an interesting essay about the most basic of questions at The Stone. Should we make new people? The question has harder, harder, and hardest versions.
Hard. Are there already too many people? Have we already exceeded earth's "carrying capacity"? What's going to happen as we get to be a population of 9 billion in 2050? (I've been reading Matt Ridley's new book, The Rational Optimist, and he--surprisingly--says "nothing awful.")
Harder. Whats costs and benefits to ourselves and others should we pay attention to when we decide whether or not to have children? Take, for example, Japan's effort to encourage reproduction by paying people to have more kids. Presumably, the reason behind the policy is that new people are needed to support an aging population. Would it be bad if the financial incentive entered into someone's decision to have a child? Should reproductive decisions be purer than that?
Hardest. Do you (typically) "do good" by making a child--directly, with respect to the child? Singer summarized David Benatar's anti-natalist reasoning but didn't embrace it. (Benatar says you don't do good, and in fact you do bad.)
Here's a little thought experiment that's plaguing me. Suppose there's a remote and bounteous island. Just 100 people live there, though it has a carrying capacity of 1000. They can (1) not reproduce, so die out, or (2) reproduce so as to replace themselves, or (3) reproduce so as to increase their population.
When they ask the hard question, they see no obstacle to any of the options. When they ask the harder question, they see no obstacles either. Their desire for children has nothing to do with kids being good at climbing trees, and providing them with coconuts, as it might be.
But they ask the hardest question too. They want to be sure that by making children they are doing good, not bad--directly, with respect to the child. A simple soul says--we 100 are thrilled with life, despite our occasional problems. Yes, we occasionally step on a sea urchin or get a sunburn, but the good by far outweighs the bad. Collectively our existence is A Good Thing to the tune of X units. If we double our population, the new population's existence will be an even better thing--to the tune of 2X, to be exact.
Their reasoning seems impeccable. It certainly seems to show that option (3) is permissible. The trouble is that it seems to show more than that. It seems to show that (3) is obligatory (and (2) "next best"). There's the rub (and this rub is pivotal in Benatar's anti-natalist argument). Is there any way to stop the slide from (3) being permissible to (3) being obligatory? If not, is it so bad to think (3) is obligatory?