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The Decision Whether to Have Children Cannot Be Made Rationally

This is a great message for all the young women and men out there weighing the reasons for and against having children: The decision cannot be made rationally.

Philosophy Prof. L.A. Paul argues that there is no rational way to decide to have children—or not to have them. How do we make a rational decision? The classic answer is that we imagine the outcomes of different courses of action. Then we consider both the value and the probability of each outcome. Finally, we choose the option with the highest “utilities,” as the economists say. Does the glow of a baby’s smile outweigh all those sleepless nights?

…But Prof. Paul thinks there’s a catch. The trouble is that, notoriously, there is no way to really know what having a child is like until you actually have one. You might get hints from watching other people’s children. But that overwhelming feeling of love for this one particular baby just isn’t something you can understand beforehand. You may not even like other kids much and yet discover that you love your own child more than anything. Of course, you also can’t really understand the crushing responsibility beforehand, either. So, Prof. Paul says, you just can’t make the decision rationally.

The author of this Wall Street Journal piece adds that a decision to have or not have children is also about choosing what kind of person you want to become – and that the way being a parent will change a person is also something you can’t know fully until it happens.

Overall, I think it’s a lesson we can pass on to our children. If they are ever faced with the decision — most notably, if they ever face an “unplanned” crisis — rationalizations can’t make it for them. But it is quite reasonable to believe that choosing life has rewards they will never regret. 



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