Thursday, February 14, 2019

Hard cases

i) Not surprisingly, proponents of abortion and infanticide like Peter Singer lead with the hard cases because that's a wedge issue. Is it wrong to bring a child into the world at high risk of a short, painful life?

From a Christian standpoint, this life is not all there is, so the fact that you get off to a bad start in life doesn't mean it stays that way. There's the hope of heaven. But that wouldn't be available if you never existed in the first place. 

Antinatalists sometimes counter that the danger of hell offsets the hope of heaven. Not that antinatalists believe in heaven or  hell. They just raise that objection for the sake of argument. But there are problems with that objection:

ii) That applies to healthy happy kids as well as the case of kids at high risk of a short painful life. So unless you're an antinatalist, that argument proves too much or too little. That's not an argument for abortion or infanticide, but sterilization to forestall procreation. 

iii) In a cost/benefit analysis, it's not enough to single out one side of the equation, for the potential loss must be considered against the potential gain. The high risk of harm may be offset by the high risk of losing a compensatory good. 

iv) I'm not suggesting a cost/benefit analysis is an appropriate tool to evaluate abortion or infanticide. I think that can be a legitimate consideration regarding contraception, but once a child is conceived, it's too late for a cost/benefit analysis to pertain. Abortion and infanticide can't be justified by a cost/benefit analysis. However, it's useful to consider that perspective for discussion purposes, to rule it out even on its own grounds. 

v) Suppose I'd like to have four kids. Suppose I have counterfactual knowledge that the firstborn will have a short painful life. And it doesn't matter when my wife and I have our first child. I don't think it would be wrong to practice contraception in that event. In the age of contraception, Christian parents do make decisions about how many kids to have, and spacing them. Unless you oppose contraception in principle, it's not wrong to take into consideration whether the woman is at high risk of medical complications (e.g. miscarriage) or fetal abnormalities. 

vi) But even in that situation, you can go ahead and conceive the child for the child's sake. The gift of life carries with it the potential for eternal bliss. 

vii) However, my scenario introduces another consideration. I can't have later kids unless I have the first one. If I refuse to have the first child, then that denies the future kids an opportunity to share in the gift of life, because their existence is contingent on the existence of the firstborn. It's a nested relationship in which I can't have more than one child unless I have at least one child. Yet the lead child will suffer a short painful life. Therefore, even if we frame the issue in crass cost/benefit terms, there are tradeoffs. The justification for having the first child can't be isolated from the other children, in that internal relation. 

viii) A critic might object that this improperly uses the firstborn as a means to an end.

But to begin with, I'm not a Kantian deontologist. And even if I was, the principle is not using people as a means, but using them merely as a means. As I've already discussed, the existence of the firstborn isn't just for the benefit of his siblings–for he himself is as much a potential beneficiary (in the long run) as they are. And he will be loved during his short painful life.  

ix) A critic might object that I'm resorting to a consequentialist justification. But even if I was, that doesn't commit me to consequentialism. I'm simply responding to the antinatalist, abortionist, or infanticidalist on his own grounds, for argument's sake.

On consequentialism, aborting the first child would be the logical alternative. A special needs child will be demanding on the parents. And aborting the first child will clear the way for his siblings. But I already ruled that out. Eugenic abortion is evil. 

x) Finally, a critic might object to my counterfactual calculation on the grounds that hypothetical humans who never exist have nothing to lose or gain. 

That's the Epicurean argument. One issue is whether that commits the critic to the symmetry argument, where prenatal and postmortem nonexistence are equivalent. I've argued elsewhere that to be denied the opportunity to exist is the greatest deprivation of all. 

This doesn't mean there's a duty to have as many kids as possible. And this doesn't mean we're wronging nonexistent persons by not conceiving them.

But there is a sense in which potential persons have a stake in the lottery of life. They have a personal interest in sharing the same goods as those who exist. 

Suppose I have a teenage brother I dislike. Suppose I could step into a time machine, change a variable in the past. I exist in the new timeline, but my brother does not. He never existed in the new timeline. If my brother found out about my plans, would he have reason to feel threatened? Would he have reason to thwart my plans?  

1 comment:

  1. --Not surprisingly, proponents of abortion and infanticide like Peter Singer lead with the hard cases because that's a wedge issue. Is it wrong to bring a child into the world at high risk of a short, painful life?--

    This is very true. They use the most extreme examples to argue their case - whereas in reality the overwhelmingly vast majority of abortions are not for any such reasons, but for mere convenience.

    I had actually been challenged (mockingly) on that point before, to which I responded with hard data. I hereby presen five tweets in this thread summarizing the facts that almost all abortions are for mere convenience: