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Is Antinatalism Illiberal?

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Aschwin de Wolf‘s “Non-existence is hard to do: A review of contemporary antinatalist writings,” published in Cryonics magazine for the second quarter of 2010, examines antinatalism from the perspective of a life extension enthusiast.

One of de Wolf’s more original claims, I think, is that antinatalism is illiberal. He says:

Like Crawford, Benatar cannot completely escape the charge of illiberalism. Classical liberalism takes very seriously the difficulties in reaching satisfactory conclusions about the quality of other people’s lives. In practice this means that we exercise restraint in making strong cognitive and moral claims about the feelings and preferences of other people. This is a mindset that does not seem to come easily to antinatalists. [Emphasis mine.]

We often hear the claim that antinatalism cannot be correct because life cannot be a harm – look at all the happy people! (de Wolf even posits this as somehow “empirical” evidence for the correctness of reproduction. I wonder what he makes of things like this when he says that “The claim that coming into existence is always a harm is not consistent with the reports of all those who have come into existence.”)

Antinatalists, then, are chastised for being such closed-minded party poopers, and pointed to evidence of subjective happiness of existing people.

In reality, liberalism, in de Wolf’s conception, is at the very core of antinatalist ethics. We just conceive of babies as human beings, too.

It is difficult for me to imagine a greater instance of “making strong cognitive and moral claims about the feelings and preferences of other people” than intentionally creating a person. To do so, one must assume that this stranger, whose beliefs and values cannot possibly be known, will be happy with his life. And that is a load of shit. “Most people don’t like it” is not a liberal argument for a prohibition on drug use, prostitution, suicide, etc. Nor is “most people like being alive” a liberal argument for reproduction.


Written by Sister Y

December 16, 2010 at 7:54 pm