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Please receive this question as having come from a young person who wants to have children, but given the state of affairs (climate change, growing costs of living and wealth inequality, "technology", the human condition, etc.) is considering to not have children.

What information would you give them to aid their personal investigation, and how would you leverage the great thinkers who have considered this topic?

For the purposes of this question, I propose the following premises to be taken as true:

  1. This is a question many young people today are seriously considering for themselves
  2. There is a maximum sustainable population for the human species (i.e. the decision will be "forced" at some point)

A bit more context -

As someone who has had the time to read Russell's thoughts on population control and Plato's view of eugenics (among others), I genuinely struggle to answer this question for myself despite living a rather privileged life as a software engineer.

I split this into two categories, though it seems they may trend to unite.

  1. Choosing not to have children
  2. Being forced to not have children

The first is most relevant to the question. It is observable, for example, via the decline of birth rates in the US and the Aging of Japan.

The second is relevant in as far as the two premises become united (or perhaps in more ways). It is observable, for example, in China's One-child Policy and in the prediction that birth rates will taper off.

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    Related: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antinatalism – jpa Jan 11 at 18:19
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    I don't think a "negative birth rate" is possible. The linked PDF seems to just show a declining birth rate. Japan's birth rate is still positive though. – Buge Jan 12 at 6:55
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    Well, they removed my comments because of expressing my opinion too freely :) So again, hopefully now this will be allowed. The evolution will naturally eliminate the anti-natalists and that's exactly what such a strategy earns. Hopefully they will not have enough time to force us the normal ones to not to have children, like the American abstinents succeeded in the 1920s in forcing their opinion to the rest of the nation with terrible consequences... – Honza Zidek Jan 13 at 10:15
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    @HonzaZidek: It was clear that Godwin's Law would apply to your comments. I'm done talking to you. – Eric Duminil Jan 13 at 10:26
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    Your post makes it seem like you think global living conditions are getting worse. Do you have any idea how wrong that is? Global living conditions are the best they have ever been in human history, and are trending for the better in almost every considerable measure: violence, poverty, access to nourishment, access to technology, etc. – Bridgeburners Jan 13 at 20:20

11 Answers 11

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Just to offset some of the negative comments, here are some arguments in favor of having children (at least conditionally / depending on one's worldview):

  • Besides overall population size, there are questions about the distribution of the population that results from such decisions. Some groups are likely to continue to have large numbers of children, such as religious fundamentalists, and will raise their children under their worldview. This will change how decisions about the future are made, most obviously in democratic societies. Of course one may debate whether those decisions are better or worse.
  • Regarding dissuading children from becoming "technologists" as stated in another comment, of course technology might also help address some of the problems -- e.g., improved renewables, perhaps even figuring out nuclear fusion power, better materials that appropriately decompose... What we need is for people to work on the right problems.
  • Another common concern is economic: with low birth rates, there aren't enough young people to support the old, and the young become extremely overworked (e.g., Japan).
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    Plus children give you immense joy, and experience immense joy themselves, and are hence a great value. – Ask About Monica Jan 13 at 17:32
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    @AskAboutMonica, uh well so can adopted children so I certainly don't see that as an argument for having your own as opposed to adopting. – StartupGuy Jan 14 at 0:15
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    I'm surprised this is the top answer and it's unfortunate the comments were hidden so quickly. Other pro-natalist positions below do a much better job of providing useful reasons, which makes me wonder why this is so heavily upvoted. The three points included here hold more slant than substance: #1 reproduce more than the enemy #2 hypothetical: maybe technology will solve all of the worlds problems and #3 we need population growth so the children can pay for the old. Do other people here find these points convincing and/or helpful? – TCP Jan 14 at 20:58
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    I don't understand why you think these points are more "slant than substance" -- you are just arguing by being dismissive. We can argue about the relative importance of them, but certainly many people consider them important. E.g., many countries are seriously worried about #3, and introduce large-scale campaigns such as the "Do it for Denmark" campaign to get the birth rate up. We can argue about whether that is well advised, but given the importance that many people assign to this issue, dismissing it as "slant" seems unjustified. – present Jan 15 at 0:06
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    The inclusion of the example "Do it for Denmark" already made the answer more substantive. I think each of these would be interesting discussions and I'd be interested in having them in an appropriate venue, though comments do not appear to be that venue (as noted by their being move to chat). Should we, for example, make a separate post about the spectrum of ethics of a country paying to advertise to adults to have more children (presumably because they were choosing not to)? – TCP Jan 15 at 1:31
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Check out http://old.reddit.com/r/antinatalism. The FAQ is a good start.

Reasons for Antinatalism (My attempt at a simple introduction to the subject) : antinatalism

Reducing Suffering: Arguably the most common motivation of antinatalists is the fact that one creates suffering by having a child. If you reproduce, you can be certain that your child will experience suffering. Illness, sadness, existential dread and injuries are the most obvious consequences. Other forms of suffering, like bullying, rape, violent crime, abuse and discrimination, are not guaranteed, but they are not improbable. Sometimes suffering manifests itself in ways that are so ordinary that you might not even think of them straight away. However, we all constantly experience suffering in the form of hunger, thirst, desire to void, work, physical exertion, tiredness, frustration, disappointment and many more. All of those are inconveniences without which life would be far more comfortable. Work for example even takes up a significant amount of our time. Who he has a child usually condemns it to decades of work.

One might argue now that some sufferings like hunger and tiredness are balanced out by delights like eating and sleeping. On the one hand, though, such an argument is only true for those who enjoy eating and sleeping, on the other hand, and more importantly, such delights only appear as positives as they release us from a suffering. And while a suffering like hunger gets painful after some time and can eventually kill you, its release through eating only lasts shortly. After a few hours, hunger appears anew. We as humans are permanently obedient to our basic urges and needs. If we do not relieve sufferings like hunger by eating regularly, our body downright tortures us to death. You do not to express it so drastically, but on closer consideration, our lives turn out to be an endless attempt to reduce major and minor suffering.

The argument of reduction of suffering is still weighty if you do not count states like hunger as suffering. Even if you ignore major harms like severe injuries and diseases that befall a lot of us. Take into consideration the following: Every procreative human knows that terrible atrocities like rape and torture could happen to anybody at any given time. The risk might be low in some cases, but every person who procreates takes the risk of it happening to his child. They gamble in a way – the stake being the life of a person that has no say in that situation.


Veganism: A newborn will probably consume animal products in his lifetime. A vegan who has a child consciously takes the risk that animals will suffer as a consequence of their actions. Whoever truly cares about animals should reconsider having children. (Note: not every antinatalist is automatically a vegan.)


Environmentalism: Some people take the view that humans damage the planet and thus refrain from having children. In my experience, they constitute a minority among antinatalists.


Adoption: Why should you have a child of your own when there are so many orphans in the world? There is not really anything to add to this reason. I should remark here that antinatalists do not oppose adoption. They can very well have children that way and often see providing an orphan with a new home as a noble deed. If you decide to invest your resources in raising a biological child instead of helping an already existing one, you just create more life capable of suffering instead of helping somebody in need.


Religion: Religion could lead to antinatalism for various reasons. Personally, I have never personally met a person with such a motivation , so I can not say with certainty in what way it might actually occur.

Classical Buddhism expresses several antinatalist ideas. The thought that life is suffering is already thousands of years old. Religious views underlie personal interpretation of course. That Buddhists aim to attain nirvana (interpreted by many as “non-existence”) by preventing their rebirth could possibly bring somebody to antinatalism. The principles of suffering reduction and overcoming bodily urges and constraints are stated as well.

Those who believe in some sort of hell and do not want to inflict suffering should not procreate either. If you are convinced that your own child might end up in hell, or is even born a sinner, and still subject them to that risk, your moral principles are questionable.


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.


Hedonism: Even though it does not count as antinatalism, which describes a philosophical position, I want to mention the “Childfree” movement. Its adherents decide not to make and raise children for personal reasons. They often justify that in view of their dislike of children or the financial and time-wise burden a child places on their parents. As they are not philosophically motivated and also oppose adoption more often than not, they are not antinatalists. Notwithstanding, they are an important community as women in certain parts of the world (and less frequently men) are urged into procreating by their surroundings for social or religious reasons. In extreme cases, they are accused of egoism, unmanliness or immaturity if they remain childless. The Childfree movement opposes such societal constraints and makes people question child-rearing in general.


Overpopulation: This is not necessarily about antinatalism either. The fact that overpopulation and climate change may get problematic should be clear to everyone. Even many pro-natalists are aware that at least controlled population growth or controlled population reduction might be necessary in order to avoid a catastrophe. Pondering on population issues can make someone an antinatalist.


Benatar's Asymmetry: Philosopher David Benatar presents in his book “Better Never to Have Been” an asymmetry that exists between existence and non-existence. I can not outline his whole work on here; reading his book is heavily recommended. Put simply, the asymmetry illustrates how not existing is preferable over existing in any case. When you exist, you experience positive things, which is good, and negative things, which is bad. When you do not exist, you do not experience negative things, which is good. You also do not experience positive things, which is not bad, though, as not experiencing good things is only perceived as suffering when it is deprivation. Thus, non-existence is preferable as you do not experience suffering and are also not able to miss the delights you miss out on. To put it in a rather humorous way as an analogy: Have you ever felt pity for the poor non-existent inhabitants of Ernst Thälmann Island, for they can not behold the beautiful Caribbean beaches?


Russian Roulette: Now, I want to offer an analogy that everybody should take to heart: When somebody reflects upon having a child, he would accept the risk of his child experiencing affliction, a congenital disorder for example. If he goes on to create a child, he decides to gamble. He plays a game of Russian Roulette, only that he does not point the gun at his own but at the head of another person that did not agree to take part.

Let us suppose you conceive a child that has a severe disability and the child asks you why you went ahead and procreated if you knew about disabilities. What would your answer be? That nobody ever expects to be affected by such grave things themselves? I do not think a satisfying answer could be found.


Politics: If you are unhappy with the politics of your country or the world, you should reconsider whether it is acceptable to force children into this system. Even in wealthy countries, huge inequality exists and the majority of people depends on working in a capitalist system (that some call exploitative) just to fight for a right to exist. If you have a child, you force them to work and risk that they get poor at some point down the line. On top of that, you support the current system by feeding it another person.

Precisely speaking, people are already subject to massive coercion during their childhood. They are forced to attend school and are under parental authority right from the start.


Egoism of Having Children: Birth usually results from a wish of the parents. The parents never act in the child's interest – having children is always an egoistic action. The reasons for it vary: You want to prove your maturity or manliness, you find babies cute, you need a worker for the family business, you want your family tree to grow bigger, you want to create workforce or soldiers for your nation, you want to outnumber other states or religions, you dream of a storybook family, you want to bind your partner to you, you crave appreciation, you want to realize your squashed your childhood dreams vicariously through your child, and so on.

The point is that procreating is always a egoistic decision. No non-existent child is begging you out of nirvana to finally introduce them to the world.


Pointlessness of Life: For all we as humans know, we can only assume that life is pointless. We are born onto a piece of rock dashing through space as part of a process of chemical reactions, only to die some years later and suffer and crumble into dust in the end. Pointlessness is seen by some as something positive, but having a human suffer needlessly by giving birth to them is questionable. That pointlessness only further strengthens the case for the suffering and the consent arguments.


Since I like quotes:

“If children were brought into the world by an act of pure reason alone, would the human race continue to exist? Would not a man rather have so much sympathy with the coming generation as to spare it the burden of existence, or at any rate not take it upon himself to impose that burden upon it in cold blood?” - Arthur Schopenhauer

“It is curious that while good people go to great lengths to spare their children from suffering, few of them seem to notice that the one (and only) guaranteed way to prevent all the suffering of their children is not to bring those children into existence in the first place.” - David Benatar

“A coin is examined, and only after careful deliberation, given to a beggar, whereas a child is flung out into the cosmic brutality without hesitation.” - Peter Wessel Zapffe

“Things change in an instant. Two things, however, are certain. Everyone will suffer. And everyone will die.” - Jim Crawford

“I was alone in that cemetery overlooking the village when a pregnant woman came in. I left at once, in order not to look at this corpse-bearer at close range, nor to ruminate upon the contrast between an aggressive womb and the time-worn tombs-between a false promise and the end of all promises.” - Emil Cioran

“If destruction is violence, creation, too, is violence. Procreation, therefore, involves violence. The creation of what is bound to perish certainly involves violence.” - Mahatma Ghandi

“Despite the fact that neither anti- nor pronatalists can prove their positions, pro-natalists have to live with the possibility that they might be wrong. That is a heavy burden to carry, and a heavier burden to pass on to subsequent generations. Antinatalists don’t have a similar burden. When action is taken on their side and a child is not born, no harm is done. No one has to suffer and die.” - Thomas Ligotti

“The idea of bringing someone into the world fills me with horror. I would curse myself if I were a father. A son of mine! Oh no, no, no! May my entire flesh perish and may I transmit to no one the aggravations and the disgrace of existence.” - Gustave Flaubert

“Never to have been born is best but if we must see the light, the next best is quickly returning whence we came. When youth departs, with all its follies, who does not stagger under evils? Who escapes them?” - Sophocles

“Every existing thing is born without reason, prolongs itself out of weakness, and dies by chance.” - Jean-Paul Sartre

“When we are born, we cry that we are come to this great stage of fools.” - Shakespeare, King Lear

“Why is it that we rejoice at a birth and grieve at a funeral? It is because we are not the person involved.” - Mark Twain

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    @gerrit: OP basically seems to be asking "what are the arguments for/against having children". (Though I'm not sure that's really a stackable question, as it's basically just asking for lists like this one.) – V2Blast Jan 13 at 9:58
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    Man those quotes are from a bunch of downers. I don't even live a great or exciting life and I would still much rather be alive than never having a chance to experience things. – JMac Jan 13 at 18:16
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    Not sure about the "reducing suffering" part. If no one else had children, the final generation would suffer greatly in old age, as they'd have no one to care for them. Similarly, it's possible that a new child will grow up to cure cancer, or figure out cold fusion. Having a child increases the amount of suffering that individual experiences (compared to not being born), but having a child can actually reduce net suffering for the population as a whole. If you believe there's less suffering in the world today than 100 years ago, this must be true. – Nuclear Hoagie Jan 13 at 18:18
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    Wow, what a load of unmitigated propaganda. Pretty much everything quoted in this answer is false. Just to destroy the first point: Not having a child might potentially reduce overall suffering, but having a child can equally increase overall joy and happiness. All this nihilistic propaganda assumes that happiness cannot exist at all, and that every living creature on Earth would be better off killing itself immediately. This is demonstrably not true. – GreySage Jan 13 at 22:20
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    These are actually some well-put anti-natalist arguments. Simply complaining (out of emotionally-driven disagreement with anti-natalism) that they are downers, propaganda or negativity does nothing to refute them. Providing natalist arguments also won't automatically refute anti-natalist ones (good arguments can coexist both for and against a given position). Only pointing out flaws in provided arguments will refute them. – Danijel Jan 14 at 14:17
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There's a lot of popular misconceptions about population growth. I strongly recommend Our World in Data, some particular conclusions reproduced below:

One of the big lessons from the demographic history of countries is that population explosions are temporary. For many countries the demographic transition has already ended, and as the global fertility rate has now halved we know that the world as a whole is approaching the end of rapid population growth.

[...]

Peak population growth was reached in 1968 with an annual growth of 2.1%. Since then the increase of the world population has slowed and today grows by just over 1% per year. This slowdown of population growth was not only predictable, but predicted.

They estimate that the world's population will stabilize at around 11 billion by 2100, with population growth almost completely ended by then. This isn't a weird crank perspective, it's driven by the UN demographers' "medium variant" projections.

Crucially, the number of new births has essentially already been stable for 25 years and growth in population is now driven pretty exclusively by people living longer, much of which is improvements in health and the prevention of disease. Does that sound like something to be afraid of?

This isn't to say that a planet of 11 billion people doesn't pose any challenges, but it does mean that the narrative of endless exponential population growth that cannot possibly be sustainable simply isn't true. Your question presupposes that there is a maximum sustainable population for the human species: my answer is that as long as it's more than 11 billion we don't anticipate running into it, at least for the next century.

Demographics aside, here are some more concrete thoughts:

  • Look around you at the people in your immediate vicinity. How many of them wish they'd never been born? Do you think the ones who are glad to be alive are making a mistake?
  • Do you think standards of living 50 years ago are better, worse, or the same as today? I think people can legitimately disagree about this but I think they're better:
    • the case is clearest cut for improvements in women's rights, gay rights, trans rights, etc.
    • think about what's happened to access to clean water, electricity, transport and communications,
    • I think the ability of the internet to foster new communities to grow is more good than bad, even if it has created a few new cultural cesspits.
  • If you agree with me that today is better than 50 years ago, and you essentially agree with me that a lot of the reason why has been human social and technological progress, is it easy to decide whether 50 years from now will be better or worse than today? Isn't "better" a good default guess? (I realize there's a lot of details I'm omitting, but "forecasting the future of humanity" is an enormous subject that I can't really do justice here).
  • Every mouth to feed is also a brain to think and hands to do. The problems facing people can mostly be fixed by people – particularly by conscientious, thoughtful, intelligent people. We need more of those. I don't know whether it's easier to make new ones by promoting conscientiousness in existing people or by making new ones from scratch, but I don't think it's unreasonable to try the latter method.
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  • Thanks Ben, the resource you linked was helpful. I particularly liked the section explaining why number of children per woman declined. The major reasons included increased education of women, increased workforce participation, contraception, and increased quality of life for children. – TCP Jan 12 at 22:31
  • If some study says we could sustainably support 15B people based on resources, yet empirical fertility rates achieve an equilibrium at 11B, isn't that the same thing as empirically denying the 15B theory? And would the people merely be choosing to not have children based on quality of life? – TCP Jan 12 at 22:32
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    @TCP we could sustain 15. We will not need to because people’s reaction on track to moderate the number of children they will have. The reason for 11 billion is not because extras will die due to a lack of resources. It’s that people will chose to have 2, not 6 children, and cap population that way – Tim Jan 13 at 1:12
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    We are not living anywhere near sustainably now, so there is no evidence we can live sustainably even with 6 or 7 billion people, perhaps not even with 1 billion people. Until we transition to a sustainable society, evidence suggests we are too many people already. – gerrit Jan 13 at 9:37
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    From my research (I have done a lot of research but I am not a scientist) I think in 2050 (and before 2050 really) we will have serious shortages of food and perhaps shortages of clean water too. And I mean shortages in the wealthy countries not just the poor. Food prices will at a minimum skyrocket and so on. – Gordon Jan 13 at 14:59
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What are the ethics of having children today?

The ethics are the same today as they have been since people were people.

It is good to raise children who are healthy, happy, and able to remain so in the face of all the challenges in the world. My wife and I have raised two children. Have we succeeded? Not sure yet. So far, so good. I'll give you my best guess when our grandchild is an adult. That's all anybody can say.

As for the suffering in the world, evil and pain have always been with us. That issue is not new. Concerns about overpopulation have been an issue for centuries; the solution has been to produce more food.

Spoiler alert: raising a child is a lot of work. If you do not want to put in the hours, then do not have children.

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    "Concerns about overpopulation have been an issue for centuries; the solution has been to produce more food." - This is how we ended up with most of the living mammals on the planet being in farms. – user253751 Jan 13 at 11:02
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    @LaiM.Mus. How did you get from the ethics of raising children to nuclear bombs to whether my specialty is law? – Mark Andrews Jan 29 at 1:44
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As a potential parent, you personally should primarily be concerned about your potential children's well-being. If you don't have what it takes to be a good parent, don't like children or cannot adequately support your potential offspring, it's better not to have any. You may think it's impossible to know those things beforehand, but it's actually quite simple: volunteer to babysit someone else's children for an evening or two, and try to live on a tighter budget for a month: if you can't stand kids after a few hours and find it difficult to put some money aside instead of spending it on yourself, you shouldn't get your own kids, at least for the time being.

Don't get the impression that you can make a significant impact on the world's future by not having children (or having as many as possible). If your goal is to influence the Earth's population growth rate, your time will be better spent by getting into politics or sociology and promoting your point of view. And if you want future generations to adopt your ideas about climate change, technology, or something else, consider becoming a teacher and teaching other people's children the way you think humans should behave.

PS. Several answers here revolve around the idea that having children is important because the one who passes their genes on "wins the game". Personally, I believe that the importance of this game is overestimated. None of the individual genes are at risk of disappearing, in fact two unrelated humans typically share 99.4% of the genes, and the risk will go away completely once genome editing becomes available. Playing the "survival of the fittest" game in a modern society which supports disabled people, promotes adoptions and provides benefits for having more children is like swimming against a strong current: you will soon find that most of your efforts are undermined by the way other people behave, and some of them (like teaching your kids some aspects of eugenics) can be outright punished.

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    I think the second paragraph is spot on, as for the first: nature will help you a bit. When your child is born that little person immediately becomes the most important thing in the world and any sacrifice to make life better for him or her will be futile. Of course you should be able (and not only willing) to make those sacrifices in terms of time and resources. – Ivana Jan 13 at 12:20
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    @Ivana True, but not everyone feels that way about kids, and at least in the developed world, you don't have to have any kids if you don't want to, instead of having them anyway and wait for the nature to help. Oh, and futile means "pointless", I think you meant to say minor. – Dmitry Grigoryev Jan 13 at 14:25
  • I think that "volunteering to babysit someone else's children for an evening or two" is the best advice if you want someone not to have kids :) I remember that before I had my own, whenever I had had to deal with someone else's kids I was persuaded to stay without kids! But it was like a miracle: as soon as my own first baby was born, suddenly it changed me. The shit stinked the same, the puke cleaning was the same disgusting, but suddenly I did not mind, I enjoyed having my kids. This is just how we are biologically programmed. Babysitting is like trying a parachute from 10 metres. – Honza Zidek Jan 14 at 11:22
  • @HonzaZidek Well, I actually believe that some people would be better off without kids, and, more importantly, their kids would be better off if they had someone else for parents. They may not admit it, but from the side you can clearly see that kids are a burden for them. And then there are people who really enjoy kids, and not only their own: daycare personnel, school teachers etc. Many of those people could have easily get another job if they wanted to. – Dmitry Grigoryev Jan 14 at 12:04
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Life is a constant struggle for limited resources

When we talk about life on this planet (and perhaps on others, but that is a different topic), first thing we notice is that nature is cruel. Different species, as well as individual beings, are constantly fighting each other in order to survive. Plants are limited for herbivores, hunting grounds and prey is limited for carnivores, water is limited, even sun is limited. Humans did create societies and civilization to somewhat alleviate this problem, but fundamental essence remains : we must fight for what we want because there is not enough everything for everyone.

Second thing we observe in the nature is that moderation in life's struggle is not a virtue. Meek do not inherit earth, at best they must be content with scraps. Those who wield power and are not afraid to use it usually come at the top. Yes, it is not a wise thing to pick a fight with everyone for everything, but to succeed in life you must hold your ground and be prepared for conflicts to get what you want.

Third thing to understand is that ideologies like antinatalism are insidious way to remove competition. Considering limited resources we mentioned above, it would be very clever to persuade your potential competition that life is not worth living, that they should not have offspring, they should think about "greater good". And you know what then ? When your brainwashed competition removes yourself from gene-pool, you and your descendants are free to rule the world ! Especially if those committing biological suicide are among more intellectual and educated (those uneducated and less intellectual are far less likely to be persuaded this way, because they are closer to primitive nature).

Fourth thing to remember is that environment does not have value of its own. Before the humans even existed nature occasionally wiped out thousands of species, for example in Permian–Triassic extinction event. And before that for millions of years Earth was lifeless rock, and could become such again without human intervention. Life as we know it is not something special for the universe and for nature itself. At best, it is a tiny aberration on a single planet (or couple of them, if extraterrestrial life exists). Therefore, trying to "preserve environment" is a either a fool's play, or like antinatalism insidious destructive ideology created to disable those who adhere to it. That does not mean that humans as such should not protect environment, but only to the extent this protection does not become opposite to their own interests of survival.

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I won't address your feeling that the world is heading toward some great disaster. I don't share this opinion, but I don't have the energy to discuss it in details here. Instead, I would say there is what Spinoza calls the conatus, which I think should prevail. I don't think disappearing in the void is a solution to any problem.

I also think that seeing the only future for mankind on earth is quite shortsighted. You may think we just won't have time to escape to other planets. But again, I don't share this sense of urgency.

Finally, consider the idea that the one who wins in nature is the one who reproduce and pass his genes to future generations. And the one who is right is also the one who wins. Given this, I would support your choice not to produce offspring, because mine might benefit from the space you left while disappearing in the void.

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    Welcome to SE Philosophy! Thanks for your contribution. Please take a quick moment to take the tour or find help. You can perform searches here or seek additional clarification at the meta site. – J D Jan 13 at 1:17
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    Thanks, the Spinoza reference and its contents are helpful. The game theory snark does not seem to contribute to the answer. – TCP Jan 14 at 4:34
  • If you consider the idea that the one who passes their genes on is the winner, you should accept that you will inevitably be beaten by amoeba and tardigrades. – Dmitry Grigoryev Jan 14 at 7:36
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Having children of your own is neither right or wrong - you need to figure out what you really want in your life and then make the best out of it that you can. It sounds to me like you are idealistic and thoughtful, that you want to contribute to making the world better; these are very good traits, that the world needs a lot more of. My recommendation is therefore that you should have children and teach them to be open-minded and caring about the things you feel are important, and help them to learn the skills that will be beneficial in solving the problems they will face.

I think it is often possible to live a good life, even through difficult times if you have the right skills and mindset, so you shouldn't focus solely on whether you will be producing children into a hopeless future. The future of the world is grim, that's true, but it isn't hopeless.

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I'm going to have to challenge the Question quite a bit here.

What are the morals of not having children? By not having children, you miss out on all the good things, the fun times that children bring to a family and a parent. You also miss out on the personality of the child as it grows. What if your child is the genius that solves all the world's problems, or at least some of them?

Granted, the last point isn't statistically likely to happen, but there are plenty of people making a big difference about how the world is run, and they were once children.

A look from outside the box

No matter how bleak the world looks right now, you don't have any way to know the results by the time your child is born, let alone what happens by the time they are school age, college age, or beyond. Yes, the worst of the worst could happen, but what if it doesn't? What if you miss out on all the good things in rearing a child, because all the bad things you feared never actually happened?

Even though there is hunger in this world, there's still plenty of food being produced to feed everyone. The only real problem is distribution, which is often caused by the people "in charge" of it.

Even though there is homelessness in this world, there's a large amount of housing that isn't being utilized effectively.

Even though there is unemployment in this world, there are jobs that don't have enough people working in them.

Even though there's garbage, waste chemicals, and more polluting this world, there are any number of people, companies, and government agencies working to clean them up. The real problem here is those who are actively working against the progress of cleanup.

Even though there is hate, violence, and more "evil" in this world, there are plenty of people working to curb this as well as being kind themselves. There really is a lot of good and hope in this world if you know where and how to look for it. If all you ever look at is the news and similar media, you'll likely only be provided with the negative, since that's what some people think they want to see. Too many times, people helping others isn't shown unless it's a "slow news day". My question is why does "news" only apply if it's negative? A partial answer may be that people helping others is expected and that "news" should only apply when something is unexpected.

Your Question, and some of the other Answers, verge on nihilism. If that philosophy were true, what would be the meaning of continuing your own existence? What would be the meaning of going to work every day, eating, breathing, adopting, or anything else? If nihilism was true, then there is no meaning in anything, including your Question or any Answer. The reality is that everything has meaning if we give it meaning. The words you are reading right now and I'm typing have meaning, because we give them meaning. In this same way, a life has meaning if we make it have meaning. Giving life to a child also has meaning if we give it meaning.

Change up the flow a little

So now the question becomes: does life have meaning if it ends dramatically or violently, or if it's lived in times of massive despair and trauma. Again, if we give that life some meaning, then it's not wasted.

Many religions are based on the suffering of a specific figure. Christianity is based on the suffering Jesus was put through. This is more than just the suffering on the cross, but also the suffering surrounding his birth, his dealings with the sick and poor, the suffering in regards to his temptation by the devil, and more.

Buddhism also revolves around suffering, specifically the removal of it. Siddhārtha Gautama was originally from a rich family and was protected from all the suffering of the world. When he found out that not everyone was as well provided for as himself, he ventured out into the world in an effort to remove that suffering. He got into a variety of groups, including those who inflicted suffering on themselves. Siddhārtha eventually realized that putting more suffering on oneself doesn't release others from pain and suffering, so he set out to find his own path, which eventually developed into the 8 fold path. Siddhārtha became the original Buddha (which literally means enlightened one), but even he was tempted by an evil spirit.

Almost every religion is based on relieving people of their fears and allowing them to live a life that's no longer crippled by those fears. If that's what it takes for you to feel better about society to have kids, then maybe you should start looking there for your validation, instead of the internet. Many people are atheists and still live happy, productive lives without being crippled by fear. Some people just ignore the fear they have and live regardless of it, whether they have religion or not.

More considerations

Not having kids can have a positive outcome. Maybe you focus more of your time and money to change the world for later generations, even if it doesn't include your offspring. Maybe you adopt and provide a wonderful life for kids without their own parents. Maybe you live your life without being tied down to a desk job and get to travel, enjoying the world as it is. There's all kinds of things that can be done without kids, but that doesn't mean they can't be done with kids.

This leads to the fallacy of the false dilemma. Just like most of the things listed in your Question and some Answers, most of the problems aren't just "Black and White". There are many shades of gray in between, along with plenty of other colors besides. Many of these things are only looked at negatively, which is only 1 of many sides of the story. We can look at single use plastic bags as bad, yet they were introduced in the 80's as a replacement for cutting down trees. People use them as garbage bags, instead of buying purpose made garbage bags. Some people use them for a variety of other things. We can even change the makeup of them to allow them to be more biodegradable, even though that's not a seemingly popular idea right now.

The idea of a false dilemma goes back to ancient Chinese days:

A farmer and his son had a beloved stallion who helped the family earn a living. One day, the horse ran away and their neighbors exclaimed, “Your horse ran away, what terrible luck!” The farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”

A few days later, the horse returned home, leading a few wild mares back to the farm as well. The neighbors shouted out, “Your horse has returned, and brought several horses home with him. What great luck!” The farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”

Later that week, the farmer’s son was trying to break one of the mares and she threw him to the ground, breaking his leg. The villagers cried, “Your son broke his leg, what terrible luck!” The farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”

A few weeks later, soldiers from the national army marched through town, recruiting all the able-bodied boys for the army. They did not take the farmer’s son, still recovering from his injury. Friends shouted, “Your boy is spared, what tremendous luck!” To which the farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”

The moral of this story, is, of course, that no event, in and of itself, can truly be judged as good or bad, lucky or unlucky, fortunate or unfortunate, but that only time will tell the whole story. Additionally, no one really lives long enough to find out the ‘whole story,’ so it could be considered a great waste of time to judge minor inconveniences as misfortunes or to invest tons of energy into things that look outstanding on the surface, but may not pay off in the end.

The wiser thing, then, is to live life in moderation, keeping as even a temperament as possible, taking all things in stride, whether they originally appear to be ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ Life is much more comfortable and comforting if we merely accept what we’re given and make the best of our life circumstances. Rather than always having to pass judgement on things and declare them as good or bad, it would be better to just sit back and say, “It will be interesting to see what happens.”

http://www.drmarlo.com/?page_id=181

Conclusion

And with that bit of advice that's wiser than anything else I can say, I'll say ado, and I hope you find the answer your looking for. I wouldn't be surprised if you find it within yourself, rather than from an external source.

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  • Thanks, I'm a big fan of Alan Watt's oration of the "Chinese Farmer Parable". It does seem to have limits in its applicability though, in that it doesn't absolve us of the responsibility of a moral conscience entirely. – TCP Jan 14 at 4:38
  • Also, I wouldn't consider "What are the morals of not having children?" to be challenging the question in that a thorough decision procedure would consider and evaluate all of the choices available. – TCP Jan 14 at 8:08
  • @TCP, yes, having a decision procedure to consider all options is good and why I added my thoughts, since most Answers at the time I wrote this seemed to say that having children was one of the worst things you could do. This is also what the Question seemed to imply as well. The body of the Question more than implied it. As for the Parable, it shows that things happen and we can't always control the outcome, good or bad. We also need to realize that stressing over every situation is rarely a good thing, because we don't know the outcomes. – computercarguy Jan 14 at 16:52
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It's a tough decision and a shame that it has become one. I feel desperately sorry for young people today.

I have no answer. In my opinion the population is so far beyond what can be sustained that it hardly matters how many more arrive. It is too late to prevent a catastrophe. So perhaps the issue is really about the sort of life your child will lead.

I wouldn't dare offer advice on such a crucial decision. It doesn't seem to be an ethical issue because there are too many ways of assessing the situation and it's too difficult to pin down the relevant factors etc. I know others who are facing the same decision and it's a tough one. I'd just say that if you do go ahead try to dissuade your children from becoming technologists and adding to the problem.

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    Who are those technologists anyway? Sounds like a job title of the guy adding salt, sugar and vinegar to the pickle jars. – Dmitry Grigoryev Jan 13 at 14:52
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    This doesn't really answer the question, as it seems more like a comment. It also doesn't add anything to the discussion, since the opinions provided don't offer anything more than a mirror of the OPs original question. – computercarguy Jan 13 at 18:47
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Please receive this question as having come from a young person who wants to have children, but given the state of affairs (climate change, growing costs of living and wealth inequality, "technology", the human condition, etc.) is considering to not have children. What information would you give them to aid their personal investigation, and how would you leverage the great thinkers who have considered this topic? For the purposes of this question, I propose the following premises to be taken as true: 1 This is a question many young people today are seriously considering for themselves 2 There is a maximum sustainable population for the human species (i.e. the decision will be "forced" at some point) A bit more context - As someone who has had the time to read Russell's thoughts on population control and Plato's view of eugenics (among others), I genuinely struggle to answer this question for myself despite living a rather privileged life as a software engineer. I split this into two categories, though it seems they may trend to unite. 1 Choosing not to have children 2 Being forced to not have children The first is most relevant to the question. It is observable, for example, via the decline of birth rates in the US and the Aging of Japan. The second is relevant in as far as the two premises become united (or perhaps in more ways). It is observable, for example, in China's One-child Policy and in the prediction that birth rates will taper off.

First, take a screenshot of the answer, section by section. SE’s mods don’t like me very much.

What information would you give them to aid their personal investigation......?

Please receive this question as having come from a young person who wants to have children, but given the state of affairs (climate change, growing costs of living and wealth inequality, "technology", the human condition, etc.) is considering to not have children. What information would you give them to aid their personal investigation, and how would you leverage the great thinkers who have considered this topic? For the purposes of this question, I propose the following premises to be taken as true: 1 This is a question many young people today are seriously considering for themselves 2 There is a maximum sustainable population for the human species (i.e. the decision will be "forced" at some point) A bit more context - As someone who has had the time to read Russell's thoughts on population control and Plato's view of eugenics (among others), I genuinely struggle to answer this question for myself despite living a rather privileged life as a software engineer. I split this into two categories, though it seems they may trend to unite. 1 Choosing not to have children 2 Being forced to not have children The first is most relevant to the question. It is observable, for example, via the decline of birth rates in the US and the Aging of Japan. The second is relevant in as far as the two premises become united (or perhaps in more ways). It is observable, for example, in China's One-child Policy and in the prediction that birth rates will taper off.

First, take a screenshot of the answer, section by section. SE’s mods don’t like me very much.

What information would you give them to aid their personal investigation......?

I used to know a buddy who can use his mind to make it rain when he cries. I once knew a girl who can make the wind blow with her mind. Weather wizardry can save our climate. Coal smoke filters work too. Otherwise the rain would taste a little sour.

  1. growing costs of living and wealth inequality

Learn why people need to redesign money and reinvent finance. We are not meant to live in a world where the more dollars fewer people earn, the more things cost for everyone else. In fact, I support the party that both lowers wages half as much as they lower the consumer costs of living into perpetuity. I can live as a motorcycle salesman alongside trillionaires and feel no different because in my dream, like yours, I live near a grand park where my children can play with others, even the trillionaire ones. Yes, trillionaire kids. Those kids.

  1. “technology"

Ahh, the turning point. The Deus Ex Machina of old Greek philosophy. We can push the population volume crisis horizon into the next few milleniums if we can build a few more liveable planets within Earth’s orbit around the Sun. Doable for a visionary? Why not set up a teleportation grid so that you can live in the country and have a side income using robotics to farm your land and sell you produce? Doable for a visionary?

  1. the human condition, etc.

Some people just don’t like babies no matter how muxh they can change a man’s and a woman’s life for the better. That is just a fact. Another fact is that having quality time with a baby can make you feel better being around them. Try it.

I split this into two categories, though it seems they may trend to unite. 1 Choosing not to have children 2 Being forced to not have children

See my earlier four points. Also, think about how to expand your tax base if it’s inevitable that despite our best efforts, the population declines terminally. Few children in our current civilisation means fewer taxpayers and to some extent lower taxes. If no one gives you a chance to start a business at 70, the age you are forced to retire, then your needs will be a burden upon the state and by extension, other people’s children. In a nightmare that may never wake into reality, you would be persuaded to be euthanised when you retire to prevent the hyperinflation risk some unwitting calculator in a welfare insurance firm says you are. I hope this is not you and the kind of future you have in mind.

Children are treasures even if some view them as coal for their fireplaces. May the spring thaw your mind.

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    There seem to be some relevant points in this answer. It could be improved by focusing on those rather than claiming that the moderators hate you and talking about "weather wizardry". Also, the top two quotes seem to have no purpose except for taking up space? – Harabeck Jan 14 at 17:21
  • You don’t believe my friends can change the weather? Well, you may never see birds the sam ever if you knew the God friend of birds – Singleminded Compass Jan 15 at 2:30
  • I’m still new and it would have helped if you asked if you can make the interface less cryptic. Also I don’t know how the repeated quotation appeared twice. If you had access to my keystrokes and other cyber nodes, you may find out how it got there. – Singleminded Compass Jan 15 at 2:33

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