It’s funny how any extended conversation with my friend Yang gets me thinking about everything a little harder.
We got to talking about free will and birth. Our birth is not our choice. Or so it seems. This is an issue of great importance to me, because it problematizes human existence itself. It threatens to annul all notion of free will: If even our birth wasn’t our choice, do we have any choice at all? As you can see, it makes for a rather bleak human condition.
Her: What’s the point of thinking about it if that’s just the way it is and nothing can be done to change it?
Me: Well, for one, i enjoy thinking about it, and trying to understand this unsolvable problem can help to fuel other philosophical projects which could contribute something real and practical to society.
Even more importantly, the way in which we decide to accept or reject this truth could have great implications on our actions. In other words, this is a question of moral responsibility.
In my post on Peter Singer’s contribution to The Stone, i couldn’t decide whether having children is ethical, since i couldn’t reconcile birth with free will, while at the same time, my tendency to innately believe that nature is usually “right” restrained me from jumping to the conclusion that it is flat-out wrong to procreate.
But here’s another question to consider: Our birth aside, on what grounds do we accept or reject our unchosen existence, and if we accept it, how do we cope with it?
Coincidentally, on the day i wrote about birthdays, Peter Singer wrote about giving birth to new generations on the NYT’s new online column on philosophy, The Stone. Ever since reading it, i’ve been thinking about the issues raised, but even after eleven days of contemplation, i’m left with far more questions than answers.
Disregarding some of the red herrings in the essay, what i take to be the underlying critical questions are,
1) Is life worth living?
2) Is it ethical to have children without having an objective answer to the first question?
For some perspective, the following are my favorite of however many of the 1258 (and still counting) comments on Singer’s post that i read that address either the first question or Singer’s main question of whether it is ethical to have children knowing that they will have to endure the pain and suffering that are an inevitable part of life.
There is the positive perception of human existence:
It’s the striving, not the fulfilment, that brings satisfaction, at least for mankind. –Phil (Comment #255)
And the negative:
Those of us who have not shot ourselves in the head are either delusional or cowards. I am a coward who wonders is everyone else really so delusional? Or are we just telling each other that life is worth living when we all know we remain alive because nature has selected for those who fear death the most, and nobody wants to look scared. To me it seems like saying “I meant to do that….” after a gross error or pretending to enjoy the flogging you are recieving for appearances sake. Does the flogged man live for the spaces between the lash? Or does he live for when the lashing is done and he can finally crawl away and die knowing he made a good show of bravery? Either way the whole thing was just torture. –Todd (Comment #54)