed the topic, but I guess there might be a proponent or two of anti-natalism, but likely it's debated just as an interesting philosophical argument.

    Of course, one reason might be is just to annoy conservatives and those holding traditional views. At least looking at the length of the discussion of this bizarre concept, they have succeeded in their trolling.
  • Benkei
    4k
    Rather, one that is closer to my stance is that it is wrong to force unnecessary impositions on people. Recently, I have been using the term "dealing with" situations (I'll just call DWS for short since I'll probably bring it up a lot). To force someone absolutely into DWS, is wrong to do. Absolutely here is defined as not needing to experience a DWS instrumentally to get a more desired state, but simply put people in DWS unnecessarily and by force.schopenhauer1

    You'll just get stuck on the causality issue any way so it doesn't matter how you formulate it. The main point of the metaphysical part is that we need to be sure we are comparing something with something and not nothing with something, to avoid the contradiction that something exists that doesn't exist, etc.

    There's also some issues with the loaded language of "force" and "impositions" which are assumptions but since it doesn't matter for the end result I'll leave that as it is.

    The easiest way is to simply say that until all causal chains of suffering are worked out, it is not worth risking that suffering onto someone else. If we knew the world was a utopia without suffering, then we are in the clear. Otherwise, as you point out, we don't know every avenue of the causal chain, so precisely the reason to not impose the causes onto someone else. One need not know which cause to know that all causes are not resolved. Even if we are to weight some causes as "not as bad as others", there are some really bad causes out there that are indeed bad.schopenhauer1

    We don't need to know the avenue of all causal chains because it's obvious that living is not a sufficient condition. Just being alive doesn't cause suffering. If your point is it does, then suffering is intrinsic to life
    and therefore an ethical moot point because living doesn't cause suffering if it's intrinsic. We should be dealing with the proximate and sufficient conditions for suffering to resolve it.

    However, that's not even a main argument. My main argument against this reasoning is in regards to the idea that suffering is unique. While I agree, each instance of a particular brand of suffering is suffered individually by humans, certainly there are categories that can be distilled down that are well known sources of suffering. Further, I do agree with philosopher's like Schopenhauer that life isn't just instances of contingent harms (that is to say situational, probabilistic, contextual, etc.) but rather there are necessary forms of suffering as well. Necessary here meaning, sort of "baked into life". These baked in forms of sufferings are overlooked for the more immediate (I'd characterize as Western) ideas of suffering (physical torture, hunger, disasters, disease, illness, emotional anguish, etc.). However, I do take seriously that we are imposed upon to "deal with" survival, finding comfort, and existence itself (overcoming one's own boredom). These are forms of suffering in the form of deprivation. There is always a lack of something to be overcome. Now add the usual (Western) forms of contingent harm that we must deal with and overcome and the bigger picture of an existence of both necessary and contingent harms comes into focus. All of these are DWS imposed upon the person born.schopenhauer1

    I find philosophical pessimism totally irrelevant to this discussion as pointed out before. If suffering is intrinsic to life than living doesn't cause suffering. It reveals a misunderstanding of what causality is.

    As far as the first part, one of the main reasons antinatalists are against birth is the idea that there is no possible consent, so this is an important part of most antinatalist claims. Certainly if consent is a factor for birth, it is also a factor for death.schopenhauer1

    I don't ask for consent of animals to breed them, to kill them or to eat them. Ethically totally fine. Yet the idea of killing every animal on the face of the earth seems to be an issue.

    Now, as far as your idea bout no moral actors, this I find not a good argument. There's two ways to address this..schopenhauer1

    Probably because you misunderstood the point.

    1) Let's say it is almost 100% certain a baby that would be born would get tortured. Your reasoning would conclude, "Well, the baby would have to be born in order for there to be a person in the world to be tortured, so considerations of the baby being born don't matter until they are born". Clearly, that is faulty reasoning to say that the baby needs to be born so that torture exists so that we can say torture should not exist.schopenhauer1

    Quite obvious this is not what I said nor does it follow from what I said.

    2) No suffering in the world means no people who suffer, nor people deprived of happiness. The instant a person is put into the world, the antinatalist position becomes valid. You do not need people to exist in order to recognize that the "good" of not existing is taking place. All you need is the fact that if someone does exist, the position becomes valid at that point. We can have millions of years of nothingness, and then this position would be sort of "activated". Once something exists where suffering would take place, then it becomes valid.schopenhauer1

    But your "no suffering the world means no people who suffer" actually means "nothing who suffer". You're just camouflaging bad metaphysics and bad language. Of course we need moral actors to exist. Without moral actors to experience "good" there is no good or bad. If we are in a position where we cannot ascribe propositions such as "people are suffering" or "people are not suffering" then the absence of suffering is not a moral good because it's not enjoyed by anyone.

    I don't think the argument that living logically entails suffering is one anyone reasonably makes.Hanover

    These arguments usually don't start that way until you raise the issue of causality and then all of a sudden life equals suffering because no life is without suffering, etc. etc. So it does come up and I just highlight that the argument goes nowhere. Of course, there are more roads to Rome and more ways to skin a pig to reach the same point.

    This doesn't do justice to distinguishing between happiness and pleasure and so we are left with suffering being the counter to happiness. This becomes more clear when you provide examples of how we ought to find the sources of suffering so that we can eliminate them so that we can increase happiness. If I suffer from hunger, I'm sure I will be happier if I am fed, but I don't know you've made any real progress toward making me happy in the holistic sense typically needed to truly declare me happy just because you tended to my needs.

    What this means is that happiness is not alleviation of suffering and that suffering is not incompatible with happiness. In fact, considerable wisdom, growth, perspective, and gratitude arise from suffering, all of which are traits of someone who is happy.
    Hanover

    I don't disagree. I'm constraining myself to how antinatalist often argue their case to hopefully demonstrate that the philosophy is inconsistent and therefore wrong.

    I see this as a stab at creating a formula for societal harmony, but I don't see it as eliminating suffering entirely. I also see this as only half the solution for creating societal harmony. The half you provide is that those who have more should be generous and giving. The other half of this would therefore be that those who have less should be humble and gracious. This societal harmony is achieved I would think only upon recognition that everyone is both of these halves.Hanover

    Good point. It's my priviliged upbringing and position that probably got the better of me here and as you know I'm devoid of humility and grace so at the same time I have no clue what you're talking about.

    My point being that I don't see suffering as demonic, devoid of all light, joyless, and evil. I see suffering as a necessary component needed to fully achieving one's full potential. This obviously means that I'm placing an intrinsic goodness to life itself and its promotion and development. I'm not entirely sure you can avoid pessimism about life if you're not able to posit the intrinsic value of life.Hanover

    There's certainly a value to philosophical pessimism. I don't believe in progress as much as the next because of philosophical pessimism. I think we're all basically barbarians and that the relative peacefulness of Western societies is only a very thin veil of civilisation that is easily disturbed. I don't consider Holocausts or genocides unthinkable or as something that will never happen again. I don't believe we've fundamentally evolved morally speaking. In fact, I agree with most conservatives that there's a lot of "happiness" eroding due to social and technological pressures. I disagree with them how these should be dealt with. I think social media, deep fakes and the information apocalypse will make the world worse off by... a lot, and we've only seen the beginning with the latest (further) fragmentation of US society.

    But I also see that getting a pandemic under control requires us all to work together and that nothing we do is done without the context of what came before and what exists as a society around us. Even this thread would never exist without a disagreeable anti-natalist. So in the end I believe in the Hegelian aufhebung, that we will find a way upward in these conflicting forces... it's just going to get messy.
  • Benkei
    4k
    If you're going to treat a potential existence as a moral subjectEcharmion

    Please just don't. It hurts my brain.
  • Benkei
    4k
    You do not have a duty to help people, but you do have a duty not to harm them.khaled

    I have to disagree on both counts. If someone is drowning - and since I'm an expert swimmer - I should safe them. I doubt anyone would deny this moral duty. Similarly, I might have to harm someone to protect either them or others from something worse. Harming a criminal in the act is perfectly fine. Jabbing a vaccine needle in a child is morally right.

    But this is of course not your point. The point here is whether you're treating the child as a means to an end by accepting his suffering for a greater good and whether that's ok. I'd say, it depends. Have you played The Last of Us?
  • schopenhauer1
    5.1k
    We don't need to know the avenue of all causal chains because it's obvious that living is not a sufficient condition. Just being alive doesn't cause suffering. If your point is it does, then suffering is intrinsic to life
    and therefore an ethical moot point because living doesn't cause suffering if it's intrinsic. We should be dealing with the proximate and sufficient conditions for suffering to resolve it.
    Benkei

    Okay, what does that change if it is inherent in living?

    You'll just get stuck on the causality issue any way so it doesn't matter how you formulate it. The main point of the metaphysical part is that we need to be sure we are comparing something with something and not nothing with something, to avoid the contradiction that something exists that doesn't exist, etc.

    There's also some issues with the loaded language of "force" and "impositions" which are assumptions but since it doesn't matter for the end result I'll leave that as it is.
    Benkei

    I believe this to be the crux of your argument. I believe I answered these when I said that your idea here seems to indicate that if a baby was born into torture, then it would not be a legitimate move to prevent that birth for the sake of the future child. Its the same with impositions. You don't need someone born at x time present, for y time future to make a difference for a person that will be born.

    I find philosophical pessimism totally irrelevant to this discussion as pointed out before. If suffering is intrinsic to life than living doesn't cause suffering. It reveals a misunderstanding of what causality is.Benkei

    That's fine, being born causes it then.

    I don't ask for consent of animals to breed them, to kill them or to eat them. Ethically totally fine. Yet the idea of killing every animal on the face of the earth seems to be an issue.Benkei

    I mean vegans would say otherwise to that first part. I'm not as concerned with the animal part. I think that once an animal has the ability to deliberate about its own existence, this becomes more relevant. I don't really want this to be a debate between human-centric and sentient-centric antinatalism. That would just become a side debate that wouldn't add to your main point.

    Quite obvious this is not what I said nor does it follow from what I said.Benkei

    But yet it seems to be what your talking about with comparing nothing with something. It directly contradicts that.

    But your "no suffering the world means no people who suffer" actually means "nothing who suffer". You're just camouflaging bad metaphysics and bad language. Of course we need moral actors to exist. Without moral actors to experience "good" there is no good or bad. If we are in a position where we cannot ascribe propositions such as "people are suffering" or "people are not suffering" then the absence of suffering is not a moral good because it's not enjoyed by anyone.Benkei

    So how is this not about the baby being tortured argument? There is a state of affairs where no being is suffering. Once the capacity exists for a state of affairs where there could be suffering, then one should prevent the conditions for which suffering occurs.

    Even if we grant that there is only contingent suffering, as I stated earlier, there is not sufficient ability to prevent the causes of suffering. It would be like building the airplane as you are flying it, since we have not prevented it beforehand, and people just have to deal with the consequences after-the-fact.

    Also, you seem to not account for not agreeing with the conditions for life. There can be no possibility that the person born can agree to the impositions that life presents. Why should we say, "Well people should accept life's impositions (DWS) because they must exist in order to realize they don't like aspects of the imposition". Again, we are back to that argument.. It seems to go back to that.

    It seems Benkei, you want to drop the idea of future states. It's like the future tense "Will happen" means nothing here. You keep thinking that is an illegitimate move when it isn't. We do it all the time. It matters not, if no actual human exists, as long as we know that a future human can exist. That would be denying cause and effect in itself, the very thing you are accusing antinatalists of doing.
  • schopenhauer1
    5.1k
    1. Although it is not logically required that every life have suffering, every life ever lived has had suffering.
    2. Suffering is required for happiness.
    3. Life is intrinsically good and worth living even if one experiences no happiness or only suffering because life is the end, not the means for anything higher.
    Hanover

    What does that even mean? There is so much metaphysical weirdness here. Even if you were to prove the Nietzschean notion that there is "higher meaning" in suffering, what kind of paternalistic BS is this to impose known suffering on another person because you think there's higher meaning?

    It's like natalists/optimists think that we have gained no understanding of life since the dawn of man and that these are not sufficient to know what we can be preventing. "OH, we never know what can happen.. Ya never know!!" It's like people who rely on arguments that have no sense of history. We do have a notion of the impositions that will be imposed on the future person.
  • khaled
    2.1k
    I should safe them. I doubt anyone would deny this moral duty.Benkei

    I would. If you didn't get them there you don't owe them saving. At least not as much as you owe them not getting them there.

    Similarly, I might have to harm someone to protect either them or others from something worse. Harming a criminal in the act is perfectly fine. Jabbing a vaccine needle in a child is morally right.Benkei

    That's not "harm" as I use it. As I use it, it means that you will have a net negative effect. A vaccine does not have a net negative effect.

    I'd say, it depends. Have you played The Last of Us?Benkei

    I didn't because my potato PC can't run it but I've watched playthroughs. Pleasantly surprised someone else plays videogames around here. I'd say Joel was right. Ellie didn't know she was about to die, she wasn't given a choice.
  • Benkei
    4k
    I would.khaled

    Give me an example to understand this one. Someone is drowning and you can save them. Under which circumstances wouldn't you?
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