Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Kantian antinatalism


  1. It is permissible to deliberately have children.

But there is a powerful Kantian antinatalist argument against (1). To decide rationally to have a child, one needs to have a purpose for the child’s existence. But to have a purpose for another person’s existence, no matter how good that purpose might be, is to treat that other person as a means rather than as an end. And that’s wrong.

Assuming the Kantian thesis that it is wrong to have an end for another person’s existence, the only way to block the argument against (1) is to find a way to rationally motivate having a child without having to have a purpose for the child’s existence. How can this be done?

So one needs a reason to have a child which is not grounded in having a purpose for the child. Such reasons can exist. For instance, if I promise you to make a scarf, my reason to make the scarf is grounded in my promise to make the scarf rather than in any purpose for the scarf itself.

This points to a way out of the Kantian antinatalist argument. A couple might have a duty, perfect or imperfect, to attempt to have a child. If so, they need not have a purpose for the child, but only a purpose to attempt having a child. Such a duty could come from a divine command or from some kind of natural law perspectives (both of which are compatible with the broadly Kantian opposition to treating others as mere means).

Few people, apart from Catholics, Orthodox Jews and optimistic utilitarians, think there is any duty to have children. But thinking that there is such a duty may be the best way to get out of Kantian antinatalism.


SMatthewStolte said...

The rule is that you cannot treat a person merely as a means, not that you cannot treat them as a means at all. The latter would lead to the absurd result that you could not engage in commerce or ask a friend for help, since both of these involve treating people as means (though they can both be done while treating them also at the same time as ends in themselves).

When bringing someone into existence, there is no need to do so without a purpose. There is only a need to make sure that you are at the same time treating the person as an end in itself.

S. F. Griffin said...

Is it kantanically wrong to treat an imaginary person as an end?

Michael Birdwell said...

I feel that this sentiment, while not something any Kantian would actually hold, was potentially formative to Schopenhauer's critique of pro-natalism, which itself has been blown out of proportion in modern times.

Anonymous said...

The Kantian Anti-Natalist approach seems pretty plausible but whilst I was reading “The Reality of God and The Problem of Evil” by Brian Davies, he mentions how on a Thomistic worldview (paraphrasing here), existing is an intrinsic good. I thought this argument I’ve made could possibly refute the Anti-Natalist position. Here’s how it goes:

The Thomistic Argument Against Anti-Natalism:

(1) To exist is an intrinsic good.

(2) If existing is intrinsically good, then the existence of children is good.

(3) So it’s not the case that it’s always bad to give birth to children. (by (2))

(4) If it’s not the case that it’s bad, there is no moral obligation to abstain from giving birth to children.

C. Therefore, Anti-Natalism is false. (by (4))

Anonymous said...

Update: I think (4) should say “no *absolute* moral obligation” instead.

Alexander R Pruss said...


I think more work is needed to justify the inference of (3) from (2).

Manasvini Verma said...

I was Cured of genital warts. Herbal medicine eradicates the virus, symptoms & Outbreak totally from within and has no side effects ... This is real and i apply it just two weeks and tested Negative he cures all kind of diseases. Contact Dr Oliha on email oliha.miraclemedicine@gmail.com   WhatsApp or call +2349038382931