Antinatalism is a philosophical position that assigns a negative value to birth, standing in opposition to natalism. It has been advanced by figures such as Arthur Schopenhauer, Emil Cioran, and David Benatar. Similar ideas can be seen in a fragment of Aristotle's Eudemus as "the wisdom of Silenus" and were discussed by Schopenhauer and Nietzsche. Groups that encourage antinatalism, or pursue antinatalist policies, include the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement.
Arguments for antinatalism
Some supporters of the antinatalist position assert that antinatalist policies could solve problems such as overpopulation, famine, and depletion of non-renewable resources. Some countries, such as India and China, have policies aimed at reducing the number of children per family, in an effort to curb serious overpopulation concerns and heavy strain on national resources, although these policies cannot be interpreted as discouraging all birth in general.
In the long term, overpopulation could lead to increased conflict over dwindling resources. Paul Ehrlich, in his book The Population Bomb, argued that rapidly increasing population would soon create a crisis, and advocated coercive antinatalist policies on a global level in order to avert a Malthusian catastrophe. Although no crisis occurred in the timeframe he expected (his predictions in 1968 anticipated disaster by the late eighties), he stands by the book and maintains that without future depopulation efforts the problem will worsen.
Arthur Schopenhauer argued that the value of life is ultimately negative because any positive experiences will always be outweighed by suffering which is a more powerful feeling.
Whoever wants summarily to test the assertion that the pleasure in the world outweighs the pain, or at any rate that the two balance each other, should compare the feelings of an animal that is devouring another with those of that other.
Schopenhauer thought that the most reasonable position to take was not to bring children into the world:
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 upon it in cold blood?
Norwegian philosopher, Peter Wessel Zapffe remarked that children are brought into the world without consent or forethought:
In accordance with my conception of life, I have chosen not to bring children into the world. A coin is examined, and only after careful deliberation, given to a beggar, whereas a child is flung out into the cosmic brutality without hesitation.
More recently, David Benatar has argued from the premise that the infliction of harm is morally wrong and to be avoided. He argues that the birth of a new person always entails nontrivial harm to that person, and therefore there is a moral imperative not to procreate. His argument is based on the following premises:
- (1) The presence of pain is bad.
- (2) The presence of pleasure is good.
- (3) The absence of pain is good, even if that good is not enjoyed by anyone.
- (4) The absence of pleasure is not bad unless there is somebody for whom this absence is a deprivation.
If someone exists, there is the presence of pain and the presence of pleasure. If no one exists, nothing bad happens and pain is avoided. They miss out on pleasure, but it seems 'ignorance is bliss' with the nonexistent. For Benatar, “any suffering at all would be sufficient to make coming into existence a harm”. The harm that coming into existence creates is avoidable and pointless. According to Benatar, it is always good to avoid harm whenever possible and therefore it is always good not to come into existence.Furthermore under Benatar's implicit negative utilitarianism, one should avoid creating needs whether or not they will probably be satisfied. If there was no need for a tail before flies were invented, then better no tail and no flies. So opines the old Donkey in George Orwell's Animal Farm. The basis of this philosophy is to avoid all suffering and deprivation, all else falls under mitigation. From this position, mitigation would be 'making the best of' life in the face of its constant risks and demands. Antinatalists deny that mitigation can successfully get a positive from a negative, so existence remains futile even though one may adopt an existentialist, life-affirming outlook.This is actually a crucial pro-antinatalist argument that presupposes a value on rational argumentation itself; As a rational species we rarely affirm, enable or indeed perpetuate arbitrary practices, let alone some that may be seen as costly or outright malignant. Do we make an exception for life? Can we logically articulate why?
Becoming a parent and rearing children is not guaranteed to bring happiness. Using data sets from Europe and America, numerous scholars have found some evidence that, on aggregate, parents often report statistically significantly lower levels of happiness, life satisfaction, marital satisfaction, and mental well-being compared with non-parents.
List of antinatalists
- Arthur Schopenhauer
- Karl Robert Eduard von Hartmann
- Julius Bahnsen
- Matti Häyry
- Ulrich Horstmann
- Philipp Mainländer
- Emil Cioran
- David Benatar
- Seana Shiffrin
- Peter Wessel Zapffe
- Edgar Saltus
- Fernando Vallejo
- Richard Stallman
- Abul ʿAla Al-Maʿarri
Criticism of antinatalism
Antinatalism is conditioned by the belief that suffering is a vice, pleasure a value. Friedrich Nietzsche explicitly rejected this belief, as an unprovable and undesired axiom. Against Schopenhauer, Nietzsche considered compassion – as a virtue – to be a child of Christianity. For Nietzsche, suffering was as important to life and evolution as was pleasure and compassion. Further criticisms of antinatalism may come from views that hold value in bringing potential future persons into existence, but there are also views holding that there is no such obligation.
- Church of Euthanasia
- Discovery Communications headquarters hostage crisis
- Greek Gospel of the Egyptians
- List of population concern organizations
- Natalism, the counterpoint to antinatalism
- National Alliance for Optional Parenthood
- Nietzschean affirmation, a contrasting stance in favor of life, by a one-time follower of Schopenhauer
- Peter Wessel Zapffe
- Population control in order to decrease population growth
- Reproductive rights
- Negative Utilitarianism
- Voluntary Human Extinction Movement
- Schopenhauer, Arthur. Parerga and Paralipomena, Short Philosophical Essays, Vol. 2, Oxford University Press, 2000, Ch. XII, Additional Remarks on the Doctrine of the Suffering of the World, § 149, p. 292.
- E. M. Cioran, The Trouble with Being Born
- Benatar, David (2006). Better Never to Have Been. Oxford University Press, USA. doi:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199296422.001.0001. ISBN 978-0-19-929642-2.
- Dixon, Brian, E. (28 April 2008). In food crisis, family planning helps
- Meadows, Donella (1993): Die neuen Grenzen des Wachstums: die Lage der Menschheit: Bedrohung und Zukunftschancen. Stuttgart: Dt. Verl.-Anst. ISBN 3-421-06626-4
- Heinz Werner Wessler (30 January 2007): Indien – eine Einführung: Herausforderungen für die aufstrebende asiatische Großmacht im 21. Jahrhundert. Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung
- "Effects of Over-Consumption and Increasing Populations". 26 September 2001. Retrieved 19 June 2007
- Paul R. Ehrlich; Anne H. Ehrlich (2009). "The Population Bomb Revisited". Electronic Journal of Sustainable Development 1(3): 63–71. Retrieved 2010-02-01.
- Schopenhauer, Arthur. Studies in Pessimism: The Essays. The Pennsylvania State University, 2005, p. 7.
- Belkin, Lisa. "Does Having Children Make You Unhappy?". The New York Times. Retrieved 19 November 2013.
- Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, http://www.iep.utm.edu/hartmann/
-  Matti Häyry, The rational cure for prereproductive stress syndrome, Journal Of Medical Ethics, 2004, 30(4), pp. 377–378.
-  Matti Häyry, The rational cure for prereproductive stress syndrome revisited, Journal Of Medical Ethics, 2005, 31(10), pp. 606–607.
-  Matti Häyry, Arguments and Analysis in Bioethics, Rodopi, 2010, pp. 171–174.
- E. M. Cioran, The Trouble with Being Born
- Seana Shiffrin, Wrongful Life, Procreative Responsibility, and the Significance of Harm, Legal Theory 5, 117–148 (1999).
- Saltus, E. The Philosophy of Disenchantment
- 'No le veo ninguna razón a la vida, no la puedo defender'
- RMS -vs- Doctor, on the evils of Natalism
- Do Potential People Have Moral Rights? by Mary Anne Warren. Canadian Journal of Philosophy. Vol. 7, No. 2 (Jun., 1977), pp. 275–289 (online)
- Morgan, Philip and Berkowitz King, Rosalind, "Why Have Children in the 21st Century? Biological Predisposition, Social Coercion, Rational Choice", European Journal of Population 17: 3–20, 2001
- Steyn, Mark (December 14, 2007). "Children? Not if you love the planet". Orange County Register (Santa Ana, California). Archived from the original on 16 April 2008. Retrieved 2008-04-29.
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