Bioethics Blogs

Does it benefit a person to bring them into being?

Over the last four decades or so, philosophers have spent a good deal of time on this somewhat peculiar question. Why? After all, it’s not a question that people ordinarily ask, like ‘Do animals have rights?’ or ‘Is abortion permissible?’.The reason is that the answer one gives may have important implications for many such ordinary questions, such as ‘What duties do we have to future generations?’ or ‘What moral reasons are there for or against my having a child?’. For example, you might think that morality at least recommends, other things being equal, promoting the well-being of others. If you have a child, and you think that bringing someone into being benefits them, then you have done something recommended by morality.

It seems to me, however, that the question, and the way it’s often approached, can be a little misleading. First of all, we should distinguish between something that is merely good, and something that is ‘good-making’. Just recently, I had an experience that, I think, was good for me: sailing with my daughters. But this experience’s being one of sailing with my daughters isn’t what made it good. Indeed I can remember a similar experience in the past which wasn’t good. What made the recent experience good for me was, at least in part, its being enjoyable. Being enjoyable, that is to say, is a good-making property, whereas being an experience of sailing isn’t.

Which category does someone’s being brought into being come into? The same as sailing. Imagine that you bring someone into being, and they immediately die, their life having contained nothing plausibly good or bad except their having been brought into being.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.