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Could having children be considered forcing life upon somebody who never asked

Could having children be considered forcing life upon somebody who never asked for it?

Yes, it could. Two philosophers who have written in this vein are Seana Shiffrin and David Benatar. You can find at quick introduction to this debate (along with additional literature) at http://theviewfromhell.blogspot.com.au/2008/08/is-coming-into-existence-agent-neutral.html .

If cause suffering is bad and life is in part suffering, procreate is inherently

If cause suffering is bad and life is in part suffering, procreate is inherently bad?

Well, with the symmetrical argument you could conclude the opposite:

If causing happiness is good and if life is in part happiness, then procreating is good.

Both conclusions seem inadequately supported. It matters how much suffering and how much happiness one's offspring is likely to face. And there are other valuable and disvaluable things besides happiness and suffering: knowledge, culture, art, science, sports and love may all be good things a future person will experience -- good even if they are unaccompanied by happiness. And there are also contributions this future person will make to the lives of others -- good and bad contributions. So the question whether it's bad to procreate requires a more complex weighing up of considerations than is suggested by your argument.

Well, with the symmetrical argument you could conclude the opposite: If causing happiness is good and if life is in part happiness, then procreating is good. Both conclusions seem inadequately supported. It matters how much suffering and how much happiness one's offspring is likely to face. And there are other valuable and disvaluable things besides happiness and suffering: knowledge, culture, art, science, sports and love may all be good things a future person will experience -- good even if they are unaccompanied by happiness. And there are also contributions this future person will make to the lives of others -- good and bad contributions. So the question whether it's bad to procreate requires a more complex weighing up of considerations than is suggested by your argument.

It seems to me that Kant's categorical imperative implies that we all have a

It seems to me that Kant's categorical imperative implies that we all have a duty to procreate. Is this actually the case? I say this because it seems that any person choosing not having children would be forced to admit that, if their behavior was made a universal law, society would collapse, with a slowly aging and ailing population and nobody to take care of them. Society would die out, and the last generation before the end would be helpless geriatrics suffering the problems of old age with nobody younger to look after them. So do Kantian ethics actually demand that we have children? Or is there a subtler way of looking at the issue?

I used exactly this example in an essay published over 20 years ago as one of the arguments in support of a more subtle interpretation that had been first proposed by Tim Scanlon. On this reading, it is the permission one is claiming for oneself that is to be universalized. So instead of asking whether one can will that all people act on one's maxim of remaining childless, one is to ask instead whether one can will that all people be permitted to remain childless. In the world as it is, we can certainly will this universal permission (because enough others would decide to conceive even without a duty to do so), and therefore each of us is permitted to act on the maxim in question.

I used exactly this example in an essay published over 20 years ago as one of the arguments in support of a more subtle interpretation that had been first proposed by Tim Scanlon. On this reading, it is the permission one is claiming for oneself that is to be universalized. So instead of asking whether one can will that all people act on one's maxim of remaining childless, one is to ask instead whether one can will that all people be permitted to remain childless. In the world as it is, we can certainly will this universal permission (because enough others would decide to conceive even without a duty to do so), and therefore each of us is permitted to act on the maxim in question.

Is having your own biological kids instead of adopting morally wrong? It appears

Is having your own biological kids instead of adopting morally wrong? It appears that it is to me because it seems that the world reveals that there are many hungry children out there that need to be adopted, ergo, there is less harm if you adopt. What are counters to my argument, and what is the stance of the academic community on this issue if there is one?

Funny you should ask -- there's a doctoral dissertation now being written on exactly this question (I am marginally involved in its supervision). The student essentially argues for the conclusion you suggest, claiming that, in the world as it is, those who decide to have children at all ought to adopt rather than conceive. Adoption confers a huge benefit on a child who would otherwise grow up under conditions of institutionalization and deprivation (for example, in an ophanage in Cambodia or Niger). And adoption does not take away a benefit from anyone: the person one would have conceived will simply never exist.

There's no stance of the academic community on this issue, yet. Time will tell whether the student's view will be widely accepted or rejected. It's bound to stimulate discussion if only because most affluent people believe that they have every right -- not just legally, but also morally -- to conceive if they wish.

The student's thesis might be opposed on behalf of the people who, if her prescription is followed, will not be born. But this opposition strikes me as unpromising. Perhaps it is good that more people can enjoy life rather than fewer. But one must surely balance this against the negative effects that additional people have on the quality of life of the present and future generations. All things considered, I don't think we have moral reason to inflate the human population from the present 7 billion to 8 or 10. And it seems entirely permissible, then, to refrain from conceiving -- no matter whether you then adopt a child or not.

The student's thesis might also be opposed on behalf of people who really want to have their (biologially) own child. So abstractly stated, this desire may seem a bit self-indulgent. But it may become more understandable with context. For example, a couple may think of their child as a celebration of their love for each other, with each wanting their child physically to resemble -- not so much oneself, but -- the partner one loves. Or think of a very musical family caring deeply about having a child that shares their gifts and devotion (the horror of Mozart junior turning out to be tone-deaf). To be sure, conception does not guarantee that one's child will share the great musical talents of the parents -- but it surely substantially improves the odds over adoption. And ditto, of course, for other heritable traits such as athleticism, beauty, height, mathematical ability, and so on.

Many parents facing the choice may also be worried about the time their potential adopted child would already have spent outside their care: about the nutritional deficits this child may have suffered, with consequently diminished development of brain and body; about traumatic experiences the child may have encountered, possibly resulting in excessive distrust and other anti-social tendencies; and so on. These worries could be addressed, at least in large part, by improving the current child care and adoption systems. But in the world as it is, they are real worries that lend moral weight to a reluctance to adopt.

This suggests a further objection to the student's thesis. Suppose that, leaving moral considerations aside, a couple honestly ranks the three options as follows: (B) having our biologially own child, (N) having no child at all, (A) having an adopted child. In this case, the student's thesis (if you will have a child at all, then it ought to be an adopted one) may seem to lose its grip. These parents will have a child only if it is biologially their own. By having such a child, they are not withholding the benefit of adoption from any existing child because, even if they had refrained from conceiving, they would not have adopted anyway. It's hard to see, then, why we should follow the student in holding that (N) is morally permissible but (B) is not. This tension could be resolved by weakening the student's thesis to saying: Those who do not have a genuine preference for (N) over (A) ought to adopt a child. Or the tension could also be resolved by strengthening the student's thesis to saying: All couples, even those who prefer (N) to (B), ought to adopt a child.

As you requested, I have given you some counters to what you, like my student, believe. But these counters must, of course, be balanced against the huge benefit that adoption would typically confer on a child in great need. All things considered, many of us may really have strong moral reasons to adopt in preference to conceiving a child of our own.

Funny you should ask -- there's a doctoral dissertation now being written on exactly this question (I am marginally involved in its supervision). The student essentially argues for the conclusion you suggest, claiming that, in the world as it is, those who decide to have children at all ought to adopt rather than conceive. Adoption confers a huge benefit on a child who would otherwise grow up under conditions of institutionalization and deprivation (for example, in an ophanage in Cambodia or Niger). And adoption does not take away a benefit from anyone: the person one would have conceived will simply never exist. There's no stance of the academic community on this issue, yet. Time will tell whether the student's view will be widely accepted or rejected. It's bound to stimulate discussion if only because most affluent people believe that they have every right -- not just legally, but also morally -- to conceive if they wish. The student's thesis might be opposed on behalf of the people who, if...

Why do we seem to consider the life of a child more valuable than that of an

Why do we seem to consider the life of a child more valuable than that of an adult in many situations? When we consider the actual qualities of a child versus that of an adult, we should find that the adult usually wins on any measure of intelligence, capability, moral faculties, and so forth. Is there any ethical reason why we should value the life of a child more than that of an adult? (And just to be extra clear, I can think of a very compelling evolutionary reason why we would value a life of child more, but I'm not looking for an answer from biology or psychology.)

Isn't the reason just this? When an adult dies prematurely -- say at age 40 -- then she is losing many years of valuable life. When a child dies, then she is losing those same valuable years above 40 and in addition all the good life years up to 40. So the basic thought here is simply that the earlier someone dies, the greater the loss.

While the common view seems to me to be based on this thought, it is not unassailable. You might say that the loss of years above 40 isn't a serious loss for someone dying as a small child, who has no conception of what such years would be like and moreover is very different from the mature adult she would have become 40 years hence.

Thinking this through further, you might reach the view that the worst age at which a human being could die is in her or his mid-20s. At that age, one has a conception of the life one wants to lead and also typically is a productive member of one's family and society. Such a death is a great loss to the person and to many others.

I think that this latter view also plays a major role in our common thinking. For example, if we really thought that the death of a child is worse than that of a young adult, then we would make much greater efforts fighting infant mortality (involving about 9 million deaths of children under 5 each year). As it is, global health efforts are concentrated upon HIV/AIDS, which primarily sickens and kills young adults -- and this despite the fact that HIV/AIDS requires expensive long-term treatment whereas infant mortality could be reduced dramatically at very much lower cost per life year gained.

To be sure, I fully support the ongoing HIV/AIDS efforts (Global Fund, PEPFAR, etc.) and their expansion to those who need treatment and are not receiving it. But I also believe that we ought to make much greater efforts toward ensuring access to clean water, sanitation, adequate nutrition and proper maternal and perinatal care -- the kind of measures that would dramatically reduce under-5 mortality.

Isn't the reason just this? When an adult dies prematurely -- say at age 40 -- then she is losing many years of valuable life. When a child dies, then she is losing those same valuable years above 40 and in addition all the good life years up to 40. So the basic thought here is simply that the earlier someone dies, the greater the loss. While the common view seems to me to be based on this thought, it is not unassailable. You might say that the loss of years above 40 isn't a serious loss for someone dying as a small child, who has no conception of what such years would be like and moreover is very different from the mature adult she would have become 40 years hence. Thinking this through further, you might reach the view that the worst age at which a human being could die is in her or his mid-20s. At that age, one has a conception of the life one wants to lead and also typically is a productive member of one's family and society. Such a death is a great loss to the person and to many others...

I would like to encourage my grandchildren (ten of them, ages 5 to 17) to think

I would like to encourage my grandchildren (ten of them, ages 5 to 17) to think about and discuss ideas. I started to compose an email (they are located in the U.S. Canada and Sweden) on the importance of the question "Why?". Among other things, I wanted them to be able to challenge, in a constructive way, the "wisdom" of their peers. I found that it was hard to do this in a way that would compel them to even think about my email! I also would like them to learn the value and the discipline of thinking, generally. Do you have suggestions (including literature) that would help in getting children to think and talk about ideas? I have found that this is very difficult - either because they find the process too much work or they don't want to embarrass themselves (or?). Any help would be appreciated. Thank you.

How about sending them Jostein Gaarder's Sophie's World ? It's been very popular and very effective in the sense you intend.