In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Anti-Natalism

  • Introduction
  • Overviews and Collections
  • Historical Background

Philosophy Anti-Natalism
by
Asheel Singh
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 November 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0439

Introduction

While most people would agree that there is sometimes an element of moral wrongness to procreation, anti-natalism, a burgeoning field in contemporary ethics, holds that procreation itself is (almost) always morally wrong. Anti-natal intuitions have been expressed in various forms throughout history, but this entry is primarily concerned with the systematic explorations of anti-natalism that have emerged in the current century. Notably, the explosion of critical interest in anti-natalism can be traced to the seminal work of a single contemporary analytic philosopher, David Benatar. The primary focus of this entry is thus on how the view has developed in analytic philosophy, and not on how “anti-natalism” is generally employed in public policy (i.e., as population reduction efforts). A novel taxonomy of anti-natalist rationales is offered, and notable pro-natal views are discussed, along with some salient historical antecedents to the current systematic debate.

Overviews and Collections

Dedicated overviews of anti-natalism have very recently begun to emerge, including Coates 2016, Morioka 2021, and Lougheed 2022. While not a traditional “overview,” Benatar 2006 serves both as an essential introduction to this emerging field as well as its locus classicus. Contemporary anti-natalism has largely developed around the systematic treatment of the view posited in this book; the work is littered with references to anti-natal views expressed throughout history. An early collection of original essays in reply to this book appeared in a special journal issue in 2012, reprinted in book form as Metz 2023; several notable contributions to this collection are discussed elsewhere in this entry. Benatar 2012 offers responses and a summary of Benatar’s views in the same work, and the collection as a whole is also a useful introduction to anti-natalism. Benatar 2013 is a response to more critics, and also a concise restatement of Benatar 2006. Hallich and Hauskeller 2022 is a recent special journal issue devoted to anti-natalism.

  • Benatar, David. Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming into Existence. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199296422.001.0001

    Essential reading. Offers two stand-alone “philanthropic” arguments for anti-natalism: the asymmetry argument, and what may be termed the quality-of-life argument. According to the first, there is a fundamental asymmetry between harm and benefit that renders procreation a “net harm.” According to the second, a typical life is harmful to the extent that no lives may be permissibly started.

  • Benatar, David. “Every Conceivable Harm: A Further Defence of Anti-natalism.” South African Journal of Philosophy 31.1 (2012): 128–164.

    DOI: 10.1080/02580136.2012.10751773

    Benatar responds to several of his critics, including Metz 2011 (cited under Critiques of the Asymmetry Argument) and Spurrett 2011 (cited under Non-welfarist Approaches).

  • Benatar, David. “Still Better Never to Have Been: A Reply to (More of) My Critics.” Journal of Ethics 17 (2013): 121–151.

    DOI: 10.1007/s10892-012-9133-7

    Benatar responds to several more of his critics, including DeGrazia 2010 and Harman 2009 (both cited under Critiques of the Asymmetry Argument).

  • Coates, Ken. Anti-natalism: Rejectionist Philosophy from Buddhism to Benatar. Sarasota, FL: First Edition Design, 2016.

    An overview of the history of anti-natalism in which the roots of the view are traced to ancient India.

  • Hallich, Oliver, and Michael Hauskeller, eds. Special Issue: Would It Be Better If We Had Never Existed? David Benatar’s Anti-natalism. Journal of Value Inquiry 56.1 (2022).

    Includes seven recent responses to Benatar’s anti-natalism, including Metz 2022 (cited under Non-welfarist Approaches).

  • Lougheed, Kirk. “Anti-natalism.” In Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by James Fieser and Bradley Dowden. 2022.

    Offers a good overview of contemporary anti-natalism.

  • Metz, Thaddeus, ed. Contemporary Anti-natalism. Abingdon, UK: Routledge, 2023.

    A reprint of original essays that first appeared in 2012 (with the addition of reprints of two essays from that period), including Benatar’s original response (in Benatar 2012). Notably, all but three of the twelve essays (not counting the editor’s helpful introduction) are explicitly critical of anti-natalism.

  • Morioka, Masahiro. “What Is Antinatalism?: Definition, History, and Categories.” Review of Life Studies 12 (2021): 1–39.

    Notable, among other things, for its discussion of how an anti-natal tradition developed, initially independently from Benatar’s arguments, in contemporary Japan.

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