Children into this world? Really?

By Matti Häyry.

People have children for various reasons. Some of these concentrate on anything but the child. God demands it, nature requires it, society needs it, family and friends wish it, people themselves want it. Others focus on the children. They would have a good life, a good-quality life, a life worth living, and they would and should be grateful for it.

In a paper recently published elsewhere, I address the child-regarding reasons. I argue that uncertainty provides good grounds for not having children. This is especially true when would-be parents have reasonable doubts concerning the child’s life quality. It may also be true more generally, but only on the acceptance of certain contested assumptions.

Risk and precaution

I have suggested before that all we need here is a serious commitment to precaution. Any human life can turn out to be so bad that it is not worth living for the individual experiencing it. Therefore, potential parents would be taking an unacceptable gamble by creating a new life. This is called the risk argument and some sources credit it to me.

Colleagues have been quick to point out, however, that the argument relies on a ridiculously timid attitude towards risk. We could not do anything, they argue, if we were hellbent on avoiding all disastrous consequences that our actions might have, everything going wrong. They can be right, of course. Perhaps gambling for a good cause is what we should do.

Every human life is bad

But is the cause good? David Benatar, a much more recognized figure than I am in the field of antinatalism, has questioned this. According to him, all human lives are bad, although most people are too pollyannaish to recognize this. Good things are transitory, few and far between, and overshadowed by grief and discomfort. And then we die.

Pollyannaish or not, most people do not buy this as a universal truth. My life is good, so there, rejected. In my paper, I try to give positional support to Benatar’s view. I would not mind exiting anytime. What if your child would not, either? Don’t be fooled by my Epicurean and Schopenhauerian ramblings. The beef is in The Offer That I Could Not Refuse.

State of the world

According to a recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, human life quality will decrease across the board during the next few decades. This knowledge makes many people think that they should not have children. Their thinking is, philosophically speaking, based on the risk argument, and I use their concern to recalibrate it.

All human life need not be bad and every conceivable minuscule risk need not be avoided to arrive at a reasonably safe positional conclusion. Since some people base their reproductive choice on their possible child’s life quality and since they believe that it would be unacceptably low, they should not have children. Q.E.D.


Paper title: If you must give them a gift, then give them the gift of nonexistence.

Author name: Matti Häyry

Affiliations: Aalto University School of Business

Competing interests: None.

Social media accounts: Twitter; Facebook: Matti Häyry; YouTube

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