Friday, April 24, 2009

What's the point of a family if it all ends in death?

I found this very interesting. This chap thinks there is no point in having a family if we all die. An after life is required.

Actually, going off on a slight tangent, I do sometimes wonder whether it is morally acceptable to have children. Life can be great, but there is also a great deal about it which is absolutely horrific and terrifying, including the prospect of disease, and inevitable decay and death. What right have we to introduce beings who are then faced with that horror (which is crippling for many)?

When I was doing the B.Phil, a fellow student - very able - wrote her thesis defending the claim that it is morally wrong to bring children into the world without their permission (which they obviously can't give). I did not get to read her thesis or look at her arguments, but once you start to think about it, certain arguments do suggest themselves.

50 comments:

anticant said...

While I am grateful to my parents for having the optimism to bring me into the world, I have never had the slightest desire to follow their example, and the older I grow the more thankful I am that I don't have any children or grandchildren. The world in 20 years' time looks lime being a pretty horrendous place, and I'm thankful I won't be part of it.

Kosh3 said...

If they have the option of taking themselves out of life, surely things are more even. Of course, that won't account for any pain and suffering experienced growing to a point where one can feel suicidal, but...

z42 said...

I don't know how it is over there, but ending one's life is illegal in the USA. If you try and fail, you end up in a mental ward. If you succeed, your life insurance doesn't cover you. And of course, you can't have a real conversation about it because everyone thinks wanting to end one's life is crazy unless you're in the last stages of a debilitating disease.

I am not grateful that my parents made me. They weren't ready for kids when they started, and they still weren't in a good position to raise them when they had me. I don't blame them much, because they didn't know any better at the time. I wish they hadn't pushed me to go to school when I had no clear direction or interests. Now I'm in debt to my eyeballs and I still don't have a carreer or a compelling reason to live. I'd rather not exist than experience growing old and sick.

Of course, with this outlook, I would never have kids.

Peter said...

Stephen,

What arguments suggest themselves for the view that it's wrong to have kids without their consent?

Hannah said...

I totally agree actually. I think it's completely immoral to have kids, but I intend to have some anyway because I am greedy.

But yeah, it really is not fair on them. They're bound to spend lots of time being miserable and then have to give it all up any way, against their will, when they all die.

Not to mention because of our intelligence as animals, we have major psychological flaws I reckon. Maybe the human race will all die out one day because they'll just realise that it's pointless to carry on. :S

Stephen Law said...

Peter

maybe this: there's no moral obligation on us to bring into existence lives that are good; on the other hand, if we know a life will be bad, perhaps we are under an obligation not to create it. So, perhaps, not knowing whether the lives we introduce will be good or bad, but knowing there's a significant risk they'll be bad, we are morally obliged not to risk introducing such bad lives.

Stephen Law said...

Apologies for introducing such a depressing topic...

Nick said...

Was it immoral of you to raise a potentially depressing topic, given that regular readers of your blog would read it without consenting to the topic beforehand?
Is it immoral of me to do anything, given that something negative could always potentially result? Am I morally obligated to do as little as possible with my life and in the world?
Is it immoral to follow these moral obligations, as this might make life less interesting, and therefore less enjoyable and meaningful - worse?

anticant said...

I have scant patience with these mawkishly morbid attitudes to death, old age and illness. Being in my 80s and having had a potentially terminal illness for the past four years, I make the best of this phase of my life and don't bother about what may or may not happen to me after I die although the manner of my death is obviously a cause of concern.

"What's the point...if it all ends in death?" You may as well say there's no point in anything, so why bother to have any goals or ambitions in your life. What utter rubbish! Far too many things which happen to us are not within our control, but we do have effective choice in a lot of respects.

The issue around dying a 'good death' is whether euthanasia should be legally permitted in properly evaluated circumstances or whether = as its religious opponents groundlessly assert - human nature is so depraved that it would be too dangerous to allow those who wish to die to be helped to do so.

This is one of the numerous topics on which religious sensibilities run counter to what is increasingly the common wisdom.

James F. Elliott said...

Isn't this kind of the point where philosophy gets abstract and, well, kind of pointless? Kids happen. It's biology. Hell, it's really the only form of teleology that's inherent! There're too many qualifiers:

"I'm an alcoholic who lives in a place where crackheads shoot each other for pooping on their favorite stoops." Yeah, it's immoral for you to have kids.

"I live in a world with war and pollution and people who suck." Well, shoot, does that make it immoral? I don't know, but I'm not so sure anyone can.

At what point does this kind of question just become a big philosophical, prick-waving wankfest?

Jackie said...

I think the overpopulation / resource scarcity challenges we face is reason enough not to reproduce, or to only have one child. Having more is selfish. (And I do hate those quiver-full people.)

If you're going to create a human, you'd better be fairly capable to provide it with a secure, nurturing environment for the next 20 years. If you're not sure about your income, your living situation (i.e. marriage) is unstable, or you can't guaranty that a parental figure will be available whenever the child isn't in school, then having a child is irresponsible.

Many people are quite happy in their golden years, even with illnesses that often come with aging. But does that mean we should stigmatize those who don't want it? I think euthanasia should be available for adults who pass a psychiatric screening. Coming back to that resource scarcity thing, if someone really doesn't enjoy their life why should they stick around for another 20-60 years using up resources that could otherwise go to people who really want to be here?

Sabio said...

Anyone who believes families are pointless, are in good company. According to Bart Ehrman and others, Jesus was an Apocalyptic prophet. Jesus felt the end times were eminent and the son of man [not himself] would son arrive and establish Jehovah's kingdom. Thus Jesus felt that saving up food, money or sticking with family was totally pointless.

"If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple." Luke 14:26
(See also Mark 10:29 & Matt 19:29) According to establish exegesis methodology - if it is awkward and clear, it probably is what the dude said.)

Considering the "immoral to have children" question. I think most moral systems would allow it including Alonzo's (The Atheist Ethicist) Desire Utilitarianism. Is it immoral for grasshoppers to reproduce? Humans are so self-absorbed !

MrC said...

JFE and Sabio touched on an issue I argue about with my family occasionally. Every species has the obligation, desire, or purpose to propagate. Humans may have the ability to intellectualize their decision and make a choice, but it is biology and it's hardwired into the DNA if you will. So what if life is hard and the world sucks (not that I think it is), propagation of the species is what life (in general) is all about. And I don't understand anybody being so pessimistic about the world, it's so much better than it was 500 years ago and there's no good evidence it will not continue to improve in the next 500.

Natalie said...

This is a morbid topic but interesting nonetheless... Nick, I like your response. I suppose for every person it is different, but even with all the hardships, pain, etc. I am still thankful to be here.

There are plenty people out there who should not have kids (and yet sadly feel a social obligation to). "If you're going to create a human, you'd better be fairly capable to provide it with a secure, nurturing environment for the next 20 years." - well said.

I think it is mostly a selfish desire to have kids. Perhaps everything we do is selfish in one way or another.

Tom Morris said...

"a fellow student - very able - wrote her thesis defending the claim that it is morally wrong to bring children into the world without their permission (which they obviously can't give)"

You sure it wasn't an undercover anarchist constructing an elaborate analogy to argue against social contract theories? (Or an elaborate parody of the "I didn't consent" objection to social contract theory?)

Christopher said...

Given the focus on how treacherous the world is, there is, however, a very simple and defensible reason to have kids.

Bring them up properly and they will sort out the treachery.

The only way you can sort out the future is not to sit and hope 'it gets sorted out' - it's to take action and create the people who are going to do it.

To paraphrase slightly, the only thing that is required for the earth to go to shit is to do nothing.

im_michael_young said...

For religious people who believe in a literal enternal heaven or hell, the argument against having children would seem especially strong: if you think that there is any chance that your would-be child will spend eternity in hell, why risk it? Better not have children. (And if you believe that the child's final destination is a matter of their free will, it would seem you must think there is some chance of such an outcome). For the rest of us, as long as there is a guarantee of ending whatever suffering might occur, children seem a better bet morally. Maybe or maybe not a good enough bet, though.

It does seem to be the case, though, that most people count existence as a better alternative than non-existence. This seems to me to be enough to say that there is a (weak) presumption in favor of person-existence.

I suppose the trick here is not to go too far in the other direction-- in finding a reason which makes it moral to have children, will we oblige ourselves to have a maximum number of children?

Kyle said...

Who are you wronging or righting if you do not have children?

If you do not bring a child into existence then there is noone to be victim of your actions.

You cannot be better off or worse off if you don't exist since you do not have any level of well being.

Also, such an approach would undermine one of the main argument that abortion is moral: That a fetus is not a person and it is only morally wrong to kill persons. However, one could now respond that the abortion wrongs the non-existent person.

The Atheist Missionary said...

My wife and I had a lively discussion about this issue tonight and concluded that life undoubtedly (at least for us and our heirs) brings much more joy than despair. Most people, if given the option, prefer existence over non-existence and I would submit that the same preference should be attributed to their as yet unascertained issue.

Decay and death are nasty and getting old sucks. However, I am an atheist to the core and not at all mired in existential despair. Life is as meaningful or as meaningless as you decide to make it.

P.S. By the way Stephen, your flickr photos are exceptional. They made me feel like I was there in person - thanks.

get_education said...

Decay and death are nasty and getting old sucks. However, I am an atheist to the core and not at all mired in existential despair. Life is as meaningful or as meaningless as you decide to make it.----

Yup!

Jackylhunter said...

From my window the world is a pretty good place. Yes there are bad things or unpleasant things in the world.

Is it immoral to bring to children into the world? Surely, not. Not advisable maybe for some, but immoral?

If could be argued that if you are able to bring a child into the world, you are able to nuture that child for the next twenty years. Then maybe you are morally obliged to bring a child into the world. So they can continue to improve the world, to make it a better place.

Or we could give up...

Paul said...

I guess if everyone thought that bringing children into the world was a bad thing then none of us typing up these comments would exist to consider this topic. Like James says, whilst we could in principle control whether we have children or not it appears to be so much of our identity that philosophical considerations appear to clash badly with it.

Paul P. Mealing said...

This argument is very simple to me.

I never had children and have no regrets but I've been involved in the lives of other people's children and that has had its own rewards.

I've always argued that people who want to have children should have them and those who don't clearly shouldn't. The argument about birth control, and, abortion in particular, goes both ways. I argue that someone who doesn't want to have a child shouldn't be forced to. But likewise I argue that someone who does want to have a child shouldn't be forced to terminate, which also happens in some countries.

Suicide arises when a person can't see a future, whether that be delusional or not, or at least a future in which they will achieve happiness. Never underestimate the importance of hope in anyone's life.

Regards, Paul.

jeremy said...

Stephen (and others),

May I suggest "Better never to have been" by the head of philosophy at my old university for a useful presentation of the topic? I don't agree with him at all, but his arguments are extremely lucid and penetrating.

See, for instance, a review here (and Benatar's reply here).

Fundamentally, his argument is rests on a perceived deep asymmetry between pleasure and pain. "According to this deeper asymmetry, the presence of pain is bad and the absence of pain is good, but whereas the presence of pleasure is good, the absence of pleasure is bad only if somebody is deprived of that pleasure. If nobody is deprived of an absent pleasure – because the person who would have experienced the pleasure never existed – then the absence of that pleasure is not bad. I argued at some length for this asymmetry and then showed why it entails that coming into existence is always a harm (unless a life contains no pain)."

Hugo said...

"This chap thinks there is no point in having a family if we all die. An after life is required."
Yes, classic wishful thinking. "There is no point having a family if we all die. I think it would be nice and pointful to have a family. Therefore there must be an afterlife." He doesn't even offer an argument, just "I used to think it was pointless to have a family because if there was no afterlife, but now I'm a Mormon and believe there is an afterlife"! You've pointed out before, Stephen, the tendency of religious people to mistake explanation of dogma for justification of dogma.


Christopher: if there weren't any people in the world, then we wouldn't need to fix the world.


Kyle: "Who are you wronging or righting if you do not have children?"
No one, but if you do have children, you are wronging them.

Hugo said...

Jeremy, very interesting. From the review you mention: "For example, he claims that if there is no absence of benefit associated with non-existence then no level of harm is sufficient to justify existence; not even a pinprick!"

I've thought that for a while: that there is a curious asymmetry between pleasure and pain, and it also applies to suicide: that the expectation of any amount of pain in the future (even a pinprick) is rational grounds for suicide, and cannot be outweighed by even a huge amount of pleasure.

Timmo said...

Stephen,

What exactly is the argument here? Is it this?

(1) It is morally wrong to subject S to great suffering without the consent of S. [premise]

(2) If we have children, then we are subjecting those children to great suffering without their consent. [premise]

(3) Therefore, it is morally wrong to have children. [from 1,2]

z42 said...

That asymmetry between pleasure and pain that Jeremy mentioned, and that the pain of life outways the pleasures seems pretty convincing to me. Also, that there is no over arching purpose to life, and my pessimism about the future of the humanity, makes it very difficult for me to find any reason to continue. If I had some way of watching the world after I died, that would make me a lot more interested in its future. Since I won't exist at all, I won't look back with pride at what I achieved, regret at what I failed to do, or shame in the harm I caused. The only reason to strive for things it how it will affect me and others while I exist. I can't seem to think of anything to strive for that is both attainable and worth the work and pain I'd have to go through to achieve it. Yet, I'm in the minority here. Is this just a question of preference: cake or pie, chocolate or vanilla, existance or non-existance?

Paul P. Mealing said...

z42 said:

'there is no over arching purpose to life'But later said:

'The only reason to strive for things [is] how it will affect me and others while I exist.'Personally, I think the second quote provides the answer to the first.

As someone who has spent a large part of their life struggling against depression, I feel just a little qualified to talk about this.

When someone reaches the end of their life, I speculate that they don't reflect so much on their successes and failures, but on their friendships and loves - I'm sure I will, assuming I'm cogent enough to contemplate.

And there is, I believe, a connection between this and having children, though I've had none. I've always thought that, for most people, it is raising children and turning them into adults that gives meaning to their lives. This is speculation, I admit, but I've often wondered.

Viktor Frankl, in his book, Man's Search for Meaning, proposes 3 ways: through a project; through a relationship; or through adversity. It is the last that is universal, and finds resonance with ancient philosophers like Confucius and Scorates, who both endorse the virtue of self-examination; also a recurring theme in the I Ching. The point is self-examination only seems to come in the face of adversity or failure. I speak from personal experience of course.

Regards, Paul.

Dale said...

There's about as much point to this kind of thinking as there is to believing in gods, it's a moot point. I mean, sure, so you think it's immoral to have kids - what are you going to do about it? Same thing the gods are going to do - nothing.

Mike said...

The purpose of life is to reproduce. There is no afterlife.

Kyle P. said...

Mike, your assertion that the purpose of life is to reproduce is unsupported and contentious. Certainly there is no afterlife, but I'd love if you went here and rebutted the blogger:
http://jackal-eyes.blogspot.com/

She points out a lot of interesting things about personal purpose and so forth. Furthermore, are you saying that there is more purpose to the life of a mosquito who landed upon Ghandi's arm than of Ghandi's life?

The Atheist Missionary said...

Kyle P., I'm not sure what you mean by "purpose". The answer to your question would depend on how you define the term.

However, when viewed from a geological time scale, the life of Ghandi and the mosquito who landed on his arm are much more similar than you might otherwise think.

You can also make the argument that it is just as ethically indefensible to kill an insect (if it's outside in its own environment and causing you no harm) than it is to kill a person. If you object to such an argument on the grounds that persons are sentient and have an expectation of continued life that affords them priority over a human in terms of preservation of their existence, then you open up a whole other can of worms. There are many animals that we eat who would be more sentient than a foetus or mentally disabled person.

The point I am trying to make is that a philosophical analysis offers much more to these kinds of discussions than religious dogma. The uncomfortable part for many people is that religious dogma allows them to reconcile contradictions in how they behave (i.e. specieism) while reason often does not.

If Stephen has time, I would love to see him tackle the Ghandi/mosquito question but I expect that he would also need to know how you are defining "purpose".

Paul P. Mealing said...

Hi Atheist Missionary,

I'm sure Kyle P. can defend himself, so this is just my interpretation. If you read the blog that he referenced, there is a discussion on 'purpose', though not really a definition, which I assume is his reference point, and I also assume he concurs with it.

As for Ghandi and the mosquito, in the scale of the cosmos there is no difference, but in the scale of minds the difference is monumental - that is my interpretation anyway.

So the question then shifts to what purpose does mind have? Philosophically, that's a question I won't attempt to answer, but considering the effect that Ghandi's mind has had on global human consciousness compared to a mosquito's mind, I would say once again that there is no comparison, and I believe that's the allusion that Kyle was making, though I may be wrong.

Regards, Paul.

The Atheist Missionary said...

For anyone interested in the direction this thread is heading, I commend a google search for reviews of Richard Dawkins' lecture The Purpose of Purpose. I can't speak for Dawkins but I am pretty sure that he would answer the Ghandi/mosquito question by saying that it makes no sense - like asking what is the purpose of a particular rock. Ghandi did what he was evolved to do and the mosquito did what it was evolved to do. It's as simple as that. However, the nihilistic implications of this answer provide an excellent clue for why religion is so appealing to mankind.

Paul P. Mealing said...

Hi Atheist Missionary,

I listened to a brief lecture Dawkins gave on this. I have to say this is something that I fundamentally disagree with Dawkins about. Unlike him, I think there are questions that science can't answer. You and I have had this discussion before, albeit briefly.

Regards, Paul.

The Atheist Missionary said...

Paul, just because you can't do something doesn't mean that you'll never be able to do it. I would apply the same analogy to the ability of machines to achieve sentience.

Paul P. Mealing said...

Yes, I agree, but I think that there are some mysteries that science will never resolve. Basically I'm saying that there are limits to science.

The question of machine sentience is something that neither you nor I can know, but only speculate about at this stage. As I continually say: only future generations can tell us how ignorant the current generation is. Machine sentience is a particular case in point.

By the way, I don't think Kyle P was referring to purpose in a religious or metaphysical sense; certainly the blog he referenced wasn't.

Regards, Paul.

Paul P. Mealing said...

Oh yes, and I concede that my views on machine sentience are a minority, though never been discussed on this site.

Regards, Paul.

Kyle P. said...

Atheist Missionary,

I was only replying to Mike's comment that the "purpose of life is to reproduce", basically saying that his definition (for lack of a better word for it) was bunk. I was using the Ghandi/mosquito question as an example of showing the absurdity of Mike's definition, though I can understand you thinking it's not really absurd depending on your definition of purpose.

My own personal beliefs are more along the lines of what Paul said, and to a lesser extent Dawkins. It's a strange dichotomy in my brain. I see no overarching reason to believe that science won't figure it all out, but at the same time, I feel science is limited in its abilities.

P.S. On a geological scale, unless the human race kills off the mosquito, I find it much more likely that the life of the mosquito is far more purposeful than the life of Ghandi on Mike's definition.

Tor Hershman said...

I'd like to, and have, add(ed) a musical concept that I feel fits this thread.....
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2LubuSAgB5s

Lauren said...

If we are talking practically rather than metaphorically: First one would have to establish what one defines as moral. Surely, as with most things concerning "morals", this is where the misunderstanding or disagreement takes place?
For instance, as others have mentioned, if one was religious, then depending on such religion,this question would cause different issues.
Personally, I believe that most of us, if not all, follow "rules" like in a religion ,in our own form.
My definition of "moral" is to understand and truly know what is "right" for oneself to do, say etc. in a given situation, and then to follow such personal truths regardless of fear and ego. Therefore, of course it is morally acceptable if it is to you, when following what i consider to be "moral" (at least for me). How do you know you are doing this? Well, that is another question!
In terms of discussion:
1. If we go on the basis that there is no afterlife, no soul, just science, then what we think about life and death is irrelevant. Scientifically, most of us are able to produce, so we do. You could argue that we evolved into thinking human beings, therefore science, evolution gave us the ability to think up such questions, but maybe that is science's way of making sure we're not taking over the earth more than it can take? So the people who don't think its "moral" to have children don't.
2. If one believes in a "soul" and/or follows a religion then as I previously mentioned there are infinite, specific answers. My own answer would be to suggest that we are responsible only for our own lives in terms of emotional, spiritual, physical pain etc. That it is not our place to decide whether someone else should be born, but rather to question whether we are capable of looking after another soul, whilst it is adjusting to its surroundings. Again though, that is assuming death is not the end.
If it is, surely family, the gift of love, pain and EXPERIENCE is the point. In my opinion to deny someone of this, would be closer to something "immoral".


(sorry I rambled)

Anonymous said...

Since my brother's untimely demise, I too have pondered the reason (and decency, if you will), the core reason why we humans continue to bring innocent lives into a world of such greed, and lack of true freedom. Face it: if one is not economically successful, life is nothing more than a humiliating carrot-chase. Few will nab, and they too are nothing more than hapless losers. Hence, life is nothing more, really, than the need and instance of chasing some goddamned orgasm. We had to have been planted here by evil, sarcastic aliens from a faraway galaxy. No god could be this goddamned cruel.

Christoph said...

"Stephen Law said...

"Apologies for introducing such a depressing topic..."

Don't apologize. It's very important, if human suffering is important. And this is a philosophy blog, not a bar stool.

For all my life, I wanted children.

But I failed in this. Lost a great relationship, childless as it happens.

Mixed feelings about not having children because my genes cried out for it. However, this life can be awful! I personally wish I hadn't been born. And there will come a time when I will intentionally end my life, without feeling any shame for that at all. Not for the manner of my death anyway (my life is a different story).

We could talk about it philosophically, but to say the least my thinking is more in line with the ancient barbarians, the Inuit, Socrates, Hegesias of Cyrene, Cicero, Seneca, Cato the Younger, Marcus Aurelius, Michel de Montaigne, David Hume, Mitchell Heisman, Simon Critchley, and Shelly Kagan -- not to mention father of psychiatry Sigmund Freud and George Eastman of Eastman-Kodak -- than it is with Plato and the Christian-inspired cultures, guilt shaming, and unnecessary pain-inducing taboos about suicide: a particularly human behavior if there ever was one.

So, now, considering my profound sorrow and intolerable life, I see that bringing into the world a child brings a not-insignificant risk that the child will, on balance, with it had never been born.

Indeed, suicide rates would be far higher if not for our genes' selfish behavior to survive at all costs, making us fear death and injury, and this, coupled with pain and horror, and the simple fact that one loses physical and mental capacity to carry out actions as one gets more injured, makes ending one's own life difficult and uncertain. Most people fail at this, often making their situation worse.

And when you bring a child into the world, it may well feel this way. And so what do parents do? Use guilt to make their child live for their benefit! Talking about how much pain they would endure if their child died first.

Well, guess what?

The child had no say in being born. This was the parents' decision, their gamble. If it didn't work out, the child has to suffer so the parents don't?

Study from the American Journal of Sociology published in 1932 shows that 30% of a broad sample of children wish they had never been born.

I love my mom and dad, but I reject this thinking. I wanted a child very much, however I would never insist my child live in a situation that was unbearable to it, if I had had one. And I always felt that way, even when I planned on having children.

Christoph said...

David Benatar, Chair of the Philosophy Department at the University of Capetown, makes other arguments in his book Better to Have Never Been which I just downloaded on Kindle and have barely started (Google Books has electronic copies too, for about the same price: $16.50). But I've read a few of his articles and listened to his interview on YouTube, and there is a certain logic to what he says. Basically it's this:

If you are never born, you will never have suffering or pleasure. But you cannot miss the pleasures or long for things you can't have because you have never existed.

If you are born, you will have pleasures and suffering. Additionally you will feel pains because you miss pleasures (people, experiences, etc.) and also because you realize that everything and everyone you will ever love ... will die. I'm putting my own spin on it here. He doesn't phrase it this way. But essentially, because you will both suffer and miss/want things, and realize you will lose things no matter how good they go for a while.

Whether you find that convincing, it is certainly true that some lives have more suffering than joy (and for me, my past joys have turned into my greatest sources of pain).

Hannah, greedy person though she is -- :P (and I understand: it's natural; I am too) -- put it more succinctly:

"They're bound to spend lots of time being miserable and then have to give it all up any way, against their will, when they all die."

Christoph said...

@z42

"I don't know how it is over there, but ending one's life is illegal in the USA. If you try and fail, you end up in a mental ward."

For a while. And you can have mind altering and brain/nervous system damaging drugs administered without your consent, even receive brain-electroshock. All of which I find abysmal and wrong especially without consent.

I would because I'm basically a libertarian: it seems to me this is forced imprisonment of people who have done nothing wrong to others, and it's also often aggravated assault upon them. I can't get behind that.

"If you succeed, your life insurance doesn't cover you."

Life insurance is not a government policy. It's a private contract you are engaging in with another party.

By what right would you claim the ability to sign up, fork over a small premium, kill yourself the next day, and make the insurance company give your family 2 million dollars, with this being your plan from the beginning? Sure you may want to look after your family, but this isn't that. This is you fraudulently stealing money from other people's families to give to yours as part of a scheme.

Most insurance policies in the US have a 2-year exclusion for suicide, and this is morally defensible.

Government survivor benefits, whatever little there are, pay out in the event of suicide in the U.S.

Christoph said...

@James F. Elliott

"Isn't this kind of the point where philosophy gets abstract and, well, kind of pointless? Kids happen. It's biology."

You make a good point here. We are largely captive to our genes, with numerous biases to force us to want to live and reproduce.

However, if it's true that life is more bad than good or even just that having children can sometimes be a great harm to them, then discussing this isn't irrelevant. Because even if it doesn't stop people from reproducing in general (and of course it wouldn't: those with antinatalist perspectives would weed themselves out of the gene pool, and those who produce children -- however bad that may ultimately be -- would not), it may help certain people have the confidence to decide they will not inflict needless suffering on their specific offspring in certain circumstances. So it does some good.

Also, it may help those who are considering suicide, but are confronted with numerous cultural biases and taboos against it, to find the confidence to trust their own judgment on these matters. Which may limit their pain, and thus do some good.

Christoph said...

@Sabio

"Anyone who believes families are pointless, are in good company. According to Bart Ehrman and others, Jesus was an Apocalyptic prophet. Jesus felt the end times were eminent [sic] and the son of man [not himself] would son arrive and establish Jehovah's kingdom. Thus Jesus felt that saving up food, money or sticking with family was totally pointless.

"If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple." Luke 14:26

... and by many other passages of the Bible in Jesus' own words, for example these:

(NIV Matthew 10:23) When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. I tell you the truth, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes.

(NIV Matthew 16:27-28) For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done. I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

(NIV Matthew 24:34) I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.

But good luck getting religious people to admit to anything obvious. They just redefine their religions to meet their biological needs to be happy, survive (as a group if not always individually), and reproduce in there here and now. Truth barely enters into it.

Of course, that behavior is entirely evolutionarily adaptive, and is part of the problem we're discussing here.

Christoph said...

@Everyone

The biggest bias humans have is optimism, not Theism (phrasing borrowed from David Benatar, but I was making the same point for years before I read what he wrote about it, yesterday) (here too).

"there's no good evidence it will not continue to improve in the next 500."

It's extremely unlikely our species will exist in 500 years. The very things that have dramatically improved our lot in life will also extinct us. To wit, we are rapidly and exponentially developing higher-order intelligences, both in terms of computer processing speed and memory, but even more so in regards to software algorithms, that the odds of us staying the dominant intelligence, or even a relatively non-trivial intelligence, for 500 years approach nil.

Jon said...

I think after going through a lot of difficult things in my life and reading a lot on this topic, I have an answer.

Hope. The next question is, what is the origin of hope?

Like the forefathers of the United States who laid railroad tracks across the nation, worked in poor working conditions and coal mines and willingly sacrificed their lives in wars. They did it all for one reason: Hope.

It was their hope that their children and future generations would be able to get to a point where perhaps all of these challenges would end and we would reach a level of existence that truly is paradise.

If you think about it, that is what propels life forward. That insatiable desire for survival. It is fueled by some concept of hope. Humans can consciously ponder this concept with our rational minds. Other life, however, perceives it because it's what drives them to continue their species.

Now I ask you others, who are probably much smarter than I, where did this hope originate? For without this hope, there is no point for anything to exist, at all.