Many people want to have children. But they might wonder: is it ethical to bring a child into this broken world, where she might suffer – and partake in – various harms and injustices? Others prefer not to have children. This choice also raises ethical qualms: is it ‘selfish’ to refrain from procreating? Are non-parents failing to contribute to the future of humanity – to the building of the next generation – in a way that we all should if we can?
It is tempting to dismiss such questions on the grounds that whether or not you have kids is a personal matter. It is surely nobody else’s damn business. It’s not up to the government or society to tell me. This question falls securely within the ‘private sphere’ that, in a properly liberal society, other people must respect and leave well enough alone.
True enough. But the mere fact that it is a private matter, something that others have no business deciding for us, does not mean that morality is necessarily silent on the issue. We can each, individually, ask ourselves: what should I do? Are there ethical considerations that we should take into account here – considerations that might help guide us as we attempt to navigate these intensely important, intensely personal questions? And if we do undertake such ethical enquiry, the answers we reach might surprise us.
Is it fair to your would-be child to bring her into a life that will inevitably contain significant amounts of pain, discomfort, suffering and heartache? In his essay ‘On the Suffering of the World’ (1850), Arthur Schopenhauer asked:
If children were brought into the world by an act of pure reason alone, would the human race continue to exist? Would not a man rather have so much sympathy with the coming generation as to spare it the burden of existence? Or at any rate not take it upon himself to impose that burden in cold blood?
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