Pronatalists

It may serve, perhaps, as an encouragement for some pronatalist to compose a handbook on pronatalism if we briefly review the ideas of several convinced pronatalists:

Holtug, Nils

Holtug attempted to establish a pronatalist position. In his essay “ON THE VALUE OF COMING INTO EXISTENCE” he propounds the “Value of Existence View”. According to this view the beginning of a person’s existence can either benefit or harm said person and it can be better (or worse) for this latter to exist than not to exist. Holtung thus defends the bold idea that someone can be harmed by reason of their having never come to exist. He is indeed aware that these claims of his must immediately raise the question of how one can possibly either harm or benefit some non-existent “something” by bringing about an existence paradoxically said to be “its” (“something” and “its” are placed in inverted commas here so as to indicate that that neither term really has any ontic referent to which anything could really be done – i.e. they are not referents at all in the strict sense). Holtug appears to understand, then, that the beginning of an entity’s existence is not something that happens to said entity but rather a precondition that must already obtain if anything is ever to happen to said entity at all. It is clearly against this background that he explains his notion that a person can be harmed or benefited by beginning to exist. He does so as follows:

“The thought is that a person is benefited by coming into existence if, on balance, his life is worth living, and harmed if, on balance, it is worth not living.” In this light we can see that what we are meant to understand here by a benefit/harm ensuing from the beginning of an existence is not at all that which one tends, irresistibly, to think of but rather something else entirely. The “benefit” or “harm” in question here corresponds to the answer given by an already-existing person to the question of whether their life Is worth living or not (or to the judgment of the value of the life of such a person by others).

Holtug attempts to “smuggle in” a certain harmful or beneficial quality of existence’s beginning by means of a sort of trick which illegitimately presupposes a continuity between non-existence and existence, as if “I” were to pass out of the state of non-existence into that of existence just as I pass from a state of illness into one of health. Thus, for Holtug, the fact that a certain Jeremy prefers his own existence to his potential non-existence suffices to prove the proposition that he has benefited from the beginning of the former: “Since, then, Jeremy prefers existing to never existing, he has benefited from coming into existence. Had he preferred never to exist, he would have been harmed instead.”

We may be said to have to do with a metaphysical “smuggling in” here inasmuch as Holtug decides to give to the results of a survey taken of already-existing human beings the final deciding word regarding the question of whether “someone” is harmed or benefitted by the beginning of their own existence. Holtug omits to consider here the fact that, if someone consents post festum to his own existence, he does not thereby make any meaningful enunciation regarding whether HE has benefitted or not through the beginning of this existence.  Holtug levels the problem down to the question of whether someone is glad to exist or not and leaves out of account the fact that the question of whether SOMEONE is harmed or benefitted by the beginning of his own existence is really a question without sense.

As regards the moral imperative to create more human beings Holtug argues as follows: Because it is the case that it may benefit human beings to begin to exist there exists a certain moral obligation to bring human beings into the world, provided only that it is to be expected that there will fall to the lot of these human beings a life that is worth living. But since it will never be possible to establish in advance whether such a coming into the world will benefit or harm a human being, Holtug’s pronatalism would have an extremely weak foundation even if one saw no problem with the deliberate misrepresentation at its base.

Parfit, Derek (1942–2017)

After detailed discussion of “never having been”, and of the starting and the ceasing of existence,  Parfit sums up, in his book “Reasons and Persons”, as follows: “I have suggested that, of these, starting to exist should be classed with ceasing to exist. Unlike never existing, starting to exist and ceasing to exist both happen to actual people. This is why we can claim that they can be either good or bad for these people.” „We can similarly claim that causing someone to exist who will have a life worth living, gives this person a peculiar benefit.“

But clearly Parfit is in error here: everything that happens to me presupposes my existence; for this reason, the start of my existence cannot be an event which befalls me. For me myself, therefore, the start of my existence can neither be a good thing nor a bad thing; as long as I have not yet begun to exist, no “I’ is there for whom beginning to exist could be “good” or “bad”; but if I exist, then the beginning of my existence already lies in the past and the question can then only be: “Is it good for me to exist?” The start of my existence can only be something good or bad for that which enfolds and comprises my existence in its entirety. This we express through the impersonal term > “it”. We can say: “it” was good or bad that I began to exist. That the start of my existence cannot be good (just as it cannot be bad) for me becomes clear as soon as we pose the question of what the actual point of commencement is for that action which brings about the effect of a new human being’s beginning to exist. This point of commencement is not the human being him- or herself but rather the entire structure linking humanity and the world that was there already before his/her existence.

 

Singer, Peter (*1946)

Like other metaphysical >Damnators Singer would prefer – had he the choice – a world with beings susceptible both of suffering and of happiness over a world without sentient beings. He points to supposedly imminent improvements in the human condition which he believes confirm him in his choice: “I do think it would be wrong to choose the non-sentient universe. In my judgment, for most people, life is worth living. Even if that is not yet the case, I am enough of an optimist to believe that, should humans survive for another century or two, we will learn from our past mistakes and bring about a world in which there is far less suffering than there is now.“ (http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/06/06/should-this-be-the-last-generation/) Singer does not consider the notion of a >Trial Period of the human species to be worth even wasting a thought on.

 

McMahan, Jeff (*1954)

McMahan dismisses out of hand the very idea of an ebbing away of humanity: “My own view, though I won’t argue for it here, is that the extinction of human beings would be the worst event that could possibly occur.“ (http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/09/28/predators-a-response/)

We might name, as examples of pronatalists among contemporary philosophers, such figures as Dieter Birnbacher, Vittorio Hösle, Hans Jonas, and Saul Smilansky.

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