Friday, March 15, 2013

"What Mary Can't Expect When She's Expecting"

Leiter (who I rarely read, just for the record) points us to this, by L. A. Paul at UNC:

"What Mary Can't Expect When She's Expecting"

Seems completely wrong to me, incidentally.

Paul asserts that having a baby is such a transformative experience that it isn't possible to know what it's like before you do it, and, so, not possible to do the kind of expected gain calculations that would make it possible to rationally predict whether you should do it or not.

We actually ought to be able to collect empirical evidence on this from parents. They should be able to tell us how similar having a kid was to their expectations of it. (What they'll say: yeah, I kinda knew what it would be like.) Me, I'm quite sure that I have a fairly good idea what it would be like to have a kid. I'm also quite sure that I don't know exactly what it would be like. New parents do tend to go a little crazy sometimes and mystify the that has to be taken into account as well.

Paul analogizes having a baby to seeing red, and thus piggybacks her argument on Frank Jackson's famous Mary case. But having a baby almost certainly isn't like seeing red in the relevant respects. That is: for a childless person who knows all about having kids to have a kid isn't like a person raised in a black-and-white environment seeing color. Perhaps it's more like...hmm....someone who can see all colors other than red finally seeing red. Or somesuch. Though that still may be an exaggeration.

I know what kids are like, I know what it's like to love someone deeply, I can easily imagine what it's like to have someone dependent upon you, and blah blah blah... I'm reasonably perceptive and imaginative... There's no question in my mind that I know approximately what it would be like to have a kid, and there is no question in my mind that I do not know exactly what it would be like to have a kid.

The touchstone, for Paul's purposes, is: do we have a good enough idea what it's like to have a kid to be able to make a rational decision about whether or not to have one? The answer seems to be: some of us do, and some of us don't. Ergo: there's no impossibility here.

Now, I didn't really make my decision about kids in the way Paul is discussing. That is, I didn't so much make it on the basis of questions about happiness and utility. I don't, generally, think that's a very good way to make such decisions. But predictions about future happiness certainly figured into the decision in a large-ish way. I actually agree with Paul in a kind of round-about way: I think that there are too many variables to make very precise decisions about the effects of kids on one's future happiness. It's not that one simply can't imagine what it's like to have kids--because one certainly can. Or I can, anyway. But, rather, there are just too many different ways that the future can go, and too many variables in play, for us to make very precise predictions. Prediction is possible, but it's going to be a dicey game (here as in many other types of cases).

Having a kid is probably more like going to law school than it is like seeing red. It's false to say that you simply have no idea what it's like to be a lawyer. In fact, you've got a pretty good, but imperfect, idea what it's like. However, there are so many things in your life that would change if you'd decided on that course--rather, say, than grad school--that it's just really damn hard to say whether you'd be happier had you done that. Maybe you'd just love it! Maybe you'd just hate it. Who knows? But this isn't because you simply have no idea what it's like to be a lawyer.

That's off the top of my head, of course.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home