Why Having Children Might not be Immoral After All

In a previous article, I argued that having children is immoral. I’m not fond of controversial statements, so I’ve given this topic a lot of thought.

I still hold this view, begrudgingly, for the simple reason that I would still love to have my own children. If I was going to have children, then I would want to reduce my environmental impact, for the sake of future people. I admit that I haven’t been as good as some staunch vegans, or sedentary citizens, but I try my best. Having my own child however, would nullify any efforts to preserve a livable world, because every child would be environmentally extremely expensive, even if they are the most carbon friendly person on the planet. 

This, along with the idea of inherent suffering, was the crux of my argument. As I grow older, and the expectation of me having kids is increasing, I am forced to ask myself, continually, whether I should have kids

One of the few genuine arguments for kids, is that one does not have them for one’s self, but for wider society. The world requires new people in order to sustain the aging population whether that be me, or other people who are currently my age. Having kids, would mean to support one’s friends, one country, any issue one is passionate about (such as one’s values), so that they can be passed on down in time.

However respectable this argument is, I don’t buy it. Selling one’s soul to the devil for (an extreme) example, has similar gains for your passions, but potential huge long term losses (possibly, every non-preferable thing you can imagine).

So far, I only see one possibility, and it is an interpretation of natalism that can also be applied to love. Most people come together to love one another in some shape or form. There is no doubt that people love. However, the initial catalyst of affection is not very well known. When we fall in love with someone, we don’t do so because it makes us happy, but because we simply cannot help ourselves. 

Most are good at being attracted to others, as well as being attractive to others. Some are not. While there is a certain talent or skill involved in bringing forth such emotions, loving someone is  something that happens, and has happened to all of us: It is inevitable. 

Having children perhaps is like this as well, as argued independently here.

Many philosophers from antiquity onwards have argued the ethics of all sorts of things (piousness, nationalism, slavery, vegetarianism etc.), though this begs the question of whether having children is in the sphere of ethics. Not every issue is an ethical problem. Having a family is usually treated like an unchangeable event, so one cannot argue the ethics of something that is going to happen regardless. 

It is only in asking “Why”, for a problem that wasn’t a problem, that any answer becomes contested, in our case, on whether to have children or not. In pointing out that things can be different than they are, we are opening up the issue to discussion. To most, I would imagine, the question of children is absurd as having left-right shoes that are the same. Or that hand shakes don’t necessarily have to happen. Or that kicking a football into a neighbors garden is wrong. These concerns are irrelevant: Is it ethical to not shake another person’s hand, if they have outstretched theirs? Well, no, it’s not unethical (or ethical), it’s just uncommon. This might be the case for not having kids. 

There are clearly many differences between having children and such non-problems. Having one’s first child changes one’s life completely, while the shaking of hands does not usually change one’s circumstances in any significant way. There is nothing wrong with not having children, a listener would say to my woes, but why would you want to do this, if your choice wouldn’t make you happy? 

“For the child’s sake”, would have been my previous argument, but any argument that calls for the rights of the unborn kid misses the point of having kids. In the end, we do it for ourselves. If we willingly ignore the possibility of there being a different way to live (i.e. not having kids), then there is no discussion to be had. Therefore, instead of arguing that having kids is wrong, a better approach might be to argue that having kids is not in the realm of ethics in the first place.

Is the question of children an ethical concern? So far, only actions in which we have a choice tend to be open to ethical consideration. Yet, most niche ethical considerations for which we haven’t got an established answer, allow people to pick and choose which answer fits a personal philosophy more, than the answer that may have the stronger argument.

A question that is open to interpretation would for example be this: Given no other context, if one comes across a light switch, is it more ethical to flip the switch, or to leave it as is? 

Philosophically, we could investigate this problem, and come up with some weird answer. On the other hand, it doesn’t really matter, because there are no other agents, except for us involved.

Ethics has its origins in making the right of two difficult decisions that have negative and positive consequences. Any decision that for one’s self has no significant detriment or benefit, is a non issue: It is neither ethical, or unethical. Because we prefer to think of ourselves as righteous, any surprising problem that we approach and try to solve, is usually taken to be ethical by default. 

For example, if we are on a desert island, with a recently deceased flight seat neighbor, and you are starving, would you eat the person? Maybe. Would it be ethical? Illegal, yes. But in that moment, you don’t have anyone opposing your view and in some ways, your body, like for love, is screaming for attention, so that in the end, you don’t really have a choice in the matter, and eat him. It is only after you have been saved, that you would have to defend your decision against angry ethicists that are trying to convince you that what you did was wrong. But did you have any real choice in the first place?

The only way in which we know if something is unethical (in my opinion), is from hearing about someone else’s circumstances, that express the opposite of our conviction. In the case of the deceased flight seat neighbor, the ethicists weren’t there, and the neighbor didn’t exist in the world anymore, so his consideration cannot be valid. 

Similarly, when having kids, there isn’t that second side with which to have a dialogue with, even for years and years after the kid was born. Philosophy isn’t intuitive, and infants cannot argue for their position, especially not when they are babies. Because there is no dialogue, there cannot be an opposing point of view, which inevitably leads to the conclusion, that it’s ethical to have kids!

The only way in which to infer that antinatalism is the way to go, is for people to speak up, and genuinely wish they weren’t born (though this type of argumentation has its own problems). Others will say that they are glad they are alive. It is telling however, that people would react disagreeably towards such a question, because many didn’t really have a choice of becoming a parent. It also makes their action open to attack, a position that, if anything, they tried to avoid by having kids.

The trick to the whole thing then, is to simply don’t think about it. Any school of thought/indoctrination that restricts say homosexual love (which is just love is in many ways seen as wrong already. Denying the morality of having kids then, like denying love is therefore wrong in the exact same way.

In the end, society seems to suggest that it’s best not to ask such a question. Asking about the light switch would waste people’s time, energy and potential happiness. Therefore, there is no discussion to be had, there is no problem, or at least an absurd one. Doing so, liberates our selves from living strange, “good” lives, and allows us to live happier ones, which in some circles, would mean to live a good life in the first place.

One thought on “Why Having Children Might not be Immoral After All

  1. Very interesting post. I want to have kids, and the more I think about why I want to do so, the more I realise that I don’t have a good reason. I just want to have kids.
    I will support anyone who decides not to have kids, because it’s a lifelong commitment. As the young people say, “You do you.”

    Like

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