Anti-Natalist and Naturalism

Over at the Maverick Philosopher blog, Bill Vallicella discusses anti-natalism, the idea that it is moral not to procreate.

Specifically, Vallicella, in response to another commentator called Karl, states the following:

One assumption that Karl seems to be making is that, absent any redemption ‘from above,’ the value of life for most humans is on balance negative.  This assumption I find very plausible.  But note that it rests on a still deeper assumption, namely, that the value of life can be objectively assessed or evaluated.  This assumption is not obviously correct, but it too is plausible.  Here, then, is the argument. It is a kind of ‘moral safety’ argument. To be on the morally safe side, we ought not procreate.

Argument for Prudential Anti-Natalism

1) There is an objective ‘fact of the matter’ as to whether or not human life is on balance of positive or negative value.

2) Absent any redemption ‘from above,’ the value of life for most humans is on balance negative, that is, the harms of existence outweigh the benefits of existence.

3) We do not know that the value of life for most humans is not on balance negative, i.e., that the harms of existence are compensated by the benefits of existence.

4) We do know that bringing children into the world will expose them to physical, mental, and spiritual suffering, and that all of those so exposed will also actually suffer the harms of existence.

5) It is morally wrong to subject people to harms when it is not known that the harms will be compensated by a greater good.

6) To have children is to subject them to such harms. Therefore:

7) It is morally wrong to procreate.

Now you have heard me say that there are no compelling arguments in philosophy, and this is certainly no exception.  I’ll mention two possible lines of rebuttal.

a) Reject premise (1) along Nietzschean lines as explained in my most recent Nietzsche post.  It might be urged that any negative judgment on the value of life merely reflects the lack of vitality of the one rendering the judgment.  No healthy specimen takes suffering as an argument against against living and procreating!  I do not endorse this view, but I feel its pull. Related: Nietzsche and National Socialism.

b) Reject (3). There are those who, standing fast in their faith, would claim to know by a sort of cognitio fidei that children and life itself are divine gifts, and that in the end all the horrors and injustices of this life will be made good.

Now, this argument intrigued me, and as such, I replied as follows:

Good Day MavPhil,

Here is something to consider as well in light of the anti-natalist sentiments under discussion: namely, if it is moral / rational to be anti-natalist for the reasons that you gave above, then would it not also be moral / rational to be pro-suicide for the same reasons?

Consider the following argument:

1) There is an objective ‘fact of the matter’ as to whether or not human life is on balance of positive or negative value.

2) Absent any redemption ‘from above,’ the value of life for most humans is on balance negative, that is, the harms of existence outweigh the benefits of existence.

3) We do know that our continued existence in the world will continue to bring us physical, mental, and spiritual suffering; at the same time, human beings are social animals who live with others, and thus we know that our continued existence in the world will inevitably bring physical, mental, and spiritual suffering to other people throughout our lifetimes.

4) It is morally wrong to subject people to harms when it is not known that the harms will be compensated by a greater good.

5) To continue to live is to subject both ourselves and others to such harms.

6) The only way to truly and surely stop subjecting ourselves and others to such harms is to cease to exist.

Therefore:

6) It is morally wrong to continue to live and morally good to commit suicide.

Now a number of objections could be marshalled against this argument, as they can be for any argument, but I think a solid case could be made for this line of reasoning.

However, I would contend that the argument’s conclusion is absurd, and thus there is something wrong with the argument itself.

Now, what is interesting to consider is whether what is wrong with the argument is Premise 2, which is the “atheistic-naturalist” or “deist” premise.

Thus, perhaps this could be formulated as an argument against naturalism / deism:

1) If naturalism / deism is true, then the most moral action for human beings to take is to kill themselves.

2) But it is absurd that the most moral course of action that humans can take is to kill themselves.

3) Therefore, naturalism / deism is false.

Anyway, something to think about.

And indeed, it is something to think about, for if naturalism actually does lead to the above conclusion, then so much the worse for naturalism.

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