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I have seen some of the common arguments for anti-natalism, one being David Benatar's asymmetry argument. I am worldbuilding for a science fiction story in which there are some technologically-advanced aliens. They are considering what they should do with regards to humans and other Terran organisms. For context, the aliens are considering creating a species of enhanced humans. These enhanced humans are created not by humans but by the aliens in laboratories, which they then bring to Earth. So, the aliens can create as many of these enhanced humans as they please.

Some of the aliens take a more anti-natalist perspective, citing the lack of consent for coming into being and the asymmetry argument. If a pro-natalist alien argues that anti-natalists deny potential lives the right to be alive, then an anti-natalist might say, "Suppose we go with your plan of creating some of these enhanced humans. When do we stop making them? For every number of these enhanced humans we create, you could always argue that there is another potential life being denied the right to live. We could go on producing arbitrarily many enhanced humans, and you would never be satisfied. It is better to avoid that dilemma altogether and just not make any enhanced humans". The amount of resources or even space is not an immediate issue for the aliens due to their technological developments. Creating these enhanced humans does not take very long, either. This is why I say this is more of a theoretical argument against pro-natalism; humans do not have the ability to create as many people as they want in a short amount of time. What could a potential counterargument against the anti-natalists look like?

(I know that this probably could have gone in the Worldbuilding Stack Exchange as well. I just think that it is philosophical enough to be more appropriate here.)

EDIT: Being more specific, I would say that the aliens could choose to produce, say, 1,000 individuals. But this seems like a really arbitrary number. Why not just make one more individual? Or 65 more? There is no clear line as to when to stop producing these enhanced humans. Any enforced limit feels arbitrary, but limits based on factors like too few resources or too little space do not lend themselves to strictly defined limits. There is a gray area because one more person is not going to strain the amount of resources or space available, but maybe a million will. That's the issue I'm trying to get at. Another thing that I should specify is that these aliens plan on replacing humanity entirely with these advanced humans, so the new humans will have Earth to themselves and if necessary could even live on other planets. The aliens are just deciding whether they should create a new civilization loosely based on humanity to inhabit the Earth after the original humans are gone.

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  • If the pro-natalists are kantian, and they believe they have a moral duty to allow the right to live to as many humans as they possibly can, then the objection that it will never be enough is inoperant. That's exactly their point: you have to do it as much as you can, so 0 is obviously the worst possible solution.
    – armand
    Dec 20, 2023 at 6:33
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    Please clarify your specific problem or provide additional details to highlight exactly what you need. As it's currently written, it's hard to tell exactly what you're asking.
    – Community Bot
    Dec 20, 2023 at 9:17
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    Surely the reply to the anti-natalists' "When do we stop making them?" is "When we cannot provide them with the circumstances for a reasonable prospect for a happy life"? Not to mention the prospect of spoiling the happy lives of those who already exist.
    – Ludwig V
    Dec 20, 2023 at 10:45
  • @armand I edited my post to make this more clear, but that's my point. If 0 is the worst possible solution, then what is the best solution? It just seems like whatever is defined as the "best solution" must be arbitrary and subjective unless done at the extremes (in which case an extreme is clearly not the ideal solution). Dec 20, 2023 at 23:21
  • As currently written, the problem for natalists is denying the right to life for every human they don't create. Not the right to a good life. So there can be no limit, just make as much as possible. To worry about the result of such a production is a consequentialist approach to moral, that's why i precised "if they are kantian". That said, I think the antinatalists are missing the obvious counter that you can't deny their "right to live" to people who don't exist yet.
    – armand
    Dec 21, 2023 at 0:25

3 Answers 3

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The obvious shortcoming of many moral positions is that they are too simplistic. If you take a single principle and apply it without considering any other factors, then you are almost certain to reach an untenable conclusion precisely because you have not considered any other factors. Take the principle that the advanced humans should not be denied the right to live- if you apply that blindly then you will conclude that you should create an unlimited number of them as quickly as you can, and stop doing anything else so you can focus all your resources on the task. Taken to an extreme, all the available land on Earth would be covered by advanced humans squeezed together like upright sardines, unable to move, and so on.

Practical judgements almost invariably involve the weighing of competing considerations. The suggested counter-argument of the anti-natalists- namely, that it is better to avoid a dilemma about when to stop by not creating any advanced humans in the first place- is another example of an over simplistic binary position.

Consider that a race capable of creating advanced humans is unlikely to have acquired that capability without a considerable amount of forethought about the consequences, so the arguments for and against will have been hammered out well in advanced of the capability maturing. If the advanced race were anything like us humans on Earth, their government will have established a body to consider the ethics of creating lives, the subject will have attracted extreme headlines in the advanced alien tabloid press, pressure groups will have campaigned for and against the issue, advanced alien talk-show hosts will have prompted heated debates from their advanced alien talk-show participants, and so on. All kinds of arguments for and against will have been heard, some of them patently nonsense. So if your book assumes instead that the subject will be debated for the first time by two of its characters, then I suspect some readers might say 'just as if'.

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"deny potential lives the right to be alive" is just not a very good argument, for the reason mentioned, because it's suggesting some moral obligation not only to refrain from acting, but to actively pursue the greater good. That's opening a can of worms.

While we could say it's obligation to refrain from acting for the greater good, and that acting in pursuit of the greater good is virtuous, it's going too far to say the latter is an obligation. That leads to being obligated to sell and donate all your possessions.

However, I don't find the anti-natalist position to be particularly convincing either. One could reject the Benatar's asymmetry, and the consent argument is less compelling when we deem life to be a net positive. But that would just be a direct question asking for counter-arguments against the various anti-natalism arguments, so I don't feel inclined to go too deep into that. Here are two questions about that I found from a brief search: Is Benatar's "asymmetry of pleasure and pain" wrong? and What is the best argument against the argument of consent in antinatalism?.

I'd probably go with a position somewhere in the middle, where you recognise the responsibility of creating life, and you handle that responsibly, while not having an obligation to create life, nor to refrain from doing so.

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I think the best way to go would be rejecting consequentialism, or at least rule utilitarianism. Consider the following issues:

  1. Harm and good are hard things to measure or ensure; how can you know that, by not disallowing giving birth, the amount of good one baby will grow up to do, minimising the pain for those who were born, regardless of whether that birth was moral or not, outweighs the suffering that people will go through being born? And if it is consequence of harm vs good that you care about, why apply rigid rules that may or may not lead to the least overall harm rather than doing it on the basis of individual actions and their consequences? The latter would be what would really minimise harm the most and so should be what the utilitarian would care about.

  2. The derivation of the existence of morality usually lends itself to a deontological approach, meaning ethics is based around a rigid set of universally applicable rules from a perspective of the action itself rather than its consequences. There's no foundation for antinatalism in this position.

  3. They could also maybe take a moral anti-realist position, saying that morality isn't a valid, objective concept and so they can do whatever they like.

For the consent issue, you could also say that lack of consent about our situations are unavoidable, and so instead of not letting people live they should instead be given the right to die at any point.

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