Contingency + Love = No Regrets?

Bryan Caplan’s argument in his post on “Parenthood as the Trump of All Past Regret” proves both too much and too little. The general form of the argument has nothing to do with children, but applies to anything contingent one has come to value highly. Bryan’s argument has the same form as this: “If I hadn’t murdered those six toddlers with a hacksaw, I never would have met my cherished wife, the public defender, so I don’t regret it.” But that’s just silly. If you think the unintelligibility of regret follows from the fact of a world in which there is both contingency and deeply-held values (i.e., follows from from the actual world), then you are probably making a mistake. I’d say the mistake is assuming that what you are doing when you regret having done X is wishing that all the events conditional on X hadn’t occurred. Regret is more forward-looking than that.

Author: Will Wilkinson

Vice President for Research at the Niskanen Center