——Bilde: Poem of the Soul, Louis Janmot——
The question I will try to answer in this article is whether we should be grateful for our existence or not. Do we owe our parents gratitude for bringing us into this world? Underlying this is the question of when we begin to exist. The so-called “Non-Identity Problem”, first formulated by Derek Parfit in 1980, highlights the issues related to existence and gratitude. By using the non-identity problem, and particularly Parfit’s “Dependence Claim”, I will attempt to formulate how we should understand our existence. Whether we owe our parents gratitude or not depends a lot on our idea of being “benefitted”. Have we been “benefitted” – or perhaps harmed – by gaining life rather than remaining non-existent or “potential human beings”? This question is important to answer when we proceed to discuss obligations, and what we potentially owe our parents, if anything. Our idea of existence as potentially beneficial or harmful will also help us to understand how we should behave towards future generations. Should we plan for a future in which it is a loss if not enough people are benefitted with existence? Or should we consider it harmful to curse children with existence, and refrain from the practice of creating them altogether? In the following I will be considering when gratitude is owed in general, when we begin to exist, and how our parents’ behaviour and life-choices can be said to warrant gratitude or condemnation. I will begin by introducing the non-identity problem, and present some cases in which we are met with the said problem. I will then move on to briefly to discuss gratitude, which will lead me to look into what is understood by benefitting someone. From these preliminary discussions, I will try to answer the question of whether we owe gratitude for our existence.