Saturday, October 29, 2016

Natalists need to argue for natalism, not just against antinatalism

In philosophy, practically nothing should be is taken for granted. To do so without proper justification equates to question-begging. This is why many things, such as theology, can be placed under the radar of skepticism. Theologians tend to start with the assumption that so-and-so existed, or that such-and-such text is reliable, or even that the divine actually exists (whatever divinity or existence actually means). Other examples would be common-sense talk of ethics without a proper meta-ethical analysis of what morals and values even are, or naive realist metaphysics without a sufficient epistemological basis. All of these result in an ungrounded framework that is held together only if you accept the premises, which are not justified.

Natalism, for the most part, is one of these question-begging nonsense positions (as are most life-affirming positions anyway). It doesn't take an extended journey in the procreative ethics community to realize this. Some natalists play dress-up and call themselves "anti-antinatalists" - a clear indication of their ungrounded premises. By "refuting" antinatalism, these self-styled anti-antinatalists think they have proven natalism. Yet this natalism is precisely what still needs to be justified!

Almost all the natalist rhetoric I have read depend on this fallacy. They take it for granted that the majority is right, and that the burden of proof is on the antinatalist for everything.

It is correct, of course, that the antinatalist must present arguments for antinatalism. And we have. But this also means that the natalist must present arguments for natalism, not just against antinatalism. For the null position here, for any discussion, is agnosticism, i.e. we are not sure whether or not birth is moral (or recommended or acceptable or whatever).

Say, theoretically, every single antinatalist argument currently available was suddenly refuted by a super smart natalist (a contradiction in terms, ah but I'm just being polemical here...). This does not prove natalism. We start out in the agnostic position; if all antinatalist arguments are shown to be false, we still remain agnostic. For we haven't heard any of the natalist arguments, for natalism, yet! To assert otherwise is to beg the question, i.e. assume natalism as a premise without justification. This is quite literally the same reasoning that agnostic atheists use to sneak in atheism as the "null" position.

In other words, those natalists who think disproving antinatalism justifies natalism are essentially "agnostic natalists" - they don't have any arguments for natalism, yet for some ad hoc reason have adopted it anyway. It's incoherent.

But what do the natalists have in terms of arguments for natalism? Nothing too impressive. Appeals to the majority (I consistently see antinatalism described as being "implausible" to "most of us", even in professional ethics), appeals to emotion ("but I waaaaaant kids!"), rules passed down from religions, or even political enforcement of childbirth. Perhaps the only decent argument for natalism that I have seen is one that bites the bullet of the mere addition paradox and accepts that we should maximize how many people exist. That one at least is grounded in some sort of rational deliberation.

If antinatalists went about the same strategy, would anyone accept antinatalism? Why should appeals to majority or emotion or religion prove anything

In any case, resting one's belief on a refutation of another's is inherently unstable. You are dependent on the contingency that the opposition has no further arguments to present. Ideally, the fact that other people are willing and able to criticize your own beliefs ought to make you realize that you need a better justification for your views, instead of just accepting them as self-evident.

2 comments:

  1. I'd say Natalists have more of a defensive role here, and the burden of proof/reason in general, because anti-natalism is the oppositional view and natalism the first-propositional view. The emergence of AN rests entirely on the (pre) existence of individuals who believe in procreation. Remove their initial belief & presence, and negative feedback in the way of AN becomes impossible, or at least incoherent.

    If anything, wildlife interventionism is the view anti-natalists must be prepared to argue for while remaining on the defensive, with non-interventionists advocating for the natural order/status quo while on the offensive.

    With humancentric natalism, the side not making the first move allowing for interpersonal risk simply has to be the plaintiff side.

    I'd also swap the term 'agnosticism' for 'non-commitalism' or 'neutralism' or even 'procreational apathiesm'. Very few people are genuinely apathetic on the topic of procreation though, whether they're plebs or philosophers.

    Crypto-Natalists love creating the impression that they're in some sensible middle, but the time they've devoted to maligning AN (while comfortably ignoring widely popular natalist views) reveals just how much of a canard that 'neutrality' is.

    Also, I have to reread your last few posts because when I originally read them there was plenty to remark on but I couldn't do it in non-sloppy ways (work got in the way). Hopefully soon.

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  2. "The emergence of AN rests entirely on the (pre) existence of individuals who believe in procreation. Remove their initial belief & presence, and negative feedback in the way of AN becomes impossible, or at least incoherent."

    In the broader social realm, true. Natalism definitely is on the defensive, since it is antinatalism that is outwardly practiced even in agnosticism. If we don't know if something is the right thing to do, then it is best to abstain and wait until it is more clear.

    But if we are to discuss procreative policy in the theoretical stance, independent from day-to-day life, then I would argue that antinatalism and natalism are (initially) equal. We have a phenomenon: birth. And we want to know if it (in the abstract sense) is moral, permissible, acceptable, etc. Merely defending birth is not going to be sufficient to prove that natalism is the correct policy, since historicity doesn't seem to have much say in the matter. There must be a reason why birth should be seen as acceptable.

    Any position requires the holder to propose it and defend it. If all the holder does is defend it, then they are defending a position without any reason to defend it. In addition to defending it from criticism, they must show why they are defending it to begin with.

    Unfortunately for the natalist it seems as though they are defending a position based entirely off of short-sighted emotion and habit.

    "I'd also swap the term 'agnosticism' for 'non-commitalism' or 'neutralism' or even 'procreational apathiesm'. Very few people are genuinely apathetic on the topic of procreation though, whether they're plebs or philosophers."

    I don't see why we should present new words. Agnosticism is a commonly-used term in and outside of the philosophy of religion. I can understand the usage of "non-commitalism" as it is essentially synonymous to agnosticism, but "neutralism" or "procreational apatheism" seems to imply that one is not involved or doesn't care when it might be the case that they do care, but simply don't know which side to pick.

    "Crypto-Natalists love creating the impression that they're in some sensible middle, but the time they've devoted to maligning AN (while comfortably ignoring widely popular natalist views) reveals just how much of a canard that 'neutrality' is. "

    I can't say I've heard of crypto-natalism, I assume it means someone who pretends to be an antinatalist but is really a natalist? In my beginning phase as an antinatalist, I think I would have qualified as one. I think most people probably would. I saw the logic and rational of antinatalism but wasn't emotionally prepared to accept it. It wasn't until I myself went through some shitty experiences that I basically rejected any natalism left. Now I'm angry that it's even a thing, and I get even angrier when I see myself show signs of natalism. Leftovers from the past, I suppose.

    "Also, I have to reread your last few posts because when I originally read them there was plenty to remark on but I couldn't do it in non-sloppy ways (work got in the way). Hopefully soon."

    I look forward to your responses. Intelligent discussion is always welcome.

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