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Home arrow Psychology arrow The philosophical parent : asking the hard questions about having and raising children
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FUTURE CHILDREN

Unconceived children don’t need any rescuing from their nonexistent state. But you might say that we still have a child-centered reason to reproduce. The kids to be concerned with are not the unconceived ones, but future children—the ones who will exist in one, five, ten, or one hundred years. They will be glad they were horn, so you do deserve some credit for procreating, because you’d be doing what those future people will want you to have done.

What? This reasoning seems a little weird, hut why? We normally do give the preferences of others some weight. If your husband wants to go to the mountains, not the beach, that gives you some reason to go to the mountains. We also do give weight to the preferences of future people—and should. When we think about our impact on the environment, the concern might be about people living fifty or one hundred years from now. Should we use up all the resources, so we have plenty today, but people living in the year 2100 have none? They don’t exist yet, of course, but it’s not unreasonable to give them—whoever winds up being in that world—a say. Their welfare counts as a good reason for us to conserve resources.

What, then, is odd about giving kids a vote on whether we bring them into existence? Well, at the time when prospective parents are deciding whether to have children, there are two possible futures, only one of which includes their next child. They are at a fork in the road, trying to decide which way to turn. It’s perverse to treat one of these roads—these futures—as the actual one, at the time of the decision, and give the child at the end of that road a vote. That is to treat the other possible future, the childless future, as a negligible possibility. Of course, if the childless future turns out to be the real one, no child is going to be at the end of that road, and no one is going to be voting for her own existence. To give a future child a vote on whether to create her is to act as if you have no real decision to begin with—as if the future-with-child were a foregone conclusion.

We saw before that it makes no sense to have a child in order to save an unborn ghost, a potential child who will be "one of the unlucky ones” if we don’t reproduce. There aren’t any unborn ghosts to be saved. And now we see that it makes no sense to have a child for the sake of your future child, taking into account her vote for her own existence. At the time that we are deciding whether to reproduce, if we are truly deciding, we can’t take it for granted that there is a future child casting a vote. So what’s the upshot? Is there no child-centered reason to have children—no reason having to do with them instead of us?

 
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