Recently, my lady friend and I talked about having children. She expressed an emotive inclination towards children, and I expressed emotive ambivalence and indecision. To work out my thoughts, I produced a version of what follows. I'm curious about what others think about the larger issues of Procreation, and attempts to justifying it.
: The desire to do X, or the desire to not do X, alone, are not adequate justifications for doing or not doing X. A serial killer's desire to kill, and a child's opposition to green beans, are not adequate justifications for either killing people or not consuming vegetables. Rational human beings assess other factors than emotional dispositions when discerning whether or not a particular act is right, good, proper, virtuous, moral, ethical, beneficial, or to be done.
Given that procreation is an act that has many significant consequences, and that emotive inclination is not an adequate justification for action, one needs to assess numerous questions regarding the act prior to pursuing or avoiding it.
Question 1: For whose sake is the child being spawned?
1: The child.
Question 2: Is existence better than, or more preferable than, non-existence?
2: Someone other than the child.
If 1: We must discern which of these two situations is the case:
1A: The child exists in a non-born, non-biologically-concepted state.
1B: The child does not exist in a non-born, non-biologically-concepted state.
If 1A: We must discern the nature of this non-born, non-biologically-concepted existence with respect to the non-born entity's preferences. If the entity prefers to be born, then it seems sensible to consider that preference of the non-born entity and spawn it, unless there are compelling reasons to act against its preference. If it prefers to not be born, then it seems sensible to act in accord with that preference, and so abstain from spawning it, unless there are compelling reasons to act against its preference.
If 1B: If the spawning is to occur for the sake of the child, and the child does not exist in a non-born, non-biologically concepted state, then that non-existent entity would lack preferences. In this case, we can only be acting for the sake of that child in a hypothetical imagined sense. We cannot properly say, in this case, that the child is spawned for its own sake. Rather, we must maintain that the child is born for another's sake, and hope that the child does not mind this once it is born.
If 2: This seems to treat the child as an object. When an individual creates a child for the sake of appeasing their own desires, or for the sake of acting in accord with some reasoned justification for procreation, this act privileges the individual's desires, or the sequences of reasoned justifications, over the child's own preferences. One treats the child as a means to someone else's end.
Generally, if Player A were to treat an entity as an object without due consideration for the preferences of that entity, then we would consider Player A to be acting inappropriately. The question is how one can spawn a child for the sake of someone other than the child, and insodoing not be engaged in an act of domination against the child that treats the child as merely a means to some end.
After considering Question 1, there seem to be two general conclusions.
1C1: Non-born, non-conceived entities exist that prefer to be born. Birthing these entities recognizes and actualizes their desires.
1C2: Non-born, non-conceived entities do not exist, or have preferences. Birthing these entities is an act that forces the entity into an existence for which it had no desire, for the sake of appeasing either the desires of another, or some other end. This reduces the entity to a means for some other's end.
1C1 seems silly. 1C2 seems problematic.
If existence is better than non-existence, then the question of whether the non-born entity prefers existence irrelevant. The entity either prefers the intrinsically preferable existence or the entity's preference for non-existence is mistaken. Again, there are two possible answers:
Question 3: Is the existence of humanity inherently good or preferable, such that its continuation is necessary?
2A: Existence is not inherently better. So, we're stuck at the conclusions from Question 1.
2B: Existence is inherently better, and we now must explain situations such as suicide and self-sacrifice, as these seem to offer stark conflicts with our conclusion.
Suicide: Suicide seems to indicate that there are situations in which non-existence is preferable to existence, and so reduces the inherent preferentiality of existence to a particular "some" claim, rather than a universal "all" claim. Some existences are preferable to non-existence, while other existences are less-preferable than non-existence.
Self-Sacrifice: Numerous individuals sacrifice their own life for the sake of some notion of a greater good. Yet if existence is inherently better than non-existence, what sense would there be in praising an act that removes an individual's existence? As with suicide, praiseworthy acts of self-sacrifice indicate times when non-existence is preferable to existence.
Given the two examples of suicide and self-sacrifice, the claim that existence is inherently better than non-existence is shown to be fallacious. Instead, it is the case that some existences are preferable to non-existence. With respect to procreation, we must ask whether the transition from non-existence to existence is, overall, preferable. While there are enjoyable aspects of existence, there are also painful, miserable, terrible aspects of existence.
In my estimation, subjecting a particular entity to a state of suffering is problematic, insofar as suffering is problematic. Since the majority of lives involve suffering, the majority of births are acts that subject a previously non-suffering entity to suffering.
One might respond that there is a tolerable level of suffering, and that a life that is 60% pleasurable may be preferable to non-existence. This is fine, but we must then ask a version of Question 1: Does the child to be born prefer a 60% pleasurable life? If so, how do we know this? If not, then it seems problematic to force the child into an existence it does not desire. We could state that the preferences of unborn-entity-B are irrelevant, but then we're back at Question 1.
3A: Humanity's existence is inherently good / preferable, and so continuing said existence is inherently good / preferable.
Question 4: Is procreation / parenting actually beneficial and enjoyable, for the parents?
3B: Humanity's existence is not inherently good / preferable, and so continuing said existence is not inherently good / preferable.
3C: Humanity's existence is neither good nor bad, preferable nor non-preferable.
To 3A: If humanity's existence is inherently good, then spawning a child for the sake of maintaining the existence of humanity can be considered to be inherently good as well. The qualifier is that the spawned child needs to foster the existence of humanity, rather than damage it.
To 3B: If humanity's existence is not inherently good / preferable, then its continued existence is not inherently good or preferable. Any particular individual can be considered to be naught but a perpetuation of the problem of humanity, a component of our collective blight on existence. In this case procreation would not be permissible.
To 3C: If we maintain that humanity is not inherent good or preferable then the question is meaningless.
Suppose we ignore our answers to the previous three questions, and adopt the mentality that procreation for the sake of appeasing an individual's emotive desire is inherently justifiable, itself. In this case, we need to ask whether having children actually manifests the intended pleasure or sense of emotional fulfillment the individual seeks. Human beings are notoriously inept at discerning what will actually make them happy, and so it seems reasonable to ask if parenting is an act that, generally, increases the overall happiness of the parent.
A quick googling supplies many empirical studies that indicate parents may be lying to themselves about the actual joy they experience in parenting. For example, this article indicates that when parents are presented with the economic facts of child-raising, they embellish the emotional gratification of parenting as a means of justifying their decision.
Were children inherently emotionally gratifying, the two groups in the study would have reported the same quantity of emotional gratification from parenting.
Another article indicates that adults with children experience more stress and depression than childless adults
. Given the economic impact of children, and the increased obligations children place upon adults, the results of the study seem reasonable. The question is whether that increased stress and depression is ultimately worth it, given the benefits one might experience from parenting. However, those perceived benefits need to be assessed in light of the previous article, which indicates that parents tend to embellish their emotional pleasure in order to mentally justify their having children when confronted with the detrimental aspects of parenting.
This last article assesses the economic cost of children with an appeal towards the greater societal impact of children with respect to the continuation of the species.
While this is a way of undermining the impact of the cost to a particular family by appealing to the notion of a greater social good, it places us back in the conversations of Question 3.
Given this data, it seems reasonable to conclude that parenting manifests both pleasant and unpleasant situations. The question is one of the ratio of pleasure to pain, the economic consequences, the impacts upon the parent's health, etc. It also seems reasonable to assess all of this with respect towards person's general inability to know what will actually make them happy, and so seek out ways to test one's emotive disposition towards parenting prior to spawning the child. One's imagined pleasures or imagined pains may differ from the actual pleasures and actual pains one experiences while parenting.
Once we dismiss one's emotive disposition, I think the most important question is the one with which I started: For whose sake is the child being spawned?
A person who desires to be a parent is generally obligated to be a parent for 18 years. The child spawned for the sake of appeasing that desire is burdened with its existence for, on average, about 80 years. Given that the child is responsible for itself for a far greater amount of time than the parent, it seems sensible to weigh the child's preferences as more significant than the parent's, with respect to its own existence. It seems quite unfair to burden a child with 62 years of personal responsibility in order to appease one's own desires for 18 years of parenting.
I think the question of suffering, and exposing one's offspring to suffering, is also relevant. It's the notion found in this Penny Arcade strip:
Parents seem to wish the best for their offspring. They desire to protect it and shield it from pain and suffering. Yet as the third panel indicates, growing up, itself, involves pain and suffering. One may strive to minimize the suffering, but it still occurs.
It would seem that the only way to ensure that one's child does not suffer is to refrain from exposing it to situations of pain and suffering. If one never has the child, then one never exposes the child to any suffering, at all. So, it would seem to be the case that if one seeks the least possible suffering for said child, then one would refrain from spawning the child. A non-existent child suffers less than an existent child.
That being said, a non-existent child also never experiences any pleasure. One could argue that refraining from procreation is an act that denies a particular non-existent child access to the pleasures of life. While true, I think this places us back in the question of what the child wants, Question 1, with respect to a desirable pain / pleasure ratio, and whether existence, itself, is preferable to non-existence, Question 2.
Those are the four questions that I think most important to the decision of whether one ought to procreate. I'm curious about what others think. Do any of the questions seem needless? Are there other important relevant questions? How did you decide to procreate, or not procreate?