By Matti Häyry & Amanda Sukenick


Antinatalism is an emerging philosophy and practice that challenges pronatalism, the prevailing philosophy and practice in reproductive matters. We explore justifications of antinatalism—the arguments from the quality of life, the risk of an intolerable life, the lack of consent, and the asymmetry of good and bad—and argue that none of them supports a concrete, understandable, and convincing moral case for not having children. We identify concentration on possible future individuals who may or may not come to be as the main culprit for the failure and suggest that the focus should be shifted to people who already exist. Pronatalism’s hegemonic status in contemporary societies imposes upon us a lifestyle that we have not chosen yet find almost impossible to abandon. We explicate the nature of this imposition and consider the implications of its exposure to different stakeholders with varying stands on the practice of antinatalism. Imposition as a term has figured in reproductive debates before, but the argument from postnatal, mental, and cultural imposition we launch is new. It is the hitherto overlooked and underdeveloped justification of antinatalism that should be solid and comprehensible enough to be used even by activists in support of their work.

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Thanks for sharing this article. I'm not very familiar with the moral philosophy debates about antinatalism, but I find the general thrust of the article quite confusing and uncompelling.

The article admits that 'the arguments from quality of life, risk, asymmetry, and consent do not seem to produce a reliable tool for the antinatalist activist’s kit', and then they go on to try to develop an antinatalist argument based on 'postnatal imposition' (basically, parents are 'imposing' ongoing suffering on their kids by having brought them into existence.)

I have two basic problems with this at sort of a meta-level.

First, the whole article reads as if the authors are determined to create some compelling antinatalist arguments, even if the previous arguments failed. They basically assume antinatalism is the correct moral-philosophical position, and antinatalist activism is righteous, and then they cast about for arguments that might be strategically and tactically useful to antinatalist activists. I come away with the impression that there are no rational or empirical arguments that could switch them from antinatalism to pronatalism. The conclusion is predetermined.

Second, from my perspective as an evolutionary psychologist, all such antinatalist arguments seem futile, at the evolutionary time-scale. Insofar as there are any heritable cognitive or personality traits that incline people towards antinatalism, and insofar as antinatalists actually have fewer kids than pronatalists, antinatalist tendencies will quickly be selected out of the population. To a large degree, of course, this has already happened -- which is why antinatalism is deeply unpopular, counter-intuitive, and apparently ridiculous to most people. Antinatalism as a philosophy would only 'win' (ie result in total human extinction) if very persuasive arguments were developed and spread so quickly that every human lineage self-terminated at roughly the same time, within a few generations. If even a few lineages avoid the antinatalist 'mind virus' (as I see it), then those lineages will become the ancestors of all future humans (and post-humans) -- and those future people will have even stronger cognitive, ethical, and emotional defenses against antinatalism than we do now.

To a psychologist like me, most of the antinatalist philosophy I've read so far just comes across as people universalizing their higher-than-average levels of depression, ingratitude, and pessimism as if it's shared by all other sentient beings. But, empirically, it isn't. The happiness research shows that most people are pretty happy most of the time. Especially in the modern world (as opposed to the medieval world, for example). One can say they're deluded about that. But that's a dangerously patronizing attitude to take -- one that's totally opposed to modern notions of autonomy, freedom, and democracy.

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