Do Humans Have a Moral Duty to Stop Procreating?

With the amount of destruction we're causing, is it time we curbed our own population?

Whenever any animal population gets out of control, whether it be an overrun of deer or geese, humans usually step in and make plans to curb it through hunting or damaging nests. It seems cruel, but without natural predators to bring the population down, overpopulation could have devastating effects on the local environment. Yet, humans have shown themselves to be far more destructive than any other animal on this planet, so why don't we offer ourselves the same consideration? I'm talking about anti-natalism here, the philosophical position that opposes procreation.


"If that level of destruction were caused by another species we would rapidly recommend that new members of that species not be brought into existence," writes philosopher David Benatar.

There's a fair argument to be made for anti-natalism that tears at most people's desire to reproduce and a moral responsibility that few of us consider. This planet is overpopulated and we're consuming more resources than the Earth can reproduce. You may not know this, but last week featured Earth Overshoot Day — the day when the Global Footprint Network announced that we've consumed a year's worth of resources. The GFN estimates that the first Overshoot Day may have been back in the 1970s “due to the growth in the global population alongside the expansion of consumption around the world,” wrote Emma Howard from The Guardian.

“If that level of destruction were caused by another species, we would rapidly recommend that new members of that species not be brought into existence,” writes philosopher David Benatar, author of the anti-natalist book, Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming into Existence.

"Nothing is lost by never coming into existence. By contrast, ceasing to exist does have costs."

Many humans are capable of reflecting on whether or not they should reproduce, but few do, according to Benatar. He explains in an article for The Critique:“This may be because humans are not as different from non-human animals as they would like to think. Like other animals, we are the products of evolution, with all the biological drives that such products can be expected to have.”

However, one of the main reasons for Benatar's article is to explain what anti-natalism is not: “It is important to note that anti-natalism, while favouring human extinction, is a view about a particular means to extinction – namely non-procreation. Anti-natalists are not committed to either suicide or 'speciecide,' as some of their critics insensitively suggest. Nothing is lost by never coming into existence. By contrast, ceasing to exist does have costs.”

His piece is jarring and his book on the philosophical argument against procreation is even more so, but it challenges the presumption of “be fruitful and multiply” that most of us are brought up on. I have often stopped to think about whether or not I want to have children, but, for me, his argument challenges the deeper morality that has been absent from this decision.

Renaissance scholar Stephen Greenblatt explains where we come up with our philosophical notions, radical and otherwise. Many we owe to an ancient Roman poem, rediscovered in 1417.

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The full article is worth a read.

Photo Credit: STR / Stringer/ Getty

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