Bryan Caplan  

The (Potential) Enemies List: Two Thoughts

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Thanks for all your comments on my "enemies list."  Two thoughts:

1. Many thanks to Sam for pointing out Luis Angeles' retraction.  Since the thrust of my discussion of kids and happiness is that the observed effect is negative but small, I was only going to footnote Angeles' article as a counterexample.  But now I don't even have to do that.

Incidentally, I'm incredibly impressed that Angeles publicly admittedly the mistake.  That takes a lot of courage and integrity.

2. I thought about putting anti-natalists on my list.  But it seems safe to ignore them because (a) they're extremely rare, and (b) no broader audience will take their complaints seriously.  If I took their complaints seriously, of course, I'd feel obliged to address them despite their low status in the world of ideas.  But as a big believer in the philosophy of common sense, anti-natalism seems absurd to me.  If an idea has neither intrinsic merit nor social traction, the marginal benefit of discussing it seems less than the marginal cost.

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COMMENTS (5 to date)
Chip Smith writes:


I can understand dismissing antinatalism for lacking "social traction," but I think your assertion that the idea is without "intrinsic merit" needs to be explained and perhaps defended.

If the normative idea that people should have MORE children has "intrinsic merit" (as you claim, implicitly), then why should the contrary normative idea -- that people should have NO children -- not have "intrinsic merit"?

Actually, I'm not at all certain what you mean by "intrinsic merit," but it would help if you could explain how you arrive at this distinction.

Bryan Caplam writes:

You're a model of good manners, Chip, so I don't mean to be dismissive. But your question is baffling:

"If the normative idea that people should have MORE children has "intrinsic merit" (as you claim, implicitly), then why should the contrary normative idea -- that people should have NO children -- not have "intrinsic merit"?

If the normative idea that murder is wrong has intrinsic merit, does the normative idea that murder is not wrong also has intrinsic merit? I don't think so. In fact, I'd say the opposite: If X is obvious, then not-X is probably not worth pursuing.

On the source of distinction: Like I said, for me it all comes back to the philosophy of common sense. If you want to challenge intuition X, you need an even more initially plausible intuition. See e.g.

Chip Smith writes:


One problem is that you are not arguing that X is obvious; your position is ostensibly contrarian (hence you expect to have enemies). Yet your contrary idea is presented, on common-sensical grounds, as having intrinsic merit, while another practicable idea about procreation (i.e., that it causes serious harm and should be avoided) is left unexamined.

If intuition X is stated as "Having more children is beneficial to parents," the legitimacy of philanthropic antinatalism my flow from the intuition that "Having children guarantees that those children will suffer and die." I submit that the latter intuition is not merely "plausible," but incontrovertibly true.

nicole writes:

It seems your reasons not to address anti-natalism could as easily be used to dismiss many of your own ideas. For example, libertarianism itself—after all, there aren't that many libertarians; I've read many a conservative and liberal say that they, the political "grown-ups," don't take their ideas seriously; and furthermore, much of this broader audience would consider libertarian claims absurd and anti-common-sensical.

Your claim that anti-natalism has no intrinsic merit seems based only on the fact that it "seems absurd to [you]" because, presumably, it defies common sense. I would at least appreciate if you could explain why that is, because aside from the clearly nonconsensual nature of birth, to me it defies common sense to think that it's not harmful to be born.

Vacslav writes:


I don't accept reasoning based on "statistical significance" in a social science paper dealing with happiness. Don't you find it absurd when they calculate average happiness or standard deviation from that average? One simply can't add happinesses for the same reason economists are (or at least should be) extremely careful when they are dealing with personal preferences or personal utilities.

The same reasoning can be applied to regulation of medicines etc.

I would say: if for some people children bring happiness and they are free to have children - it's good. If for other people children bring unhappiness and they are free to not to have children - it's also good. But it is not clear to me whether it is good if these two categories can trade children.

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