Let EF denote the collective consisting of the couple Eve and Frank, wondering about whether to have a child. Let c stand for the statement that they conceive a child at a certain time. Assume that if they were to see to it that c, their child Doris, denoted d, would exist and live her life at a level of well-being a+ within the neutral range [a, b]. So, Do(EF, c) l w(d) > a∧Do(EF, c) l w(d) < b is true, and there is thus no moral reason for Do(EF, c), rather than its negation, or vice versa, in terms of the well-being of the conceived child, Doris. However, there may be, of course, reasons for conceiving or not conceiving, in terms of other considerations, e.g. the positive and negative effects of the existence of Doris on the welfare of other people. I want to focus on a certain class of considerations. It is probable that Doris, if she is brought into existence, eventually will have children and grandchildren, and so on.
Let CB denote the set of individuals “brought about” by Eve’s and Frank’s conceiving, in the sense that they would exist just in case Eve and Frank were to conceive (see ‘Sets of individuals’ for exact definition). CB will probably contain many individuals. Assume that some individuals brought into existence, live their lives below a, the lower bound of the neutral range, which is plausible, I think, for any reasonable choice of a. Then, there is a risk that ∃x[Do(EF, c) l w(x) < a∧¬Do(EF, c) ¬E(x)] is true, i.e. some individuals whose existence would be counterfactually dependent on Eve’s and Frank’s conceiving would live their lives below the lower bound a, and there is thus a moral reason against Do(EF, c) according to (NeuCf) and (NeuCfUB). If reasons of this type are not outweighed by positive moral reasons for conceiving, it seems that the intuition of neutrality, if we accept the counterfactual interpretations, in practice tends towards antinatalism, i.e. the view that conceiving children is generally morally wrong. In recent times, the antinatalist view has been defended by e.g. David Benatar (Benatar 2006). Benatar’s main argument is that the existence of bad things in the life of any individual implies that the individual is harmed by being brought into existence, while the existence of good things does not imply that the individual is benefited by being brought into existence.
Is it plausible to claim that these negative reasons are, generally, outweighedb? If we assume (NeuCf), we cannot, as the principle is defined, say that the reasons against Do(EF, c) derived from the negative well-being of people in CB below the a-level are outweighed by positive reasons derived from the well-being of people in CB living above the a-level, because the existence of people living good lives does not give rise to moral reasons in terms of the well-being of those people, according to (NeuCf). However, there might be other reasons for creating new people, and I discuss that below. If we assume (NeuCfUB), we might claim that the well-being of people in CB living above the upper bound, b, gives rise to reasons for Do(EF, c), if b is not placed very high. However, I am inclined to consider (NeuCfUB) less plausible than (NeuCf), as an interpretation of any widespread intuition of neutrality. If the point of the neutrality intuition is that, while you harm a person by creating if she would live an unhappy life, you do not benefit a person, in any morally relevant sense, by creating her in the case where she would live a happy life, this must also apply to cases where she would live an extremely, as well as a moderately, happy life. We can compare with Jan Österberg, who writes that “[m]orality …is concerned with the weal and woe of sentinent beings …[a]nd you are not concerned with the weal and woe of a person if you think it is better that he exists and is happy than that he does not exist’, but “you are thus concerned if you think it is better that he does not exist than that he would have an unhappy life” (Österberg 1996, p. 97).
However, it also seems to be a common sense view that we may have moral reasons (related to well-being) to prefer one outcome to another even in some cases where the first outcome is not better for any individual existing in both outcomes. I am thinking of cases like the so-called Non-Identity Problems, described by Derek Parfit in Reasons and Persons (Parfit 1984, p. 357–363). In these cases, we have to choose between outcomes with different sets of existing people, and it seems plausible that we have moral reasons to prefer the outcome W to an outcome W
′, if the level of well-being in W (for the individuals existing in W) is higher than the level of well-being in W
′ (for the individuals existing in W
′)c. Could this help us in avoiding the anitnatalist tendency of (NeuCf)?
Return to Eve and Frank, and their potential conceiving.
Let NCB denote the set of individuals that would exist if Eve and Frank were not to conceive Doris, but not if they were to conceive Doris. The intersection CB∩NCB is always empty. It seems realistic to think that NCB is non-empty. If Doris were never to exist, the person with whom she eventually would have had children if she had existed, might then find another partner, and conceive children with different identities. It might be that NCB, if Eve and Frank were not to conceive, would contain more people than would CB, if they were to conceive, living under the lower bound, a, of the neutral range, or that any person in NCB would live at a lover level of well-being than any person in CB. Then, we have different types of Non-Identity Cases, and it seems plausible to claim that there are moral reasons for Eve and Frank to conceive. But it seems that Eve and Frank cannot in any simple way appeal to the neutrality intuition, in order to claim that conceiving is something morally optional: they have significant moral reasons against conceiving, which may, or may not, be outweighed by considerations about the well-being of e.g. people that would exist if they were not to conceive.