Friday, October 17, 2014

Good Lives and Procreative Duties

Many philosophers seem inclined to accept
(Procreative Axiological Asymmetry): While it would be bad, or undesirable, to bring a miserable life into existence, it isn't good, or desirable, to bring an awesome life into existence.

in order to secure
(Procreative Deontic Asymmetry): While we are obliged to not bring miserable lives into existence, we are not obliged to bring awesome lives into existence.

PDA is certainly very intuitive.  There seem several routes by which it could be defended.  Adopting PAA to this end strikes me as a particularly odd route for defending PDA.  In general, the inference
(No Duty → No Good) We shouldn't be required to do X, therefore there is nothing good about X

does not seem a particularly appealing one.  It would be more than passing strange for a convinced opponent of Singer-style duties of beneficence (for example) to try to ground their view by claiming that the welfare of people in developing countries just doesn't matter. Surely one does better to grant that there are genuine (pro tanto) goods at stake here, but simply insist that the associated reasons for acting aren't requiring reasons -- perhaps because granting such reasons "requiring" force would be too costly -- interfering too much with our moral liberty to live our own lives, or some such.

And isn't that also the better way to defend PDA?  A duty to procreate would be incredibly intrusive -- surely if any putative moral demand can be disqualified on the basis of being "too demanding", this is it!  What's more, even from a simple act utilitarian perspective, it doesn't seem particularly empirically plausible that constantly churning out more kids is really the best means available to you for improving the world.  That is, compared to more traditional demands of benevolence, the procreative demands ruled out by PDA would both (i) be more intrusive/demanding, and (ii) bring about less value/benefit.

PDA thus seems on pretty safe ground, without any need to resort to PAA.  We can grant the commonsensical axiological claim that it's a good thing to bring into existence people who will go on to live awesome lives -- awesome lives being, after all, amongst the best things the universe could possibly contain! -- without being forced to unpalatable conclusions about duties to procreate.

1 comment:

  1. Intrusive, c'mon, that's a word which *asks* to be misinterpreted.

    Unlike an individual a moral requirement (though as a utilitarian I really don't understand what this is...I only understand better and worse...and no sane utilitarian should do otherwise since there may not be an optimal choice in all cases) can't be intrusive. It just is. I think this intuition rests on our experience of being scolded or castigated for failing to do what others consider moral obligations. That would be intrusive and it could well be immoral itself even if it is true one has a duty to in fact bring awesome beings into existence.

    There are a few ways to avoid this concern. The first is to assume that overall utility is bound not by the length of time the universe remains habitable but the availability of some scarce resource like energy, certain materials or whatnot. Assuming utility is generally proportional to overall technological advancement which remains proportional to energy use we end up with a constant ratio between utility and the energy that this being will spend in their lifetime. So every time you choose not to reproduce you save the energy they would have consumed during their life for possible use by an even more awesomely happy being in the future.

    Or more plausibly, suppose that roughly speaking the additional contribution you make to society when you don't spend that energy on raising your children (both your children and your failure to focus on other matters limit your contribution to utility). Sure, maybe someone has the duty to be the first person to genetically engineer a super happy kid but if you aren't that gifted genetic manipulator you might well believe that on average the additional contribution to society that people who choose not to reproduce make is about on par with the additional utility they could hope to bring into being with such a child.

    None of these rough balances is very comforting though. But why should it.

    OF COURSE WE HAVE AN OBLIGATION TO BRING AWESOME LIVES INTO EXISTENCE. How could we not, we are only fine and we are very happy someone brought us into existence. Hell, I really believe that if I knew how to create little machines that just sat around having happy experiences I would really have an obligation to make them.


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