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Sam Harris

Interviewer: You’ve briefly discussed the ethics of having children and the evidence that parents are less happy and less productive than their child-free counterparts. Why did you decide to have children?

Sam Harris: I guess there are two possible answers. One is it’s just a failure to be emotionally moved by the data. There are certain things you may understand to be true, but you just can’t make their being true emotionally relevant enough to have it guide your behavior. That’s one explanation.

I don’t think it’s the most likely reason in my case. I think it’s more a matter of my feeling — based on who I am and who I’m married to and what she wanted and what I wanted — that we were very likely to be exceptions to the rule. There’s no doubt a certain amount of self-deception if not delusion on offer there, when you begin looking at scientific data and imagining it doesn’t apply to you.

But in our case, I think we stood a very good chance of being happy parents, having happy kids, and being glad that we were parents — and finding the alternative, alas retrospectively, unthinkable.

And that’s sort of where we are. I’m a very happy father. I love my daughters. The idea that I might not have had them does seem unthinkable now.

But I’m also aware that having them has created forms of suffering that we wouldn’t otherwise know. And we’ve certainly given hostages to fortune, as Francis Bacon said.

You worry about the future, you worry about all sorts of things that you’d be quite insouciant about if you were just on your own, living out your adulthood.

It’s not without its downsides, but even the downsides have a silver lining. Being concerned about the future because you have kids is good ethically. And it does lead to a kind of productivity that might not otherwise be available…

To worry about the fate of civilization in the abstract is harder than worrying about what sorts of experiences your children are going to have in the future — and a future that hopefully extends beyond your own.


Sam Harris, speaking with Tim Ferriss in his most recent Four Hour Workweek interview (these comments can be heard at around the nineteen minute mark).

Currently on my nightstand is Sam’s newest book, Islam and the Future of Tolerance, a short dialogue with Maajid Nawaz. Nawaz is one of the truly compelling contemporary public figures. A former Islamic extremist, he spent five years in an Egyptian prison for trying to topple the Mubarak government and establish a caliphate. Now he cuts a suave figure in London as the head of the anti-extremist think tank Quilliam. I encourage you to follow the work they do, especially his. You can watch Harris and Nawaz’s illuminating discussion at their recent book launch at the Kennedy School below:

Read on: