The title ‘philosopher,’ like ‘poet,’ carries prestige that’s usually unearned.
I say unearned because many poets, who are supposed to understand beauty, write beauty-free verse, and plenty of philosophers, who are supposed to be wise, counsel unethical foolishness to the world.
This sad fact – that so much contemporary philosophy is not merely unwise but unethical – is a byproduct of the contemporary university, where philosophy and ethics are often treated as distinct fields of study.
For proof, readers should peruse the latest issue of Essays in Philosophy. I came to this issue by way of BioEdge, a bioethical watch group. The BioEdge report read so sensationally that I wondered if the reporter had resorted to parody. After reading the original essays, I discovered he had not.
This issue of Essays in Philosophy asked philosophers to ponder whether, given the threat of climate change, we can continue to justify having children. Is procreation moral?
Several of the philosophers writing in the issue conclude that having babies is immoral. With resources predicted to become scarcer, adults should have fewer children or have none at all. We should treat abortion as a moral obligation, one of the philosophers advised. Couples who crave children should consider co-parenting a single child with another couple. And since children of the wealthy tend to consume more resources than children born to poor parents, the first people to give up having children and starting families ought to be people with money.
“I believe most acts of human procreation are immoral,” writes Gerald Harrison, a philosopher, with a straight face.
As for why so many people think it’s okay to have children, Harrison suggests this is “best explained by the operation of blind evolutionary processes alone.”
Love has nothing to do with it, people.
If there was ever an argument for keeping philosophers out of public policy-making, this is it.
When faced with such a lack of faith in humanity and confusion about procreation, where does one begin with a critique?
Then again, why bother?
A thinking, feeling person likely won’t need much help formulating a response. We’ve seen this thinking before. Recall with horror the forced abortions administered under China’s one-child policy. Remember with shame the forced sterilization of Indigenous people and the intellectually disabled in Canada.
And while we’re at it, let’s wonder and worry about who will decide who can have children and what powers will enforce these decisions, should these philosophers ever see their unhappy ideas put into practice.
Climate change is an issue that deserves serious discussion, not hysteria, and certainly not a philosophical outlook that treats some members of the human family as surplus population.
At the end of last semester, a couple of students asked me what they should do after university. I replied, “Have babies.” Children bind, deepen a commitment and give purpose.
If you eliminate love from the equation, then children really are nothing but a drain on resources, something to delete, as some philosophers would have us believe.
But love is the point, the key ingredient. If you don’t have love for the child, then people are economic units and there’s no good reason not to cull the population or terminate your family at yourself.
So have a large family. Multiply love. Don’t put it off, and don’t let climate science paralyze or sterilize you. Toss the kids in the backseat and keep driving. Recycle, of course.
I’ll add to what I told those students:
Beware people who view children, and all human life, as anything but an intrinsic good and an end unto themselves.
And call any philosophy that views children as a strike against human flourishing and a drag on the ship of humanity for what it is: immoral.
Troy Media columnist Robert Price lectures at the University of Toronto Mississauga. Opinions expressed are his own.