Voltaire’s proto-antinatalism

Humanist par excellence and often considered a king of enlightenment Voltaire (1694-1778) also features elements of a proto-antinatalism. One case in point is his Treatise on Tolerance where, in chapter 23, we find him saying (as opposed to d’Holbach (1723-1789, Voltaire still believed in God):

‘No longer then do I address myself to men, but to you, God of all beings, of all worlds, and of all ages; if it may be permitted weak creatures lost in immensity and imperceptible to the rest of the universe, to dare to ask something of you, you who have given everything, and whose decrees are immutable as they are eternal. Deign to look with pity on the errors attached to our nature; let not these errors prove ruinous to us. You have not given us hearts to hate ourselves with, and hands to kill one another. Grant then that we may mutually aid each other to support the burden of a painful and transitory life.

In Voltaire, humanism doesn’t celebrate the joy of existence but rather the need to support one another in order to cope with the burden of existence. As a child of his times Voltaire didn’t see that the “burden of a painful and trasitory life” is forced upon people by unenlightened parents.

Voltaire only belongs to antinatalism’s wider forecourt since he wasn’t outspoken on not passing on the burden of existence.

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