On this episode, we talk about a controversial idea: anti-natalism.

Anti-natalism is the ethical view that the act of having children is morally impermissible, largely because of the consent issue: nobody who's born is capable of consenting to being born.

In a sense, we're all just thrust into this world, which is full of suffering. We inherit a life that may or may not be worth living, and yet we didn't get a choice in the matter.

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Timestamps:

  • 0:00 - Introduction to Anti-natalism
  • 4:23 - Optimists vs Pessimists
  • 10:36 - Unjustifiable harm and the problem of consent
  • 15:57 - The bias of the living
  • 19:09 - Our natural inclination towards procreation
  • 23:57 - Cautious reproduction and the ethics of being born
  • 34:27 - An argument against anti-natalism

Recap:

  • We kick off talking about anti-natalist viewpoints by pondering a few questions around procreation. For example: Is child-bearing and parenthood really a good thing for society? Is life worth living, or would we be better off not having come into existence at all? Is it morally permissible to bring new human lives into the world?
  • An Anti-natalist might answer no to all of the above questions. Since life is inherently filled with suffering, anytime we bring a new human life into the world, we're imposing the suffering of life onto a new being. By this token, anti-natalists would say that non-existence is preferable to a life that involves suffering.
  • A key problem for the pro-natalist vs anti-natalist debate is that as human beings, we're naturally inclined towards optimism. We tend to look on the bright side of life. And as living beings, we naturally have a built-in bias towards thinking that living this human existence is valuable in and of itself, despite all of the suffering it entails. Despite this, it's not morally permissible to impose the suffering of life on another being.
  • Humans also have a built-in inclination towards procreation. All of us are the beneficiaries of a long and unbroken chain of thousands of generations of our human ancestors procreating. As a result of this evolutionary pressure, we're genetically wired towards having offspring of our own (ie. all of the anti-natalists in human history have failed to pass on their genes, so only pro-natalists are left).
  • We discuss the idea of 'cautious' reproduction, and the ethical issues around imposing existence on any children we do bring into the world. Call this a 'weak' anti-natalist view: that unconsciously having children because that's just what everyone else does may itself be an immoral act because we're not thinking through the ethical implications of reproduction. In adopting the mindset of 'cautious reproduction', we do think through all of the moral implications of our choice to have children.
  • I end with an argument against anti-natalism, which either shows that there is an inherent value to living a human existence, or simply reveals our built-in bias towards believing that our lives have value.

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