I think it’s best to give a utilitarian answer whenever possible - one that only looks at the benefits and costs of a particular action. So why do we think that killing someone is just about the worst thing you can do (unless for self-defense, war,…), but we don’t seem to think that we have any duty to have children? I tried to look at this question that way, but I couldn’t come up with any convincing answer. Is it just for the social consequences & the emotional damage to survivors? Or the emotional damage to the killer? Or the resources that went into the person growing up? Obviously we want to say that killing is bad for the sake of the person who is no longer alive, but making a new baby seems to cancel that out (from a utilitarian perspective). It’s hard to give an intuitively satisfying answer to the question without saying that each human life is somehow “special” or “sacred.” Does anyone have a decent utilitarian answer that does not resort to intuitions, rights, individual specialness, etc.?
I think this is a great debate, but here’s my view: Grown people have accumulated experience and have acquired a personality, and we gauge human worth on an individual basis depending on each person’s personality or position. Babies, however are blank slates and we don’t yet know how they’re going to turn out.
If the person you kill has a despicable personality or is just some streetperson, I’m sure many would be willing to accept his death if it means they get a cute widdle baby in his place. NOTE: Some people may not admit it but in practice it’s true.
You’ll need to define your terms more precisely to get any meaningful responses. ‘Utilitarian’ does not describe a mode of thought ‘that only looks at the benefits and costs of a particular action.’
I’m also not sure IMHO is the right forum for an inquiry of this type.
As for your question, if you can describe costs and benefits in terms of human life, the answer is easy. The only cost to not making babies is an opportunity cost. Killing someone is an actual cost in life.
I’m not really sure how to answer your question. I don’t know if in the eyes of a “utilitarian” this would even be true. I can offer, that I have heard the statement that not having children is wise, because they are a 'poor return on investment" They serve no use or purpose except for taking away time from an otherwise productive adult and his/her financial resources. Gone are the days that we need to have children to help the family support itself (farmhands and other useful roles). I have also heard this utilitarian type person state that the elderly and cripple should be ahem, done away with, since they serve no purpose either. (Is that fascist or utilitarian, IDUNNO. ) I’ve never heard that one choice is worse than the other–it all depends on the circumstances…
BTW, I feel the burning need to clarify that this is not my pov.
I wasn’t completely clear in my original post, so I’ll clarify. When I say a utilitarian only judges things in terms of benefits and costs, I mean benefits and costs to everyone (not just himself) that are ultimately translatable into human happiness (not just money). So children are just about the best investment there is, because there’s a whole new life which (presumedly) is happier than no life at all. In fact, the good you do by bringing a new life into the world should be exactly equal to the bad you do by taking an old life out of the world, assuming all people have equal value, and ignoring people’s attachments to the deceased.
The only costs that matter are opportunity costs - there should be no difference between omission and commission.
Eternal’s response is one possibility - we place different values on different people. But then shouldn’t the expected value of the new baby be the average value of a person? Then about 50% of all currently alive people are less valuable than the new baby, so the baby more than compensate for killing any one of them. We aren’t just talking about people with a despicable personality or street people (or the elderly and crippled that Nevermind mentions), we’re talking about half the population.
The best explanation I can see right now is that we oppose killing as part of a Hobbesian contract (because I might be killed). I’m not sure if this pure selfish reason can translate into a utilitarian reason - opposing killing for the good of mankind.
What if I said that bringing a new person into the world, by hogging up our precious natural resources, detracts microscopically from every other human life on the planet? Then making babies would be bad. Or would it? Would you like to talk in terms of Bentham’s straightforward utilitarianism or J.S. Mill’s modifications to the theory that he called the ‘Principle of Justice’? Would the distribution of the microscopic unhappiness matter to you?
Also, it’s invalid to presume a utilitarian paradigm and then argue that “we” oppose killing on a Hobbesian basis. Is this a discussion of utilitarianism or Hobbes?
Maybe you should define the terms of your question more precisely.