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On Having Children:

I much liked this piece on the subject in Slate, by Emily Yoffe.

Amber (www):
Yoffe's piece may be an accurate description of her feelings about eventually having children, but it's an exercise in cluelessness as to why her response angered people. Unlike Yoffe, the letter-writer did not marry someone who wanted children. She and her husband had the same goal. The only request was for some help with how to deal with well-meaning busybodies who wanted the couple to change their plans and reproduce. Instead of responding to the request, Yoffe felt the need to repeat the same lecture that the writer said she'd heard so many times before. This was rude, unwanted, and inappropriate.

Yoffe is even dumber than the previous Prudence, and that's saying something.
6.14.2006 4:53pm
Humble Law Student:
Well, in fairness to Yoffe, I think a more subtle point she was making was that now that the women had found someone she wanted to spend her life with, she should re-examine her feelings about children. The reason is many women don't like to think about having children because they feel they are in no position to raise and care for them. However, for some women, falling in love, etc. can stir up the desire for children that may have otherwise not existed. In all likliehood, many women would still choose not to. However, her point is don't let your past feelings about a subject prevent you from even just honestly thinking when faced with a different situation (that may lead to an attitude change if you remain open).

What is really rude and selfish is the attitude that many have to not raise children. It's socially imperative that our nation at least continue at the replacement rate. There may be legitimate reasons for not raising children, but "I just don't like children," "they cost too much time/money," or "the world is just too cruel" are all either horribly selfish and/or pathetic lies. While granted, its a personal choice, unfortunately many people make such selfish, stupid personal choices.
6.14.2006 5:03pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
Humble Law Student: It may well be selfish not to have children; but I don't see that as much of an argument -- people are entitled to be selfish in this way, I think, especially given the vast cost of raising children. It's selfish not to devote your life to charity, but I'd hardly condemn someone for making that choice.

Why on earth, though, is it "rude" not to have children, and why is it a "stupid personal choice[]" (as opposed to a sensible one that doesn't provide as much public benefits as you'd like people to provide)? For that matter, why would the reasons you quote others as giving (especially the first two) be "pathetic lies"?

I think your first paragraph is right, but your second strikes me as unpersuasive (and I say that as someone who's always wanted children, and who's very glad to be the father of two of them).
6.14.2006 5:12pm
Porkchop (mail):
All those childless folks can use all the money they saved by not having children to pay my children to do the things they won't be able to do for themselves when they reach that certain age (and that their own children might have done for free, if they had had any). And because the pool of younger workers will be smaller in proportion to the ever-growing retired population, the demand for services will be higher, and my children will command premium prices.

Thank you for providing job security to my progeny!
6.14.2006 5:14pm
Donald Kahn (mail):
It's remarkable what a host of cranky people there are around. Yoffe said she did respond to the request. Her response isn't given but it was probably more polite than mine, which is to invite nosy folks to mind their own business.

But there is nothing out of line in the suggestion that the questioner might change her mind And be happier for it.
6.14.2006 5:23pm
poster child (mail):

All those childless folks can use all the money they saved by not having children to pay my children to do the things they won't be able to do for themselves when they reach that certain age (and that their own children might have done for free, if they had had any).


A good argument, were it not for the power of American democracy to transfer wealth from the productive to the politically involved. Here's what will actually happen: these childless retirees will vote for policies that transfer your children's earnings into the public coffers, which will then be passed on to them as "benefits" (e.g., the recently enacted prescription drug benefit) for "our seniors."
6.14.2006 5:26pm
Joshua (www):
There's also the "can't un-ring the bell" factor to consider. Parenthood isn't something you can take for a test drive, then walk away from if you conclude, for whatever reason, that it isn't your cup of tea.

One might decide to have kids and come to regret the decision (e.g. if the kid grows up to become the next Dylan Klebold or Timothy McVeigh). Or, one might decide not to have kids and come to regret that decision. The risk of regret is a wash. But at least with the latter course, there's no kid involved that will share in your misery.
6.14.2006 5:30pm
Medis:
I don't blame anyone who chooses not to have children because they think they wouldn't like it (and I don't think the world actually needs unwilling parents). But I agree with Yoffe that it is hard to know in advance how much fun it can be, and our society does not always do a good job of portraying parenting as enjoyable (in contrast to being a duty).
6.14.2006 5:31pm
chrismn (mail):
Amber writes,


Instead of responding to the request, Yoffe felt the need to repeat the same lecture that the writer said she'd heard so many times before. This was rude, unwanted, and inappropriate.


There is a long tradition in advice columns not to stick to the details of the question asked but to use the question as a launching point for whatever the advice columnist wants to write about. It's Yoffe's column. She has every right to do this and any reasonable reader (or advice seeker) should expect it, unless they've never read an advice column before.


Eugene,

I agree that no one has an obligation to devote one's life to charity work, even if this is selfish. But we usually call to account those who are less generous to others than others have been to them. How would you feel about someone who wouldn't help out his brother when his brother lost his job if you knew his brother had helped him out when he had lost his job?

But that the case with the "childless by choice." Their parents went through the trouble and expense to bring them into the world, but they are unwilling to do this for someone else.
6.14.2006 5:35pm
Pooka:

"But that the case with the "childless by choice." Their parents went through the trouble and expense to bring them into the world, but they are unwilling to do this for someone else."


Sure, but I bet that most of those parents did so for "selfish" reasons (that is, because they wanted to have a child). By your logic, anyone with a parent has a moral obligation to have a child.
6.14.2006 5:41pm
chrismn (mail):
Pooka,

What makes you willing to be "most of those parents did so for `selfish' reasons (that is, because they wanted to have a child)." My impression is that in previous generations a healthy married couple didn't even consider not having children. It "just wasn't done." That is, they felt, for one reason or another, morally compelled to have children.
6.14.2006 5:46pm
Amber (www):
I am familiar with the trope of advice columns to which you refer, chrismn, and it's true that Yoffe put forth a couple of ideas with how to deal with rude questions before launching into her lecture. Sometimes what the columnist wants to write about is boorish and offensive. Miss Manners often prints letters that ask her for advice of a particular sort and she points out that the response the writer wants to make is itself rude; she then directs them toward a more appropriate reaction. Unless you think that the woman who wrote to Yoffe should convince her husband and herself to reproduce and that maintaining in her present childless position is itself definitely objectionable, Yoffe's reaction was the wrong one.
6.14.2006 5:47pm
Amber (www):
In previous generations there was no birth control and no laws against marital rape. Having children under those circumstances cannot be said to have been entirely voluntary.

In your brother hypothetical, a debt of a sort is owed by one brother to another. There is no person to whom a debt to reproduce is owed.

With regard to assisted living in later years, I'm counting on robots.
6.14.2006 5:51pm
Medis:
And strictly speaking, that "someone else" doesn't actually exist, so it is odd to talk about not being willing to do something FOR that someone else. And if that did make sense, even parents would be on the hook for all the children they didn't have (wherever they drew the line).
6.14.2006 5:51pm
Hovsep Joseph (mail) (www):
There are both selfish and selfless reasons for having kids and not having kids. Yoffe's examples are of couples who don't have kids because they want to go on extravagant vacations and not change diapers, but that's not necessarily the most common motivation for childless couples.

People who are not prepared to raise and support kids engage accidentally have kids. People primarly concerned with recreating an image of themselves have kids. People succumb to social pressure to have kids. People prone to physically and emotionally abusive relationships have kids. These are in my view selfish acts. People in such situations can be committing selfless acts by abstaining from having kids. It seems to me that people should certainly become parents if they decide they want kids and are capable of being good parents (and Yoffe's description of the underreported joys of parenthood is relevant and useful for that), but they should not be pressured into having kids for fear of being labeled hedonistic and selfish.

I also don't get the obsession with maintaining a replacement birthrate in a country with a seemingly endless supply of eager, young would-be immigrants.
6.14.2006 5:52pm
Houston Lawyer:
Pooka

I believe the Catholic Church position is exactly that for married couples.

I'm of the opinion that those who are childless by choice will prove to be particularly selfish in their older years, voting against funding for schools, for instance, since they have no children there. I'm therefore concerned that they will be a burden on my children's generation.

They have the right to be selfish, but should hardly expect applause for it.
6.14.2006 5:56pm
Humble Law Student:
Professor Volokh,

I acknowledged in my post that it is entirely their personal choice. And yes, they are pefectly entitled to choose to not have children. However, society can and should bring social pressures to bear on such individuals to change their attitudes. While someone who can afford to give to charity does not have to, I think it perfectly just for them to be pressured by friends/family/society writ large to contribute. I see child raising in a similar light.

The "rude" comment was gratuitous. The "pathetic lies" was in reference to the line "that the world is too cruel." The world, especially in America, is arguably better than at any point throughout history, so I see their argument as a joke.

Just at attempt to do my own part to heap scorn on those who don't give back to society. (caveat: there can be legitimate reasons; however, the one's mentioned aren't among them.)
6.14.2006 6:03pm
John Jenkins (mail):
In previous generations there was no birth control and no laws against marital rape. Having children under those circumstances cannot be said to have been entirely voluntary.

There is no reason why child birth in such a time could not have been entirely the voluntary choice of a woman who wanted to have children and voluntarily had sex to get there. The statement that not all births were necessarily voluntary would be logically valid, but the statement that none of them are is not.

The most obvious evidence for the counter proposition is that, today, women still choose to have children, when birth control and abortion are available; they have no reason to have children they do not want. It follows that, even if those choices were not available, some births would have been entirely voluntary.

The decision NOT to bear children is also an irrevocable one, so suggesting that someone be sure that's the choice that person truly desires isn't really out of line in an advice column (it might be to someone whom you personally know, but the advice column isn't really written only to one's interlocutor). It's a general admonition to be sure that the irrevocable choice you're taking or are about to take is the one really want.
6.14.2006 6:04pm
Wombat:
I can't say I am surprised by modern birth rates. Contraceptives ensure that unwanted pregnancies don't happen often, and Abortion and RU-486 ensure those unwanted pregnancies don't last. So the end result is that the human species is rapidly moving to the point where only the individuals who WANT children actually have offspring, making us unique(?) among animals. And I do mean animals, for why else would the orgasm evolve: to "trick" lifeforms into having offspring via pleasure.

So the second part of the equation is: Who wants Children? They are messy, slimy, rebellious, ungrateful things that eat up an inordinate amount of time and add stress to your life, time and stress relief being the two things the professional lifestyle has in short supply. By any rational measure (aside from keeping your genes in the general population, which serves no purpose for you), why would anyone want kids?

That said, I have to agree with Yoffe: I think too many young to middle-aged people live in enclosed non-parent lifestyles and simply don't interact with children to see the upsides. Think about it: as soon couples have kids, those couples don't have time for "culture" and drop out of their societal circle, and don't reenter it (if ever) until the children are firmly in the custody of babysitters. All the childless couple is likely to see is the occasional chaos of a birthday party or other (unstructured and abnormal) social gathering with children running wild, etc.
I was pretty firmly no-child myself, until my brother had a couple. They are indeed slimy and messy, but outgrew most of the mess by 3 or 4 , and they like me more than anything else in the world. I've since changed my stance to "Will have 1 or 2 whenever the (still theoretical) wife wants them."

As an aside, I really wonder what effect Population Density has on our psyches, as individuals and as a society. Individuals living in a big city see many potential mates (due to higher population density), and increasingly wait trying to net better and better (nowadays, more and more flawless) mates. Once they finally do find a mate, they look at the cramped city apartments/ dozens of identical suburban homes and figure there's no pressing need for more people - especially since they know just how many people out there are better than them (studies have shown that intelligence is frequently related to low self-esteem, because the intelligent are smart enough to know how dumb they are (vs. the top)), and why make their kids suffer fighting for the middle?
6.14.2006 6:04pm
Matt Tievsky (mail):
Houston Lawyer: "I'm of the opinion that those who are childless by choice will prove to be particularly selfish in their older years, voting against funding for schools"

Isn't voting FOR school funding by parents at least as selfish? In fact, moreso, since it coerces other people to provide support.
6.14.2006 6:05pm
Happy Parent:
Houston Lawyer:

I'm of the opinion that those who are childless by choice will prove to be particularly selfish in their older years, voting against funding for schools, for instance, since they have no children there

Why is a childless person who votes against raising taxes to fund schools more selfish than a parent voting in favor of such a measure? I don't know how things work in Texas, but where I live, property taxes provide the majority of funding for public schools. Not surprisingly, there are towns with big families, high taxes and good schools, and towns with empty nesters, low taxes and crappy schools.
6.14.2006 6:13pm
Silicon Valley Jim:
In previous generations there was no birth control

Birth control has been around for approximately 5,000 years. Of course, not all the methods available today were available 5,000 years ago, but the vast majority were available more than a generation ago. See this
6.14.2006 6:17pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
Yoffe's piece may be an accurate description of her feelings about eventually having children, but it's an exercise in cluelessness as to why her response angered people. [...] Instead of responding to the request, Yoffe felt the need to repeat the same lecture that the writer said she'd heard so many times before. This was rude, unwanted, and inappropriate.
In fact, she DID respond to the request. And then continued with some additional comments.

Now, I can understand how it can be inappropriate for a stranger to walk up to you and give you advice. But how can it possibly be "rude" or "inappropriate" for an advice columnist to give someone advice? It wasn't the advice she wanted? So what? Since when is the job of an advice columnist (or any other counselor of any sort -- legal, spiritual, or psychological) to tell you what you want to hear?

Even more importantly, unlike a therapist, an advice columnist isn't actually giving personal advice. An advice columnist is writing an open letter to the world, using a particular individual's question as a jumping off point.

So whether the letter writer "wanted" the advice is spectacularly irrelevant.
6.14.2006 6:28pm
Tony (mail):
I'm pretty skeptical of the "children are good for the future" argument. Erlich's "population bomb" may not have been wrong so much as delayed; the Green Revolution pulled a rabbit out of the hat when it comes to producing enough food for six billion people, but there may or may not be another rabbit to be had.

I can't recall the details, but a report came out a while back indicating that, of all the things one might do as an environmentalist (recycling, using less fossil fuels, etc.) nothing was as effective as not having children. If you believe that resource limitations and pollution are complete non-issues, then maybe it's reasonable to believe that children are good for the future. But if the world is going to be short on food and resources, then breeding is profoundly immoral.

Concern about the skewed demographics of industrialized countries seems unwarrented unless you factor in the ways in which increased demand for finite resources would lower the standard of living for everyone.
6.14.2006 6:30pm
Mark F. (mail):
I disagree that people who have kids are not "selfish." Obviously, most must get some pleasure/satisfaction/enjoyment from having kids. I doubt if my parents would have preferred spending their money on a Hawaiian vaction rather than their boys.
6.14.2006 6:34pm
Mark F. (mail):
Tony:

Anyone concerned about overpopulation can always reduce the population by one.
6.14.2006 6:36pm
Hemingway:
I have three children. Whenever I'm around liberals, I moan and groan about how difficult and expensive they are. Hoprefully it'll discourage them. The fewer new Democrats we have 18 years from now, the better . . .

Contraception should be subsidized for registered Democrats and criminalized for registered Republicans!
6.14.2006 6:38pm
chrismn (mail):
Mark F. writes


I disagree that people who have kids are not "selfish." Obviously, most must get some pleasure/satisfaction/enjoyment from having kids. I doubt if my parents would have preferred spending their money on a Hawaiian vaction rather than their boys.


I don't know your parents, but are they actually the kind that never feel a sense of duty? Maybe they would have preferred (in some sense) to have taken lots of Hawaiian vacations instead of having children, but felt it would have been wrong.
6.14.2006 6:43pm
John Jenkins (mail):
What, precisely, is the genesis of the moral obligation to procreate? Discuss. (Ignore the following: (1) your personal religious beliefs or the religious beliefs of others and (2) any discussion of an evolutionary biological imperative that one might feel)
6.14.2006 6:55pm
Waldensian (mail):
Yoffe may be right: many nonparents may in fact overestimate the burdens of, and underestimate the joys of, raising typically developing children like her own.

But I suspect that some nonparents may appreciate -- as Yoffe clearly does not -- that taking the parenthood plunge can lead to a vastly different world, the world of children with significant developmental disabilities.

Yoffe may be surprised to learn that in that world, diapers can in fact last forever.

It's a deeply bittersweet, and relentlessly "character building," experience that is life altering in ways that many people -- and, in my experience, particularly parents of typically developing children -- cannot, or perhaps will not, fully comprehend.

There are success stories in this alternate world, involving parents and children whose character and resolve make them nothing short of heroes. But all too often, and to an extent that most people simply cannot face, there is
despair, isolation, divorce, and financial ruin.

(As an aside: If you think our culture is "too PC," too devoted to not offending or hurting anyone, consider the kinds of things that are said about such children by well known media figures.)

I would not trade my children, or my parenting experiences, for anything. My children are the joy of my life. Someday I hope simply to be their equal as human beings. But with that said, you won't find me smugly holding forth on how people should reconsider their decision not to have children. Not everyone, after all, is destined to have a 10-year-old with conversational speech, a future of self-sufficiency, and an interest in Iran-Contra.

I'm at a loss for appropriate metaphors, so I'll go with a lame one. Yoffe's experience may have turned out to be a merry-go-round, but she needs to realize that she's encouraging people to jump on a thrill ride without seatbelts. Maybe some people are afraid of falling out. Maybe they ought to be.
6.14.2006 6:58pm
Brian Day (mail):
The mix of sarcastist and earnest repsonses sure does make for interesting reading.


Contraception should be subsidized for registered Democrats and criminalized for registered Republicans!



Amen! 0:-)
6.14.2006 6:59pm
Amber (www):
David,

I should have said "just responding." Yoffe was asked for advice about how to deal with intrusive questions about someone's reproductive choices. That is a perfectly reasonable request, and she used it as a springboard to make an obvious point that the writer and her husband had heard many times before from people whose opinions mattered to them more than that of a random advice columnist.

It's not her job to tell you what you want to hear, but it is her job to provide useful advice. Echoing the same thing family and friends have said is not useful and in this case was condescending and rude. Her prefatory remark about becoming one of the people who drove the writer crazy acknowledges that she knew exactly what she was doing and chose to do it anyway, presumably because she thought her experience of being a childless-by-choice woman who married a man who wanted kids and changed her mind could and should be applied by a couple who both agreed not to reproduce.

If a woman had asked Yoffe how to prevent people from asking intrusive questions about why she had so many children and Yoffe had instead lectured her about birth control, it would have been just as objectionable.
6.14.2006 7:13pm
Frank Drackmann (mail):
I love kids, especially when they get nailed with a foul ball, or get bit by the dog they were teasing, it almost makes up for those blood curdling screams they emit in the movie theatre.
6.14.2006 7:20pm
You Know Who:
The effect of cultural attitudes on having children probably indirectly influences -- by pressure or non-pressure to have children -- the dependency ratio (ratio of workers to non-workers).

To the extent that over the last 2-3 decades attitudes have shifted toward discouraging (or at least not encouraging) children, one might predict that fewer children will be born to meet the needs of older people, who will want to collect benefits (viz., social security) that are funded (in large part) by current workers.

I'm going home to teach my kid to ride a bike.

Nominally Related But Interesting
6.14.2006 7:33pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
Waldensian:
(As an aside: If you think our culture is "too PC," too devoted to not offending or hurting anyone, consider the kinds of things that are said about such children by well known media figures.)
Wait, you think you can disprove a claim that our culture is too PC by citing an episode where a comedian was compelled to apologize for saying something un-PC on a show whose premise is that people will say un-PC things?

Amber:
It's not her job to tell you what you want to hear, but it is her job to provide useful advice.
1. Again, the fact that a person doesn't want to hear it does not make it useless. As an attorney, I am forced to tell clients all the time that they can't do what they want to do, or they can but it's a terrible idea and they'll regret it later. ("No, you shouldn't buy a house with your significant other. Wait until you're married. Otherwise, you'll regret it.") They don't want to hear that they'll regret it later, but that doesn't make it "useless" to tell them. Perhaps the very fact that a neutral third party, rather than a friend or relative, is telling you something will cause you to listen.

2. Useful for whom? Just because the letter-writer might not have any use for it does not mean that readers don't have a use for it. And readers, not the letter-writer, are the primary audience for an advice columnist.
6.14.2006 7:35pm
You Know Who:
6.14.2006 7:37pm
Allen Asch (mail) (www):
There's an interesting reciprocal piece in this week's Time Magazine available at this link: Does Fatherhood Make You Happy?

I'd write more, but I'm too busy taking care of a rambunctious 5-year-old. See this link: Miranda
6.14.2006 7:52pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
"They are messy, slimy, rebellious, ungrateful things that eat up an inordinate amount of time and add stress to your life, time and stress relief being the two things the professional lifestyle has in short supply."

Perhaps I was lucky, but I experienced none of those things. All I ever experienced from my child at every age was joy. I actually think my level of stress went down. I think most humans enjoy caring for something, that's why so many people have pets. Now what use is a cat? They basically just eat and poop; yet about a third of American households have pet cats. And yes, I have a cat, in fact two. All I get from them is joy.
6.14.2006 7:54pm
Medis:
John Jenkins,

Obviously, many births remain voluntary, but I think it is interesting to ask whether the replacement rate can be maintained solely on the basis of voluntary births. Apparently, for example, most of the difference in birth rates between the United States--which is basically at the replacement rate--and Western European countries--which are well below--is attributable to a much higher pregnancy rate among teenagers in the United States. Of course, teen pregnancies can be voluntary, but I suspect that enough of them are unintentional such that the United States would fall well below the replacement rate without unintentional teen pregnancies.

Wombat,

I recall reading about a study once which indicated that urban areas throughout history have had below-replacement birth rates, and that urbanization caused by the (ongoing) industrial revolution effectively explains most of the (ongoing) fall in birth rates.

So, I think you are basically right about the contributions of urbanization (although I'm not sure about your description of the mechanisms).
6.14.2006 8:01pm
BT:
Given the tone and condescension of her responses, I think Amber would be better off marrying that Robot.
6.14.2006 8:11pm
Armando Alejandro Estrada:
The parents here have forgotten the best part of not having children. When we (us, "evil" non-parents) leave work, we don't have to deal with the idiots you people deal with. That means no having a talk with your kid's friend's halfwit dad whose a drunk, or setting straight some wannabe Bobby Knight coaching your kid's Little League team. Why waste my free time dealing with these imbeciles when I can be playing tennis with the wife and our friends?
6.14.2006 8:34pm
Robin:
@ Tony: The environmentalist argument for not having children is totally wacky when contemplated by a wealthy, well-educated American. The longterm sustainability of the planet may hinge on keeping population down, but it's plainly obvious that the population implosion going on in Europe and Japan isn't doing much to keep the population from growing, since those countries import foreigners to make up for nonbirths, which in turn incentives childbirth elsewhere by holding out the possibility that one's child can find a better life abroad.

More generally, it's pretty obvious that the longterm health of the planet hinges upon the liberal, post-industrialized world being able to impose various environmental restrictions on the "traditional," industrializing world. And if you're concerned with human welfare, you should see the obligation for the relatively affluent to reproduce because, except in the all-too-common case of the spoiled brat, affluent parents produce better educated children who are better able to improve social welfare. That's why liberals worry about being outbred by conservatives and why conservatives worry about the West being outbred by uncouth foreigners, no?

@ Amber: As David pointed out above, the Yoffe writes for the readers. Any help to the letter writer is tangential. Indeed, often the letter writer is a fabrication (partial or total) used to allow the advice columnist to talk about some issue.

In the interest of a fuller discussion, I remember reading on your blog that you don't want to have children and/or find the idea repugnant (also, maybe that you didn't like children?). How much of your reaction to Yoffe's article was based on finding the *suggestion* offensive -- that is, that you yourself didn't like reading a challenge to your own decision -- and how much of it was objecting to the article's tone? For example, one might ask why you decided to call Yoffe out as stupid, ill-mannered, and spoiled on your blog (http://bamber.blogspot.com/2006/06/slate-is-stupid.html), rather than just writing her an email, if your concern was that she was giving bad advice. More realistically, I suppose that you realized that even if you were commenting on Yoffe's own decisions, you wanted to share your observations with others and score rhetorical points . . . .
6.14.2006 8:36pm
Amber (www):
Robin, The pro-reproduction position has enough advocates in our culture that it seemed absurdly condescending for Yoffe to think that her message has not been heard and considered by any childless person. I admit that I was peeved on a personal level by Yoffe's comments, but I didn't write to Yoffe because by the time I checked The Fray, dozens of Slate readers had already directly addressed her remarks. I thought that they might be of some interest to my readers, some of whom are fans of both advice columns and are childfree.

Her suggestion is offensive to the latter, because it was superficial, shallow, and unlikely to cause a change of heart in either the writer or anyone reading the column; since it could serve no useful purpose in encouraging people to have children, it served only to pat parents on the back and to denigrate the choice of the writer and anyone of like mind by implying that it was made thoughtlessly.

Her suggestion is offensive to the former for the reasons I have previously stated. Advice columnists often break hard truths to unwilling ears (Dan Savage's DTMFA, for example), but advice columnists should not acknowledge that something is inappropriate, as Yoffe seemed to do, and then do it themselves. Then again, my favorite advice forum is Ask Metafilter, where the objective above all else is to answer the question asked, not to impose your own idea of what the questioner should want.
6.14.2006 9:28pm
John Herbison (mail):

Contraception should be subsidized for registered Democrats and criminalized for registered Republicans!


Hemingway, you're fighting human nature. How does one know that Democrats are better lovers (and, consequently, more likely breeders)? Did you ever hear anyone ask/beg for a piece of elephant?
6.14.2006 9:37pm
Hoya:
Put to the side the question of selfishness vs. unselfishness, and put to the side the question of whether having children is morally required. Here are two relevant points:

1) Having and raising children is about as obviously a worthwhile human activity as can be. When one focuses on the good of a typical human life, and the possibilities that can be realized by bringing about and nurturing a child's life, it's pretty straightforwardly one of the most plainly worthwhile things that one can choose to do.

2) How do we think about, say, experienced chess players who have contempt for beginners, or law professors who have contempt for first year law students? We want to say to them: You too were once a beginner, with all of the faults, annoying inabilities, and so forth, and you managed to become what you are only because others made your good their own — treating your potential as worth developing.

3) There are lots of worthwhile things in life other than having children that can genuinely compete with that good. Having a couch without spitup on it is not really among them.

I guess the upshot is that there is nothing objectionable about choosing to be childless -- but given the fact that one has to take steps to thwart the having of children when one is married, there can be really bad reasons for doing so — reasons that are based on a deeply misguided contempt for the state of being a child as such, or based on utterly trivial reasons. Does it make it morally wrong? Probably not. But there are some people who are contemptible even without acting wrongly.

An analogy: Someone who has all sorts of talents, but just wants to lie around all day getting stoned (and has the means to do so). Morally wrong? Not really interested to insist on that. Contemptible? Yes. You wouldn't want to be like that person, and you wouldn't want your friends or siblings or children to become that person.
6.14.2006 10:01pm
Hoya:
Three...three relevant points!
6.14.2006 10:02pm
John Jenkins (mail):
Medis, Unintentional is not the same as coerced.

Everyone, who cares about replacement breeding? It's not as though there's something special about being born in the U.S. or the West, even if it matters in the long run that those institutions continue. The entire history of the human race has been one of darkness, tyranny, and slavery. Why should the current (relative) respite continue for any extended period of time? Why should we all care if we're going to be dead within the next hundred years anyway. Hell, if it all ended tomorrow, wasn't it a good run? Why do we care about contingencies of effect when continued existence is itself contingent (what if an asteroid smacked the planet in 5 years, obliderating all multi-cellular life?)

I'm just baffled by this entire conversation. Have kids if you want. Don't have them if you don't want to, but all of the arguments I see seem to be assuming a hell of a lot of premises just to get to the desired goal of proving that one of these positions is necessarily superior to another. Of course, on the whole, the pro-procreators should be happy. The anti-procreators are rather obviously breeding themselves out of existence...
6.14.2006 10:20pm
Ship Erect (mail) (www):
To all the pro-procreators here, what about adoption? If anything is "selfish," it is the idea that one should pass on one's own genes without regard to the thousands and thousands of children who have no parents.
6.14.2006 11:00pm
Shangui (mail):
Contraception should be subsidized for registered Democrats and criminalized for registered Republicans!

Isn't the second half of this suggestion what the Christian Right (including Catholics) is basically doing?

And the personal attacks on Amber (i.e. she should marry a robot) are really uncalled for. Going through the years 23-40 having people constantly telling you you should have kids and assuming (and often stating outright) that something is wrong with you if you don't want to can be a bit trying at times. A little bile thrown back is more than acceptable.
6.14.2006 11:09pm
Waldensian (mail):

Wait, you think you can disprove a claim that our culture is too PC by citing an episode where a comedian was compelled to apologize for saying something un-PC on a show whose premise is that people will say un-PC things?

Of course. Maher's comment, and the network's outrageously tame response (you call THAT an apology?) is an excellent example of how far we haven't come. Imagine if they had been discussing "The Bell Curve" and Maher had said that we should "think of black children as dogs" because they "don't progress." It's frankly hard to imagine. Advertisers would have abandoned the show. Maher would have been instantly fired.

But with the developmentally disabled -- a discrete, insular, and heavily stigmatized minority -- hey, game on.

But it sure isn't the only example. If you think our country is too PC, the issue of how we treat people with developmental disabilities is NOT your flagship issue.

Crank Yanker's "Special Ed" is just the beginning.
6.14.2006 11:22pm
Medis:
John,

Sorry, I should have been more clear that I wasn't contradicting your point, but rather expanding the discussion.

Incidentally, I don't really care about replacement rates either, although a shrinking world population might cause significant economic disruption in the near term. In general, though, we might as well plan and prepare for our existence in the future, even if it is contingent, since it would kinda suck to end up continually existing without having adequately planned and prepared for it.
6.15.2006 12:20am
Mark F. (mail):
I don't know your parents, but are they actually the kind that never feel a sense of duty? Maybe they would have preferred (in some sense) to have taken lots of Hawaiian vacations instead of having children, but felt it would have been wrong.

Well, once they had us obviously they felt they had a responsibility to take care of us properly. However, I would be genuinely shocked if they ever regretted having kids.
6.15.2006 12:58am
Truth Seeker:
Why should we all care if we're going to be dead within the next hundred years anyway.

If we look at the evolution of life from the amoeba through the human it appears that (with some exceptions) life is getting more intelligent, more powerful over the environment and longer-living. If this evolution continues infinitely, eventual living beings will be omnipotent, omniscient and immortal, which is our definition of God. Thus the purpose of life and evolution is to create God. If it stops now, no God, at least in this solar system.
6.15.2006 1:20am
Ship Erect (mail) (www):
Thus the purpose of life and evolution is to create God.

Well, we already did that, thousands of years ago! He's been pestering us ever since.
6.15.2006 4:58am
Steve the Child-Free Robot (www):
I, for one, find Amber quite sexy. I'll assist her living any day. Rrrrow.

poster child: Given the vast amounts of public subsidization of children in the current American democracy, from tax breaks to vast public school bureaucracies right down to the fact that parents at every employer I've ever had get free maternity- and paternity-leave vacations and other benefits that my paycheck has to subsidize, your resentful 4:26 pm comment is more than a little ironic.

Hoya: when you say raising children is "worthwhile", you assume the conclusion. Many people don't find that premise "obvious."

Yoffe's comment wasn't offensive because her advice was unhelpful or because it was inapposite to the letter writer's concern, but because its implicit premise was that anyone who chooses not to have children just simply hasn't thought about it hard enough. The reasoning -- that one can't know how one feels about having children without actually having children -- is insipid, since no one under any circumstances would tell a woman who really wanted to have children who learned that she was infertile that she can't know how it's like to go through the rest of her life without children unless she actually does so. Yoffe effectively condoned the busybodies that the writer was complaining about: after all, if the problem with the childless is that they haven't thought about it enough, then what the child-free really want is someone to make them think about it more. Trust someone who's made that decision: I don't. Yoffe would find it insulting if I told her the only reason she's happy with her daughter is the cognitive dissonance from being coerced into a child-bearing decision she didn't want by her spouse, no?
6.15.2006 7:26am
Jam (mail):
I've known Dinks: double income, no kids.
I know married couples that have kids and ought not to.
I know married couples that have lots of children: one family has 13 children, another 9. We have 4.

To not have children to indulge in a life of nothing but pleasure is incredibly selfish.

The reason why have children:

1) For us Christians it is because God Himself commands it.

2) Continuation of Adam's race.

3) Grand-parents revenge: Because children are a mirror into who we are. Children allow us to more clearly see where we stand in an unbroken chain of history that ties us to past events and helps us to understand a little better how we got where we are, which gives us a better sense of where we are going. Where there are children there is hope. Where there are no children there is death and a dead end. How sad all those elderly folks in assisted living places with no one to take care of them except paid employees and a [fading] memory that wonders what was it all for. No wonder the Kavorkians of this world have found such fertile soil.

Parenting is not for cowards.
6.15.2006 8:19am
A.C.:
Are people obliged to have children of their own? I don't think so. Is there a moral obligation to contribute to the next generation? That's a different question, and I think the answer is yes. Lots of people do it by being good aunts and uncles, or by working with organizations that help children. Others do it less directly by running businesses, creating art, or inventing the things that will be around when those children grow up.

Funding the schools is part of the obligation, and I lose patience when childless people (or people with grown children) argue that they shouldn't have to educate "other people's children." They aren't just other people's children -- they're future employees, future taxpayers, future artists and inventors, and the people who will be voting for the government that decides what will happen when today's young adults are old. We'd better educate them if we know what's good for us.

That said, I do think some white collar workplaces have become too family friendly. I don't begrudge some paid leave for new parents, but I think that people who choose to work reduced schedules or who can't travel should progress more slowly than those who do put in more time. This is not always the case. People on reduced schedules shouldn't necessarily be shoved into a permanent "mommy track" (or "daddy track"), but maybe it should take them 18 months to earn perks that other workers earn in 12. And that rate of progress should be temporary, so that the same individuals can "upshift" again when their family obligations permit.
6.15.2006 9:30am
John Jenkins (mail):
"Because God Said so" is almost never a winning argument, but Jam, answer this: does God command you to have children because that's good, or is it good to have children because God commands it?
6.15.2006 9:52am
Jam (mail):
Jenkins:
I presupposed item (1) with "For us Christians." Of course if God commands then, by definition, it is good. So the answer to your question is yes.

Erect:
I do not think that adoption has been disregarded in this discussion. Choosing childlessness is the issue and not how children are "acquired." BTW, the Bible uses adoption as a metaphor for our relationship with God.

I do not mean to preach but having children and viewing children as very precious gifts is central to being a Christian father or mother. And, yes we do have our moments when we wonder.

Also, please understand that I am primarliy addressing the view, and a growing trend in my experience, that children are hinderance. I also think that the "I do not want children" mentality is tied to the myth of the "population bomb" and to propaganda relating to how humans are damageing the environment.
6.15.2006 11:03am
Jam (mail):

Funding the schools is part of the obligation, and I lose patience when childless people (or people with grown children) argue that they shouldn't have to educate "other people's children."


According to whom is it my obligation, by deadly coercion, finance another's children education? We home school and will not accept vouchers if offered. I am making sacrifices, willingly and gladly, to teach my kids at home. My wife and I highly value education. Why should I be forced to pay to enable Dinks in their lifestyle? Schooling and education are not the same thing.
6.15.2006 11:11am
Jam (mail):
Oops. I meant to say:

Why should I be forced to pay to enable double income parents in their lifestyle?
6.15.2006 11:13am
Jeek:
does God command you to have children

And if so, is He going to come babysit, help with feeding / bathing / changing diapers, pay for clothing and schooling, etc etc? =)
6.15.2006 12:08pm
Medis:
Jam,

Just a suggestion, but you might want to check out Plato's Euthyphro--if only to get fair warning about where I think John is heading.

http://classics.mit.edu/Plato/euthyfro.html
6.15.2006 12:37pm
Jam (mail):
Medis: Thanks for the heads up.

Jeek: No.
6.15.2006 1:25pm
Something Wicked:
I'm always amused by the reasons for having kids that some people cite and then turn around and call people who choose not to have children 'selfish'.

'You should have kids so someone will visit you when you're older, You should have kids even if you don't want them and You should have kids even if you can't afford them'

These sound like the height of selfishness to me.
6.15.2006 1:44pm
Joshua (www):
It occurs to me that the whole debate over the moral and ethical aspects of procreation is so loaded and complex that it's probably worth an entire blog of its own.
6.15.2006 2:00pm
Jam (mail):
Wicked: My reaction is not to "not having children" but to reasons why not.

My experience with older folks is that the loneliness of living without descendants is one that catches up with them. It is something not expected. Hinted at times in earlier years but not fully understood until it is too late.

It is selfish to have children just for your future benefit. But you cannot tell how you will be changed by your children as times goes on.

Life with children is different.
Life without children is different.

Each has its rewards. Each has its challenges.
6.15.2006 2:31pm
John Jenkins (mail):
Medis, you took all of the fun out of that for me, I want you to know.

Jam, you didn't answer the question. It was phrased as one of two options in the alternative. The upshot (if you've read the Euthyphro) is that even if you believe God commands it, there still should be an independent justification for the goodness of having children.

Even for "you Christians," as you put it, it's important because if anything God commands is good, then if God commanded murder, that would be good. But wait, you say, God would never do that. Why? Because God is good. To which I say, exactly. There exists some standard by which to judge the action, and THAT standard is what you have to articulate if you want to convince someone of the rightness of your position.
6.15.2006 3:28pm
Amber (www):
Perhaps I bashed the old Prudie unfairly.
6.15.2006 3:47pm
Jam (mail):
Can you accept the premise that, truly, objectively, God exists?
6.15.2006 3:55pm
lisamarie (mail):
I'm having no kids, because I cannot live with the possibility of knowingly passing down my painful heritable disease to my children. Please commence with the carrying on about how "selfish" I am not to have kids. If you came out lucky in the genetic lottery, maybe you should be a little less judgemental of those who agonize over the decision not to reproduce.
6.15.2006 4:05pm
Jam (mail):
You will not "begin carrying anything." I am sorry that you have to carry such a burden and wish you the best. I do not think that you situtation is being discussed here. At least, if it appears to you that I have I apologize.
6.15.2006 4:13pm
Medis:
John,

Using Socrates against the unsuspecting is dirty pool.

Jam,

Another way to put Socrates' point is that your notion of God--what you believe objectively exists--is empty if you cannot specify God's attributes in a non-circular fashion.

For example, I suspect that you believe that God is not just all-knowing and all-powerful, but also perfectly beneficent. But if you then define what is good solely as "whatever God wills", then the claim that God is perfectly beneficent is circular, and thus empty.
6.15.2006 4:15pm
Jam (mail):
Appreciate your concern. I, by no means, am an intellectual but I do enyoy these debates. I have read Schaefer and listen to RC Sproul.

The question is not what you presented.

The question is, if God exists, we do not measure God by any standards except by what he is.

If God do exist, do you propose to measure God by what/whose standard?

And in what way has this "circular" reasoning occurred? The problem is that y'all are unwilling to accept the premise that God ("the one Hear Oh Israel, the LORD is God, the LORD is One"), therefore, we have no basis for understanding each other. I do not accept your premise, you do not accept mine. And only one of us is correct.

What I read is nothing but the building of a straw man which Socrates then destroys. Big deal.
6.15.2006 4:46pm
Jeek:
Can you accept the premise that, truly, objectively, God exists?

One could wish for Him to assert a more expert control over the affairs of His creation...
6.15.2006 4:55pm
Jam (mail):
Like you do your neighbors and/or children, friends, etc?

Oh, wait. Your acknowledging the statement, aren't you?
6.15.2006 4:58pm
A.C.:
Jam...

How is paying for education related to subsidizing DINKs in their lifestyle? The "NK" in "DINK" stands for "no kids," so DINKs by definition don't get a direct subsidy from school funding. My argument is that DINKs (and singles, people with grown children... even people who home-school their own children or send them to private school) have a direct interest in seeing that ALL children get educated. They will be living in the same world with those children later on.

In other words, educating the next generation is not the sole responsibility of people who currently have children in school. A population with a decent level of education (on average, at least) is something like a public good -- part of the general infrastructure that we all rely on. And so we all should pay for it.
6.15.2006 5:09pm
A.C.:
Sorry, Jam... just noticed the post right after the one I responded to. But the rest still holds. If dual income parents are poor and you are rich, then yes, you should subsidize the education of their children. (There are plenty of families in which both parents work but don't earn a lot.) If dual income parents (and single people, retirees and so on) are rich and you are poor, then they should at least offer to help you educate your children (even if you turn that offer down). The point is that NOBODY, with or without children of their own, is entitled to say that educating "other people's children" is not their affair. In short, education is more than a private consumer good.

(And no, I don't want to socialize everything else. Not everything has this public good aspect.)
6.15.2006 5:21pm
Jam (mail):
My mistake. It should have been "double income."

I disagree. Educating is the responsibility of parents. Parents may choose to delegate the task of schooling but it is no one elses responsibility to pay for my children's education.

To me the "public good" demands that we bear the burden of our own responsibilities, including schooling.

BUt I value liberty very highly.
6.15.2006 5:24pm
John Jenkins (mail):
Jam, it's not about whether God exists. It's about whether having children is "good," or to be more precise, morally required. There are potentially three kinds of actions (assuming morality): morally required, morally permissible, and morally impermissible.

It seems that your argument for childbearing is that it is morally required.

The reason it is morally required is that God commands it.

That raises the question of why ought one obey God's commands?

The answer inevitably is that it is morally required to do so, which puts us into circularity.

The way out of the circle is to argue an independent reason why childbearing is morally required. Then, once you've done that, you can say that God commands it because of that reason. So long as the reason does not rely on God's goodness or the fact of God's command, there is no circularity.

You're partly wrong about premises, the premise of God's existence is important, but isn't necessarily the difference. It's the particular conception of God and manifestations of God's will that are important (e.g. a deist might agree with you on God's existence and still disagree with the validity of the command).
6.15.2006 5:31pm
Oenophile:
Basic math: a reasonable estimate of the cost of educating a single child is $7,000/year. The median household income is $50,000. Two kids per household -> $14,000 annually to educate them. Average working life is roughly 40 years (approximately three times the time that a student will be in K-12).

Ergo, if everyone had two kids, each household would be required to pay $4,700 annually, or, about 10% of their pre-tax salary, just to education. There are already substantial numbers of people who don't have children in school (never having kids, already had them, or have not had them yet) but subsidize public education.

Thank God there are people out there who don't want kids but will still support their school systems through property taxes.

Some of us (like another poster) have grave concerns with passing on inheritable disorders. The original Prudie question regarded a woman in her thirties, who may have very understandable concerns about Down's or other genetic problems that occur with age.

Finally, according to an Ann Landers column, 70% of parents would have made the decision to not have children at all or to have them later in life, had they known then what they learned as parents. There is something morally wrong with creating human life but not wanting it - why do so if you know that you'll be among that 70%? It is not all about vacations, future geriatric surgeons, replacing the population, or avoiding diapers, but about whether you have the capacity to give all of yourself to another human for two decades.
6.15.2006 5:37pm
Jam (mail):
"The way out of the circle is to argue an independent reason why childbearing is morally required."

But there is no independent reason to which God can be subjected. God IS and is the primary source of commands, therefore, he is also the definition of morality.

For whatever reason, God chose to act in a given manner. Subject only to Himself. We do not have that independence. We have free will but are NOT morally autonoumous.
6.15.2006 5:45pm
Jam (mail):
Oenophile: Using whose inflated view of costs? Strip out all the sports, music, extra facilities to accomodate a centralized location, employment benefits, etc. How much the cost then?

I can tell you that we are educating for no where close to $4,700/child per year. Unless you count my wife's potential income given up.

And yes, my children are being educated way more than their friends in government schools.
6.15.2006 5:51pm
John Jenkins (mail):
You're not even making an argument for anything.
1. God is.
2. God is the primary source of commands.
3. Thus, God is the definition of morality.
is itself the very definition of something: non sequitur.

You're basically talking to yourself, because you're not even trying to engage other people on the rational basis of your position (assuming there is one). Look into apologetics.
6.15.2006 6:18pm
Medis:
Jam,

What do you mean by "God is the primary source of commands", and why does that imply he has moral authority?

By the way, do you agree that God is all powerful and all knowing? Or would that be measuring God?
6.15.2006 6:42pm
Jam (mail):
What I hear is that unless God can be independently validated by a moral standard then, it is circular reasoning to say tht because says it is moral.

Correct?
6.15.2006 7:16pm
Jam (mail):
Medis: God IS because there never has been a time when he did not exist and because God is not acquiring new knowledge.

"By the way, do you agree that God is all powerful and all knowing? Or would that be measuring God?"

Yes. And all powerfull/knowing is not measuring any more than to say infinte is measuring anything. It is something revealed to us through the Scriptures.
6.15.2006 7:22pm
Jam (mail):
Arrrgh.

What I hear is that unless God can be independently validated by a moral standard then, it is circular reasoning to say "because God says says it is moral."

Correct?
6.15.2006 7:31pm
Jam (mail):
Thanks all for the instruction. This may be basic for you but I have not studied formal logic, read some but that's all.

Given, A is moral and not A is immoral.
Say that B is not A.
Is B immoral? Why? Because it is given. Right?
6.15.2006 7:48pm
Jam (mail):
Another way of asking.

The inventor of monopoly established the rules of the game. What you can/cannot do in the game is dictated by what the inventor commanded. How can anyone judge the morality of the monopoly rules? By judging the inventor?
6.15.2006 7:52pm
Jam (mail):
I searched for: is god subject to an independent moral standard?

And found this:
http://spot.colorado.edu/~morristo/goodness.html

I have read it over twice and I think tht it is along the lines of what I am trying to say.

I am dong some more reading.

I appreciate your engaement, professors.
6.15.2006 7:59pm
Robin:

I can tell you that we are educating for no where close to $4,700/child per year. Unless you count my wife's potential income given up.


Why would you *not* count that, unless your wife would not be working anyway, even if the kids were being educated in (say) a conservative Christian school? That's like saying, "People who say it's expensive to get legal advice are full of it. I give my family legal advice for free." If every woman stayed home to homeschool her children, you'd lose a huge percentage of the workforce. (About 75% of women of age to have school age children (25-54) are in the workforce. 67% of women with school age children are currently in the workforce. Women comprise 46% of the workforce. I can't find a statistic for what percentage of the workforce is women with children, but presumably it's got to be at least 20% of the workforce.)
6.15.2006 8:16pm
Jam (mail):
Robin:

If all home schoolers begin to send their kids to government schools there would be no space.

I do not include her potential income as a cost because it is not a cost. We could not afford a private school even if my wife was working.

And whether women leaving the workforce is a good thing depends on your beliefs/philosophy. Call me old fashioned but I think that it would be a good thing. Surprising, isn't it ;)
6.15.2006 8:30pm
Jam (mail):
More on Euthyphro Dilemma:

http://www.rzim.org/publications/essay_arttext.php?id=4



(snip)

So God's goodness should not be viewed as his fulfilling moral obligations but as expressing the way he is. God does not "consult" ontologically independent moral principles before acting. No, he simply acts as he is inclined to--which is in accordance with his good character, and this will necessarily be the best. "No preliminary stage of checking the relevant principles is required." In this sense, God's goodness should be thought of along axiological rather strictly moral lines.

(snip)

In other words, although, morally speaking, God acts in the same manner that humans ought to act (or as the ideal moral agent would act), his goodness is not a matter of fulfilling moral duties as it is for us. For instance, we speak of God's making a promise to Abraham to make his descendants as plentiful as the sands on the shore. Given this understanding of God's not being morally obligated to act--in this case, to keep a promise, we should more accurately describe God as expressing his intention, which is tantamount to a promise from our vantage point.

(snip)

6.15.2006 8:39pm
John Jenkins (mail):
No, my argument is this:

The argument that something is good because God commands it is ciruluar because it assumes that which it is to prove.

If I give you two propositions (1) God is exists and (2) God is good, that still doesn't answer the question of what it means to be good. Your answer is that well, God is, but that's circular.

There is some independent standard by which we judge "goodness." For you, the Platonic ideal of goodness is God, but the question as to child rearing is "what attributes of God does it have that make it good?"

The mere fact of the command can't qualify because that is not an attribute of God. Thus, if it is good, there must be other attributes that it shares with God. On your view, by his nature God acts in ways that are objectively good, but that just doesn't get us all the way home.
6.15.2006 9:56pm
Jam (mail):
I'll be chewing on this for a while and leave this:

http://www.biblicaldefense.org/Writings/moral_argument.htm

(snip)

[CS] Lewis declared that the moral law cannot be a law of nature.22 For a law of nature is descriptive. It describes how nature is, how it usually acts. But, the moral law does not describe how nature is. The moral law is prescriptive; it prescribes how nature ought to be.23 The moral law stands above man and judges his behavior.

Lewis concluded that there exists a moral law above all men to which they are subject.24 However, matter could not be the cause of moral laws.25 Matter gives instructions to no one. Experience shows us that mind is the cause of moral laws.26 Therefore, this universal moral law that stands above all men must come from a Mind that stands above all men.27

(snip)
6.15.2006 10:46pm
John Jenkins (mail):
C.S. Lewis was really preaching to the choir, as it were. He did, in fact, make a lot of conclusions. Unfortunately, his conclusions did not necessariy follow from his premises. I happen to own Mere Christianity myself (along with most of Lewis's other nonfiction works). I shudder at what kind of Ph.D. you can get where an entire chapter in your dissertation is based on one book like that though.
6.16.2006 1:18am
Jam (mail):
Jenkins: Thanks for staying with me on this.

God is subject to nothing or anyone.
God invents a game and establishes the rules of the game.

Who can challenge the morality of the inventor? How?
6.16.2006 10:00am
Random poster (mail):
Jam,
Some of us don't play his game.
6.16.2006 10:12am
Jam (mail):
Random: I have learned some new things and I am gratefull for that.
6.16.2006 11:01am
John Jenkins (mail):
Jam, anyone can challenge them. That's why there are Monopoly house rules. I think there are two different kinds of rules to which you're referring, though.
Assuming God (that's a big one, I'll grant), God crafted two kinds of rules. One kind are those rules that cannot be broken, e.g. conservation of energy/mass. The second kind are those that can be broken, e.g. thou shalt procreate.

We need not concern ourselves with the first type, given that by definition they cannot be broken. The second type, however, are what's giving us pause.

Even if you assume that God would give all and only good commands, that still begs the question of why such commands are good. If you state, "because God said so," you're in the circular trap.

One answer is that the moral rules allow for optimal human flourishing. Depending on whether you're going from Socrates or Aristotle, there are different ways of getting there, but if there is a good argument that having children is necessary for human flourishing (in some way that is non-obvious, e.g. not mere increase in numbers), THAT is a succesful argument why it's morally required to have children, at least for someone who thinks that human flourishing is the sine qua non of morality.

The Christian answer to human flourishing (at least the Aristotelian version) is that the purpose of humans is to glorify God, therefore you ought to follow God's laws. For our purposes, however, I think that begs the question (you assume the telos when that's really what you're supposed to be proving).

Here is the web site of a friend of mine who is much more in your camp than mine. Interesting reading, even for those who might disagree.
6.16.2006 11:30am
A.C.:
One more then, and then I'll drop it. Jam, I certainly agree that it is good for society as a whole when parents do as much as they can for their children. Some will slip up, though, and societies do need to have a way to help out the children when that happens. (No fair punishing the kids when it's the adults who caused the problem!) But my idea about public goods is rather different.

Think of roads -- we all use them, so we all pay for them. It would be impractical to have everyone build individual roads (well, except in very rural areas), so we get together and do it in a group. Even non-drivers have to pay for this group project, because they benefit when ambulances and the UPS van can get to their houses and when food can be brought to the grocery store before it rots.

Educating children whose parents can't provide enough out of their own resources is similar. (And this is a lot of parents, not just the chronically poor -- people often have children when they are young and not earning as much as they will later in life.) Those children will grow up and do something-or-other, and that may turn out to be something undesirable. They may become criminals if they can't do anything else, or they may end up working in low-level jobs and raising the next generation in a cycle of low education and underemployment. Moving away from the nightmare scenarios, maybe they'll just get ordinary jobs and do them badly. That's a cost to businesses, to customers who get bad products and services, and so on.

Even people without children have an interest in preventing these outcomes, just as non-drivers have an interest in maintaining roads. Some people with children may be able to pull out of the common scheme and create individual education solutions for their own families, the same way some rural residents build private roads to their houses (extra-long driveways, really). But those individual solutions still have to connect up to the larger system at some point, when people who have private schools and driveways go out in the world and interact with everyone else. That gives everyone a stake in how good that larger system is, and elementary fairness says that everyone who benefits from a system should pay a fair share towards maintaining it.
6.16.2006 11:58am
Jam (mail):
Thanks. I hope that my obtuseness hasn't been too great.

I am still hung up though, on how can we morally judge God. We can judge ourselves (the players' actions) only by whatever standard He chose to establish as our "game rules."

Is there really a way to do it?
6.16.2006 12:10pm
Jam (mail):
A.C.: Or we could end up having been forced to school people that end up being well schooled criminals. And, assuming that they are even being educated, well educated criminals. I think that private roads were/are better. Good analogy, the roads, but we just don't see eye to eye. What you describe, at worst, is totalitarianism. To me the "greater good" (assuming that there is one) is not to coerce people into financing other peoples schooling.
6.16.2006 12:19pm
John Jenkins (mail):
I'm not judging God, though if he were in the dock, I'd be a bad juror for Him. You're making the moral claim, your burden is to back it up. Asking how can one judge God, doesn't do it. God says so and God is above reproach isn't an argument. It's a bald assertion without support of any kind, by which you'll not convince anyone of anything (here again comes the competing conceptions of God rather than the existence thereof).

Whether God is good, however, is something I already punted on. I can grant you that AND infallibility (always and only good rules) and that still doesn't answer the question as to why the rules are good. You're caught up on a point that no one is arguing about: I've granted it to you and it hasn't gotten you where you want to be. It's time to unwind the argument and try again.
6.16.2006 12:20pm
Medis:
Jam,

I think Wes Morriston's article is very helpful, but he is arguing against divine command theory and in favor of Platonic theory (which, not coincidentally, is where Socrates was heading in the Euthyphro).

Anyway, he writes:

"It must be conceded, however, that a Platonist account does put the supreme standards of moral goodness outside the scope of God's control. These standards are not created by God and are not causally dependent on him. They are not identical to God, and he is 'subject' to them in the following sense. If God is good, then he 'lives up to them.' He is good because he (however necessarily) satisfies their requirements for goodness."

I might note that for a Platonist, this sense of comparing God to an independent standard is not at all strange. Insofar as God is something which exists in the world of sensation and causation, God is not in the ideal world of the Forms. Whether that causal part of God is all or just part of God, like anything else that exists in the causal world it can be compared to the Form of the Good. So, that is why a Platonist can compare God the Creator (and perhaps Manager) of the Universe to the Form of the Good (although I again note that there might be more to God than that part).

As for the Monopoly question--well, you already know the answer. You may be playing Monopoly, and you may even be stuck playing Monopoly, but you can still ask whether the person who invented Monopoly is a good person. In that sense, just because someone has the power to control us, perhaps even absolutely, that doesn't mean that person is a good person.

Finally, I think you are asking how we could know what is good such that we could judge that God is good without first asking God to tell us what was good. As an aside, I note that sort of question is not really limited to goodness--it is ultimately as broad as how we can know anything at all, about God or anything else.

But in any event, you don't need to believe that we can know what is good independently of God telling us in order to believe that there is an independent standard of good to which God is subject. That is because how we come to know things is ultimately a question about us, and about what powers of perception and reason we might have.

Accordingly, the question of how we come to know things is not coextensive with the question of what actually exists. Therefore, it is possible that we can only come to know what is good by being told by God, without that meaning there is in fact no independent standard of goodness to which God can be compared.
6.16.2006 1:17pm
Jam (mail):
Medis:

"... but you can still ask whether the person who invented Monopoly is a good person."

As a person outside the game, yes. But if you were also the creation of "the great monopoly," trapped in the monopoly kosmos, on what basis?
6.16.2006 5:29pm
Medis:
Jam,

Why should the fact that the person created Monopoly, or me for that matter, imply that the person is good?

Consider a different analogy: you live in an autocratic family. You have to do exactly what your parents tell you. So, they both created you, and they control you.

Could you still ask if your parents are good people? Of course you could.

And in fact, that really isn't any different from asking anything else about your parents. You could ask, for example, whether your parents created you, or whether they controlled you, or even whether they existed. In each case, to ascertain the answer to this question would require you to hold your parents to some "standard", namely your definition of creation, control, and existence.

That is why I personally see no difference between God's goodness and His powerfulness. To say that God is all powerful is to "measure" His power against some definition of power. Similarly, to say that God is all good is to "measure" His goodness against some definition of goodness. And that, incidentally, is what the article you linked is all about.
6.16.2006 6:15pm
John Jenkins (mail):
I think I'd take a different tack. Let's Grant God and grant that he gives all and only good commands. When He created the universe, at the same time, he created "good." Now, we know that we cannot comprehend God, but we don't know that we can't comprehend good. In fact, we know that we must be able to comprehend good, because God's set of commands is not all-encompassing, there exist situations that God's commands are not directly addressed to that we have to reason to understand. That being so, we have to be able to discern what "good" is, to decide what the right actions are.

One possible Christian objection is that it doesn't matter, since we cannot do good anyway, and that's why we have to be saved. I don't think that's a responsive answer, though, because it assumes that "good" exists, and in any event aren't we charged with doing the best we can to be good? That means we must be able to find out, to deduce what is good, even if good is a part of God, becase good must also be apart from God if it is to have any meaning.
6.16.2006 6:20pm
Jam (mail):
Medis and Jenkins:

I just want to let you know that I've been thinking what y'all have written. I have not forgotten or dropped the matter. If, before I post a reply/question, this link gets locked please be assured that this has been a fun and thought provoking excercise for me and it is a matter that will occupy my mind for some time.

Thank you both.
6.19.2006 11:43am