Elizabeth Kolbert in The New Yorker:
Barring infertility or other complications—and despite the best efforts of Rush Limbaugh and Senate Republicans—couples today, at least in the U.S. and the rest of the developed world, can determine how many children they will have—five, four, three, two, one, or zero. Several recent books look at this decision from different vantage points, and come to surprising—some might say even alarming—conclusions.
In “Why Have Children?: The Ethical Debate” (M.I.T. Press), Christine Overall tries to subject that decision to morally rigorous analysis. Overall, who teaches philosophy at Queen’s University, in Ontario, dismisses the notion that childbearing is “natural” and therefore needs no justification. “There are many urges apparently arising from our biological nature that we nonetheless should choose not to act upon,” she observes. If we’re going to keep having kids, we ought to be able to come up with a reason.
Of course, people do give reasons for having children, and Overall takes them up one by one. Consider the claim that having a child benefits the child. This might seem self-evident. After all, a child deprived, through some Knowltonian means, of coming into existence, loses everything. She can never experience any of the pleasures life has to offer—eating ice cream, say, or riding a bike, or, for the more forward-thinking parents among us, having sex.