More shocks could be in store. Next week we'll talk about David Benatar's view that coming into existence is always harmful, so nobody should have kids. It will be wonderfully thought-provoking discussing this, especially because one of my students is due to give birth next week. This should be very interesting.
Benatar's book Better Never To Have Been: The Harm of Coming into Existence is highly readable, and you can also get the main idea from an article in this anthology (which contains lots of other good material). See here for a very sane review of the book by David DeGrazia,
Here's Benatar's argument in a nutshell (explained with the help of my graphic, above)--
(1) In some respects coming into existence is harmful. Any life is bound to contain pain and other bad things. If Rod and Penny (see above) choose future #2, the absence of Lydia's pain (etc) will be good. If they choose future #1 they will harm her, as far as pain (alone) is concerned.
(2) In fact, though, they foresee that Lydia's life will be like most people's--mixed. Surely the pleasure she'll enjoy will make up for the pain! But no. Focusing now on the good--e.g. all the pleasurable moments in her life--the absence of them in future #2 would not be bad. If she never exists, it won't be bad for her that she doesn't have those pleasures. So choosing future #1 won't benefit her pleasure-wise.
(3) Final score: choosing future #1 harms Lydia (painwise) and doesn't benefit her (pleasure-wise). So they shouldn't have her.This argument has the upshot that parents (most people) have done something wrong, while childless people are innocent of this wrong. What if you reject (2) and say that Lydia is benefited by the good parts of her life in Future #1? Then you acquit all parents, but must see a problem with childless people. They could have made new people, thereby benefiting them, but didn't. So one way or another, you're going to find some degree of fault with a procreative choice--either faulting parents or non-parents.
Ideally, you'd fault no one, right? But it's hard to see how to justify that, to say the least. I'm inclined to think we should reject (2) and see Lydia as being benefited in Future #1, pleasure-wise (and so overall, if her life will be predominantly pleasurable). That means acquitting parents, but seeing a problem with childless people. But don't worry, not much of a problem, and I think we can live with it.
Essentially, by admitting that coming into existence is beneficial, you admit that having kids is one of the beneficial things people can do. It's not neutral. That doesn't mean everyone should have as many kids as possible, or even that everyone should do this good thing rather than other good things. It just means that there's "credit" for having kids, and childless people don't get the credit--but of course can get credit for other things. Some will find that intolerant, but why?
It seems there's a touchiness about childlessness that nobody has about other sorts of -lessnesses. We don't hesitate to recognize the benefit of being a Peace Corps volunteer, just because most people don't do it. There seems to be a worry here about childlessness in particular. Since the childless are in a small minority, and sometimes people are not childless by choice, our thinking becomes politicized.
It would be awfully strange if we allowed solicitude for the childless to incline us toward Benatar's argument, and therefore toward welcoming the extinction of human life (yes, that's what Benatar is arguing for). In fact, so strange I think it would make a marvelous plot for a movie (screenplay by Margaret Atwood, please).