The Value of Human Life

We did not have a choice in the matter of our own birth, but we do seem to have a choice whether or not to subject others to life’s vicissitudes, whether by deciding to have children ourselves or supporting, personally, socially and politically, others’ choices to do so. In 2022-2023 the Centre for Moral and Political Philosophy will dedicate its activities to the question: Should we?

Much speaks against it. To a long list of familiar causes for concern—political unrest, rising barriers to economic well-being, and, first and foremost, impending climate catastrophe—was recently added a global pandemic, reminding us all of the threat of the unknown: of unexpected and unforetold dangers we can hardly begin to predict.  Without credible hope that things will get better—without any reliable grounds for belief in progress—why shouldn’t we welcome the global decline in birth rates and cheer on childlessness, voluntary or otherwise? Decreasing birth rates are correlated with many of the common measures of progress like rising economic wellbeing and increased levels of education among women. And, after all, it increasingly seems that in indulging their desires for children, people might be wronging not only the children they bear—“ushering souls into hell,” as the philosopher David Benatar once quipped—but wronging others and perhaps the world itself, overburdening a sad, spent planet. Life is what got us into this trouble to begin with; who needs more of it?

First, we will ask: Is it possible to offer a philosophical answer to this challenge? Is it permissible, valuable and perhaps even good to bring children into the world? If so, under what conditions?

Second, we will also seek to think through some of the assumptions that have guided these conversations in the past few decades: What is the relationship, ethical and metaphysical, in which we stand to persons who will live in the future? Can we benefit or harm a person merely by causing them to exist? Is bringing forth new life a matter of causing people to exist, at all? And, perhaps most basic of all, what is human life?

In all of our programming we hope to bring together a wide range of philosophers working in the analytic and continental traditions as well as those exploring related themes from an historical perspective.

The project coordinator will be Anastasia Berg.