As a follow up to my last post, I’d like to sketch some of my thoughts regarding the objection I raised in the last post and then raise a further worry about Paul’s arguments.
Like Paul, I do and would continue to hold that we cannot know what it is like to have a child of our own (HC) on the basis of our phenomenal experiences with other people’s children. I would argue that this is true for exactly the same reasons that I suggested in the last post as a possible response to my worry. We can know what it is like to experience certain types of experiences – say, ‘caring for’; ‘loving’; ‘laughing with’ and ‘being angry at’ – on the basis of our experiences with other people’s children. Yet, I would argue, there is something unique about having experiences of these types with the specific token ‘a child of our own’ that, in turn, makes our experiences of these types unique. So, I am sympathetic to the claim that we cannot know what it is like to have a child of our own before having one and that, for this reason, having a child of our own is a transformative experience. For similar reasons, I am also sympathetic to Eric Schliesser’s claim that perhaps other everyday experiences (such as eating chocolate ice cream or seeing red on this day, in this light, in this mood) are transformative.
However, though I accept this sort of position, it doesn’t lead me to think that we cannot make rational decisions to HC (or, for that matter, to see red or to eat chocolate ice cream). Because of our having experienced what it is like to have these types of experiences – ‘caring for’; ‘loving’; etc. – with others (or in other instances), I do think we can form an approximation (or approximate idea) of what it will be like to HC. And, I would argue, an approximation is all that we need to make rational decisions to HC on the standard model.
And this leads me to an important ground for questioning Paul’s arguments. It concerns her emphasis on the importance of knowing what is like to HC. On the standard model, in order to make rational decisions to HC or ~HC, you must determine the expected value (EV) of both options (the rational decision is the one with the higher EV). To determine the EV of HC, you must determine the value of all of the outcomes associated with HC and the probability of these outcomes occurring. On Paul’s view, the value of the outcomes of HC is determined only by knowing what it is like to HC. But why think that we have to know what it is like to HC in order to determine the value of the outcomes associated with HC? On the standard model, rationality requires that we determine the value that we estimate will be associated with the outcomes of HC not the known value of the outcomes of HC. Something less than full knowledge of what it is like to HC is sufficient to determine the EV of the outcomes of HC and, in turn, to make a rational choice to HC. So, even if we allow Paul’s claim that we can only know what it is like to HC by being in a state where we actually HC (see the last post on this) and not on the basis of similar types of experiences, it seems that, on the basis of such related experiences, we can at least estimate what value the outcomes of HC will have for us. This is sufficient to make a rational decision about whether to HC.
Paul can block this move by denying that we cannot have even an approximate idea of what it is like to HC on the basis of our experiences of similar types. If this is right, then we wouldn’t be able to make rational decisions to HC because we would lack even an estimation (approximation) of the EV of HC. But, I wonder if such a move can plausibly be made. Do we really lack even an approximation of what it is like to HC and of the value that it will have for us?