TCNJ Magazine - Winter 2019

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36 The College of New Jersey Magazine Roberts is spreading her limited time, money, and energy to take care of those 18 additional children. Under that scenario, Roberts says, "the only individuals who would have benefited would be those 18 children" because they benefit from just being born. So while she considers herself a utilitarian, she doesn't believe that more is more. In such a situation, she says, perhaps the overall happiness of the group is great, but on a person-by- person basis, some folks might be barely getting by. "We should do the best we can for those that already exist and will exist," she says. Roberts isn't in the camp that believes only people who exist now matter: "I think harms to future people are just as morally significant as harms to existing people." These are the moral puzzles that Roberts has been unraveling for most of her career — the ethical implications of reproductive issues, from contraception to abortion to child-rearing. A Texas native, she got her start teaching philosophy at Lawrence University in Wisconsin. But law fascinated her, so she jumped off the tenure track to enroll in University of Texas School of Law. But even then, philosophy shaped her studies. There, she studied the constitutional ramifications of PHILOSOPHY GETS SHORT SHRIFT in today's tech-obsessed climate, often dismissed as the sole province of the ivory tower — esoteric fare for those who've got time on their hands to ponder the nuances of existentialism and utilitarianism, between consequentialism and absurdism. But as professors Melinda Roberts and James Stacey Taylor see it, philosophy is a decidedly essential endeavor, grappling with issues that have real-life consequences: With climate change accelerating, is it right to bring more children into the world? Is it moral to do in vitro fertilization? Do we have an obligation to the dead? Should people be allowed to sell their organs? Both Roberts and Taylor consider themselves utilitarians in the vein of the 19th-century British philosopher John Stuart Mill: They see life as a series of choices — and those choices are not neutral. Rather, they believe the decisions we make today as a society should create the best outcomes for society in the future. In other words, utilitarians believe one's actions are morally right if they maximize happiness — and wrong if those actions create misery, or the opposite of happiness. But the two philosophers tackle these conundrums from opposite ends of the life cycle. Roberts' philosophy wrestles with population ethics, the beginning of life (including the decision to have a child, or not to), and the consequences of those decisions. Meanwhile, Taylor's philosophy grapples with the end of life, or rather, what the living owe the dead. "Of course we never know how the future is going to unfold," Roberts says. "But we have to try to do the best we can and create the most happiness and well-being." AS ROBERTS SEES IT, the moral choices we face come with paradoxes to unravel. Do we focus on making the lives of existing and future people better off, or try to preserve humankind into perpetuity? The first choice might mean our overall happiness and quality of life will likely be better, but it could also mean human extinction might happen a little sooner. (We'll get to apocalyptic consequences in a bit.) When it comes to deciding to have a family, what are the obligations we have to people we've yet to bring into the world? Is our obligation to the group, or to the individual? As an example, Roberts uses herself: She has two children, now grown, a son and a daughter, Tommy and Annabel. Some utilitarian philosophers argue that more is indeed more, that we have an obligation to maximize happiness; it's the well-being of the group overall that matters. The bigger the group, the greater the potential for overall happiness. Under that theory, Roberts is morally obligated to have many more children, because, well, the more the merrier. So, she has another 18 children. But she's got only so much time, money, and energy to devote to her family. So, Annabel and Tommy, who are already here, will suffer, because

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