Enlightenment and Guilt (Introduction, part 11)

With this our handbook on antinatalism we situate ourselves within the tradition of philosophical enlightenment. The handbook enlightens its readers by showing that the apparently “most normal thing in the world” – namely, that there are human beings and that these human beings are (re)produced – becomes, on closer examination, questionable. Because, in the last analysis, it is procreation which leads to ever more generations of human beings’ being placed before new problems as well as the ever-recurring old insoluble ones and the >Conditio in/humana’s being perpetuated.

It would, of course, be all too easy to assign the guilt for all this misery to the parents of this world. At least in advanced industrialized societies parents mostly take the position of only wanting the best for their children. And this “wanting the best”, of course, is taken to include conceiving them in the first place. – What is not taken into account here is the onto-ethical fallacy that is committed when someone assumes that they are doing something good for a not-yet-existing person by bringing it about that they begin to exist.

Anti-natalists concede that there are indeed some good arguments for procreation that need to be considered: for example, the consideration that a sudden stoppage of births occurring simultaneously all over the world could – in contrast to a slow ebbing away of fertility – significantly lower the quality of life for all existing human beings. But at the same time anti-natalists are of the view that unconfessed selfish motives often underlie the wish for children and that the arguments against procreation far outweigh, on balance, those for it. Anti-natalists do not adopt, thereby, a hostile attitude to parents, or to people who want to become parents, but rather attempt, through argument, to convince them that it is better to bring no more children into the world.

Our category of >Parental Guilt, then, does not concern, to an equal degree, all parents at all times but rather only applies in the full sense where parents – and most especially women – firstly enjoy a certain degree of self-determination regarding pregnancy and birth and secondly have been able to form some accurate idea of what is awaiting their children once they have given birth to them. A genuine parental guilt we ascribe only to fully reflective individuals living in the “Information Age” who make pro-natal decisions even in the face of doubts they may harbour, or who may even be familiar with the moral theory of antinatalism but opt nonetheless to engage in procreation. A good point of comparison here is ethical vegetarianism. Someone raised in a traditional society or in a generally carnivorous environment may never give a thought to the ethically unjustifiable consequences of meat-consumption. But once they have been made acquainted with the arguments for ethical vegetarianism, this same person will be acting, if they continue to consume meat, contrary to a better ethical insight which now lies fully within their reach. A similar line of reasoning applies in the case of procreation. People who have had an opportunity to consider the option of non-procreation, or who have somehow felt the necessity of doing so, or who have actually been made familiar with the moral theory of antinatalism, do indeed incur “parental guilt” in the case where, knowing better, they nonetheless persist in procreating.

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