Ethical Theory and Moral Practice

, Volume 21, Issue 5, pp 1135–1150 | Cite as

The Hypothetical Consent Objection to Anti-Natalism

  • Asheel SinghEmail author


A very common but untested assumption is that potential children would consent to be exposed to the harms of existence in order to experience its benefits (if it were possible for us to ask and for them to respond). And so, would-be parents might appeal to the following view: Procreation is all-things-considered permissible, as it is morally acceptable for one to knowingly harm an unconsenting patient if one has good reasons for assuming her hypothetical consent—and procreators can indeed reasonably rely on some notion of hypothetical consent. I argue that this view is in error. My argument appeals to a consent-based version of anti-natalism advanced by Seana Valentine Shiffrin. Anti-natalism is the view that it is (almost) always wrong to bring people (and perhaps all sentient beings) into existence. While, like Shiffrin, I stop short of advocating a thoroughgoing anti-natalism, I nevertheless argue that procreators cannot appeal to hypothetical consent to justify exposing children to the harms of existence. I end by suggesting a more promising route by which this justification might be achieved.


Anti-natalism Procreative ethics David Benatar Seana Shiffrin Hypothetical consent Paternalism Dignity 



I would like to thank the two anonymous reviewers whose thoughtful comments helped improve this manuscript. I also wish to thank the National Research Foundation of South Africa (NRF), as well as the University of Johannesburg (UJ). Generous funding offered to me by both parties some years ago while I was still a Master’s student—this paper is a substantially reworked version of a chapter from the Master’s dissertation I completed at UJ in 2012—helped me lay the groundwork for the current manuscript. Lastly, I am greatly indebted to Thaddeus Metz for his invaluable contributions toward bringing this paper into being.


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© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of JohannesburgAuckland ParkSouth Africa

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