"The Case Against Kids," reads the headline in the New Yorker, over a provocative piece by Elizabeth Kolbert. In it she analyzes three new(ish) books on the subject of family size, as looked at through economic and philosophical lenses. It probably won't surprise you to know that smart writers start with the same data -- kids cost money, most parents choose to have them, lots of them are a drain on the planet -- and reach entirely different conclusions.
You can read the details of each argument here, but briefly stated, David Benatar, author of "Better to Have Never Been: The Harm of Coming Into Existence," believes that our mistake as parents starts with the core assumption that existing is good, whereas he is convinced that most of the lives led by humans are "worse than no life at all."
Bryan Caplan takes exactly the opposite view in "Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids," arguing that parents are actually having far more fun being parents than they think they are, and if only they would take the long-term view, they would recognize this.
And Christine Overall (whose book, "Why Have Children:The Ethical Debate," is the most recent, and therefore the one on which Kolbert focuses her attention) takes the reasons so many of us currently use and dismisses them categorically.
Because "childbearing is 'natural'"? "There are many urges apparently arising from our biological nature that we nonetheless should choose not to act upon," she writes.
For the good of the not-yet-born child? As Kolbert summarizes Overall's argument: "... nonexistent people have no moral standing. (There are an infinite number of nonexistent people out there, and you don't notice them complaining, do you?) Second, once you accept that you should have a baby in order to increase the world's total happiness, how do you know when to stop?"
To pass on your genes for posterity? "Is anyone's biological composition so valuable that it much be perpetuated?" To have comfort and financial support in your old age? "Anyone who has children for the sake of the supposed financial support they can provide is probably deluded."
All of which is very interesting academically, but reading it, I was struck that of all the arguments raised and debunked by these deep thinkers, none addressed the reason that so many of us have children. To create a family. To craft a whole greater than yourself, of which you will eternally be a part. To take part in a life from its start to your own finish.
Are these morally defensible reasons? I doubt Ms. Overall would think so. But moral tests imply logic, and we are outside that realm when we are talking about certain subjects. Love. Faith. Children. It is likely none would exist if rationality were the test.
Why did you have kids? Did it have anything to do with common sense? Was it "morally defensible"? Must it be?