Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Should Ours Be The Last Generation?

To beget, or not to beget.

I have often thought that, had I known 25-years ago what is known today about environmental degradation, overpopulation and the existential challenges that will beset the young throughout this 21st century, I would have had second thoughts about bringing children into this world. I have pondered this many times but I have rarely mentioned it because it never seemed to be on the radar of the younger, educated, affluent types having children today and it is such a personal question.

That said, I was relieved to see this very subject, posed as a philisophical question, in yesterday's New York Times. Here are a few excerpts but I urge you to read the entire piece here:

"Have you ever thought about whether to have a child? If so, what factors entered into your decision? Was it whether having children would be good for you, your partner and others close to the possible child, such as children you may already have, or perhaps your parents? For most people contemplating reproduction, those are the dominant questions. Some may also think about the desirability of adding to the strain that the nearly seven billion people already here are putting on our planet’s environment. But very few ask whether coming into existence is a good thing for the child itself. Most of those who consider that question probably do so because they have some reason to fear that the child’s life would be especially difficult — for example, if they have a family history of a devastating illness, physical or mental, that cannot yet be detected prenatally.

All this suggests that we think it is wrong to bring into the world a child whose prospects for a happy, healthy life are poor, but we don’t usually think the fact that a child is likely to have a happy, healthy life is a reason for bringing the child into existence. This has come to be known among philosophers as “the asymmetry” and it is not easy to justify. But rather than go into the explanations usually proffered — and why they fail — I want to raise a related problem. How good does life have to be, to make it reasonable to bring a child into the world? Is the standard of life experienced by most people in developed nations today good enough to make this decision unproblematic, in the absence of specific knowledge that the child will have a severe genetic disease or other problem?

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