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Of the many arguments that bolster antinatalism, I'm contemplating only consent here:

Consent: The fact that life contains suffering might be tolerable under certain circumstances, i.e. if one could choose they want to live such a life. Actually, we are all here without our consent. Our parents condemned us to suffering and death because of their own, personal wishes; no one can deny that. (Forced marriage and pregnancy in some regions of the world is the obvious exception. Still, it is people other than the parents who are responsible in that case.) Consent is an important moral principle, though. It is the reason why it is illegal to sexually abuse a drunk person, or to produce child and animal pornography.

One might now argue that most people do not complain about their birth in hindsight. Apart from the fact that they might do complain if procreation were not taken for granted by society, the argument does not hold moral value. When you approach a stranger in the streets, break their arm and then gift them a suitcase full of cash, they can justly sue you on grounds of battery. You can not argue that you wanted to benefit them on the whole. You have simply inflicted suffering on somebody without their agreement.

A lot of people counter the consent argument by saying that the unhappy could simply kill themselves. While that is true, it is problematic for several reasons. In order to entertain the idea of committing suicide, most people have to have experienced a substantial amount of suffering. On top of that, suicide is difficult to realize as it requires you to overcome your survival instinct, which takes much strength. Even if you achieve this, it is not easy to overcome your body. Jumping off a tall building, for example, requires additional courage, moreover such a method can end up traumatizing or injuring other people. Further, no method is really safe: Jumping off high buildings or bridges, shooting, poisoning, hanging, self-immolation, electrocution etc. are methods that can be survived. They all include the risk of ending up severely disabled in the worst case, resulting not in salvation but in a harder life.

Suicide is a social taboo – which also makes it more difficult. Were it seen purely as an alternative to living, and physicians performed assisted suicide, it would already help a lot. Instead, you have to keep your suicide plans a secret and rely on delicate methods. You are not granted the option to say farewell to friends and the like and usually die alone. A lot of people do not commit suicide because they do not want to force anybody to put with disposing of their remains once they are found. If suicide were accepted in society, you could die with medical assistance, pain-free and among familiar faces. You could easily donate your organs and therefore even help others.

Yet this summary doesn't counter this Reddit natalist's argument that "[i]f, at the time of the action, there is no someone then consent is not breached":

The point is that the concept of consent doesn't make sense when manipulating non-sentient elements. The physics of life creates sentience. The proposal of anti-natalists here is that making people occurs without consent of the person made, but it misses the point that people don't make people, people make sexy times.

The antinatalist then purportedly tries to transfer the consent to the newborn who obviously can't, didn't, and never can, consent to childbirth.

Many people make new people on purpose (some even get medical assistence [sic] to accomplish it). I grant you that many also are made unintended.

The main problem occurs when the offspring realise they are trapped in a system they have little or no control over, which is very hard to get out of. Some don't agree with being subjected to the unneccesary, sometimes constant suffering lives involve.

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    I think it would be better to consider arguments from some book or article and not from reddit comments. Or if you don't have any such references maybe try to spell out in your own words what you find confusing about consent-based arguments for anti-natalism? – Eliran Mar 14 at 3:16
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    By the same token a non-existent entity might have chosen not to exist, one could argue that a non-existing entity would not choose to not exist. Point is "consent" cannot be a moral principle unless the subject is capable of exercising consent, you may as well as ask whether animals have give consent to being excluded from pornography. Also, for interest: philosophy.stackexchange.com/q/56011/33787 – christo183 Mar 14 at 6:55
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To argue against any position on the basis of lack of consent is cogent only if consent could have been given. Otherwise absence of consent is irrelevant. Because an Egyptian Mummy cannot give its consent to being displayed in a museum, it does not follow that it is morally or in any other way wrong to display the Mummy. (There may be conditions of display imposed by respect for the dead but that is a separate matter.)

Where consent cannot be given, as in the case of our being brought into existence (through procreation or by reproductive technology), the consent condition is incapable of fulfilment: we can neither consent nor decline, refuse or oppose our being brought into existence. Consent presupposes an agent who can give or withhold consent: consent to being brought into existence implies the prior existence of the consenting being that is brought into existence and this is logically impossible. The whole matter falls beyond the realm of consent. Other considerations must be brought into play.

Such considerations turn, I suggest, on the moral irresponsibilty of our being brought into existence. But is it morally irresponsible to create a human life ?

Benatar argues that it is better never to have been born because of the harms always associated with human existence. Non existence entails no harm, along with no experience of the absence of any benefits that existence might offer. Therefore, he maintains that procreation is morally irresponsible, along with the use of reproductive technology to have children. Women should seek termination if they become pregnant and it would be better for potential future generations if humans become extinct as soon as humanely possible. These views are challenged by the argument that while decisions not to procreate may be rational on the grounds of the harm that might occur, it may equally rational to gamble under certain circumstances that future children would be better-off experiencing the harms and benefits of life rather than never having the opportunity of experiencing anything. To the degree that Benatar's arguments preclude the potential rationality of any such gamble, their moral relevance to concrete issues concerning human reproduction is weakened. However, he is right to emphasise the importance of foreseen harm. (Len Doyal, 'Is Human Existence Worth Its Consequent Harm?', Journal of Medical Ethics, Vol. 33, No. 10 (Oct., 2007), pp. 573-576: 573.)

'Doesn't answer the question !' I can't, because neither consent nor the lack of consent can do the work the antinatalist requires of it. All I can do is to explain why, as it seems to me, this is so.

Benatar D., Better never to have been: the harm of coming into existence, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2006.

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Disclaimer

My personal/emotional tendency is towards antinatalism -- One of my v early memories is telling my mother "Why did you bring me here? I do not want to be here!" [This is an aside]

However... Intellectually I would argue against antinatalism thus:

A Fundamental assumption

on which antinatalism is based is that we come into being at our (physical) birth. To most of the world's religions, in particular the oriental ones, this is untenable, illegitimate, wrong, nonsense. The very fact that the word "soul" exists and has some semantics contradicts this.

And if we are not born at our physical birth then nonconsent is at the least questionable.

Some ancillary facts

  • Kanchi Shankarachya said: To be a Hindu one need not believe in any God god(s). But one must believe in soul and afterlife (and by implication before life).

    Likewise:

    • Meister Eckhart
    • New Testament : The sin against the Father is tolerated and the sin against the Son. But not the sin against the (holy) spirit.
  • Aurobindo gently mocked the Christian idea that souls get generated like flies in the rain and then live on eternally. IOW unidirectional eternity is self-contradictory.

    [I personally believe that rebirth/metempsychosis/cosmic soup was perhaps pervasive and universally axiomatic even in the Judeo-Christian world — like say atoms are today — but was forcibly elided probably at Nicea ]

  • Even Wordsworth said

    But Trailing clouds of glory do we come
    From God who is our home

    The whole may be worth a read]

    Christians invariably understand this as a theistic christian god. It could also be understood as the cosmic soup.

  • One Indian holy man said to me:

    ana jana hota reheta hai. (coming-going is in endless cycles)
    Even Ram has to come again as Krishna

    (Ram/Krishna are the most standard monikers for God in the Hindu tradition. That divinity however does not free them from the compulsion to birth.)

    The subtle point he was making (if I understand him right!) : If you wish to be free you must relinquish the effort to exit the cosmic process and instead accept life, death and everything in between as the will of God.

  • A dying Jew inspirationally renders the same truth

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Based on the Antinatalism Reddit site here is a definition of antinatalism:

An antinatalist is someone who generally deems human (and often all) reproduction morally wrong. [my emphasis]

Here is the first part of the "consent" argument that the OP quotes:

The fact that life contains suffering might be tolerable under certain circumstances, i.e. if one could choose they want to live such a life. Actually, we are all here without our consent. Our parents condemned us to suffering and death because of their own, personal wishes; no one can deny that. [my emphasis]

The OP wants to know if we can argue for antinatalism given this lack of consent argument and states:

The antinatalist then purportedly tries to transfer the consent to the newborn who obviously can't, didn't, and never can, consent to childbirth. [my emphasis]

However, in spite of the antinatalist claim that one cannot deny the lack of consent, there are people who claim that we did give consent prior to birth. For example, Elizabeth Carmen references Edgar Cayce. She claims:

Edgar Cayce made a strong case by insisting that we choose our families, our parents, and even make agreements, where possible, to choose our spouses and children. This is not to infer that changes in plans will not occur, but we should be aware of the vast amount of planning that is done before our earthly incarnation.

What does this show? It shows that the antinatalist claim that "no one can deny that" we are here "without our consent" is a false claim. Whether one agrees with Carmen or Cayce or not, they are actual examples of people who in fact do deny the antinatalist claim in spite of the fact that antinatalists say "no one can deny that".

The OP would like to know if one can make the antinatalist argument stronger regarding consent. The antinatalist is currently being deceptive. If they want to make their argument stronger they need to stop being deceptive and address the people who reject their consent claim rather than pretend or assert that they don't or can't exist.

Furthermore, it sounds odd when antinatalists bring up the idea that reproduction is "morally wrong". On what antinatalist grounds could there be moral obligation, moral right or wrong? The antinatatlist view of reality appears to be too shallow for moral obligation.

Antinatalists, to make their argument stronger, need to address moral obligation because those who claim, in opposition to them, that we did consent prior to birth likely have a deep enough ground to raise issues of moral obligation from their consent perspective. And that obligation is not likely to be favorable to the antinatalist position.


Carmen, E. "Do we Choose our Parents before Birth?" http://cosmiccradle.com/do-we-choose-our-parents-before-birth/

Antinatalism Reddit https://old.reddit.com/r/antinatalism/comments/567ozk/reasons_for_antinatalism_my_attempt_at_a_simple/?st=jsuv4gaj&sh=b3615b6c

  • I think you are interpreting "no on can deny" too literally and uncharitably. Of course anybody can deny anything. What is meant is most likely "no one can reasonably deny". – Eliran Mar 14 at 20:48
  • @Eliran I think antinatalists are deliberately being deceptive when they use such a phrase. I would even reject the "no one can reasonably deny" variation as a deception using Carmen, Cayce and likely others if I search the internet for people who take that position. – Frank Hubeny Mar 14 at 20:52
  • They may be, but you still need an argument as to why and how consent is being given prior to birth. What you cited is merely a statement of opinion without any reasons or argument to support that statement. – Eliran Mar 14 at 20:54
  • @Eliran The OP is asking for how to strengthen the antinatalist argument from consent. I gave the OP two ways that argument could be strengthened: (1) address those who claim we did give consent, and (2) address moral obligation. The OP didn't ask for an argument in favor of or in opposition to the antinatalist consent view. – Frank Hubeny Mar 14 at 20:56

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