- Hardcover: 250 pages
- Publisher: Oxford University Press; First Edition edition (October 19, 2006)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0199296421
- ISBN-13: 978-0199296422
- Product Dimensions: 8 x 0.8 x 5.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 47 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,828,941 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming into Existence First Edition Edition
Use the Amazon App to scan ISBNs and compare prices.
The Amazon Book Review
Author interviews, book reviews, editors picks, and more. Read it now
Customers who viewed this item also viewed
What other items do customers buy after viewing this item?
This isn't a new book, but it is generating increasing discussion in university departments and elsewhere: hence this review... If you enjoy an ethical challenge, then read this book. Malcolm Torry, Triple Helix For those who admire really careful and imaginative argumentation, and are interested in either issues of life and death, or the foundations of morality, it's a must read Harry Brighouse, Out of the Crooked Timber Benatar's discussion is clear and intelligent. Yujin Nagasawa MIND [this] volume has the great merit of raising a very basic issue (the intrinsic value of human existence), which is usually assumed but rarely discussed in philosophical terms. Thus, it may be hoped that this book will encourage a thoughtful and rich exchange of ideas on such a fundamental question. Roberto Andorno, Medical Health Care and Philosophy Journal
About the Author
David Benatar is at University of Cape Town.
Top customer reviews
This view on procreation is called anti-natalism and is often met with a visceral reaction in most people that learn of it. But, is it really so off target as to be insane, as most people assert or is it a completely rational and logical way in which clear headed people can and should view our lives and the world that we inhabit? Benatar argues that there are scientific reasons that we overestimate the quality of our lives.
In this book, he argues brilliantly, in my opinion, that procreation is not only irrational but it is immoral as well. He holds a candle for the "Pro-death"movement in that he believes women are morally obligated to abort their fetuses at the earliest stages of gestation. The visceral reaction that most people have to his view point is easily explainable, according to Benatar; humans have evolved over billions of years to be optimists. This is the way in which we survive as a species and it blinds us to the reality of our lives. In short, humans are delusional about their condition because nature makes us this way. This is very unfortunate, according to Benatar, because it leads us to the creation of new lives and new suffering.
Why is life so bad? Well, according to Benatar, even the most priveleged and gifted lives are full of suffering and hardship. Humans are "centers of suffering" according to Benatar and we don't even realize it due to our optimism bias instilled by nature. Benatar claims that most people spend a large part of their lives lonely, sad, hungry, thirsty, tired, depressed, anxious, nervous, embarassed, in physical or emotional discomfort or otherwise suffering in some way. He believes that all pleasures are negative in character; that is, it is a relief from some pain that we are in. Benatar argues that pain is much more intense than pleasure. He holds that no one alive would take the option of an hour of pure pleasure if it was followed by an hour of the worst pain imaginable.
Pain is also much easier for people to "catch" than pleasure. For example, everyone has heard of chronic pain but no one has heard of chronic pleasure. It only takes a moment for someone to be seriously injured in an accident that lasts a lifetime but it is impossible for someone to catch a type of pleasure which is as intense or lasts as long.
Benatar implores us to observe the bad in the world we live in. Some facts he presents: There are currently 7 billion people on the planet and that number is expected to skyrocket in the coming decades. Over the past 1,000 years, 15 million people are estimated to have died in natural disasters. Approximately 20,000 people in the world die from starvation every day. The 1918 Influenza epidemic killed 50 million people. HIV kills 3 million people annually. 3.5 million people die each year in accidents. Wars have killed hundreds of millions of people. When the numbers were put together for the year 2001, 56.5 million people died. That is more than 107 people per minute. As the world population increases, the amount of death and suffering only magnifies.
One thing that we humans are guaranteed is death. We all will die, either through the natural aging process or through a disease or accident that take us out prematurely. Our physical prime is only a tiny part of our life and the rest is our gradual, if not steep, decline. We are not guaranteed any pleasures at all.
A potential parent should view themselves as the top of a pyramid, according to Benatar. As that parent creates more humans, they create more suffering and pain that is easily avoidable. If each parent has 3 children, that amounts to more than 88,000 humans over ten generations. To Benatar, that is a lot of pointless suffering that could easily be avoided if we would all just use birth control or have early term abortions.
Part of the brilliance of Benatar's book is that he anticipates the readers objections and responds to them with clear and sound logic. The first argument against Benatar's views on life is that there are good parts of life that Benatar chooses to ignore; Benatar agrees with this but argues that the bad outweighs the good by a large margin.
His key argument against reproduction is his assymetry argument; that is that pain is bad and pleasure is good. The best lives contain a lot of pain and pleasure as well, but, had we not existed, we would not have been deprived of pleasures. Only living beings can be deprived of pleasures, no one that does not exist can ever be deprived. When one does not exist, one does not feel pain, which is good and one does not feel pleasure, which is not bad, since one does not exist. Simply put, non existence means no suffering and no deprivation. Therefore, never existing is better than existing, considering all the suffering that humans must endure.
Benatar urges us to look at Mars as an example. There is no suffering on Mars because there is no sentient life there. The Earth, however, is full sentient life and suffering. There is no pleasure on Mars but this matters not since there are no Maritians alive to be deprived. Do we Earthlings ever look to Mars and bemone the lack of pleasure that Martians do not have since they do not exist? Of course we don't. However, if Martians were alive and suffered as we humans do, we would certainly deplore their condition.
One argument that always comes up against anti-natalism is the reaction that anyone that promotes it, such as Benatar, should commit suicide. Benatar does address suicide and believes that it is an option, but it should be used only as a last resort after one discusses it with many people. In general, he is against suicide because it not only causes the suicidee harm, it also causes harm to people around that person, including their family and those that care about them. Anti-natalism is not the belief that we should all commit suicide, but rather that we should analyze reproduction and our lives and come to the conclusion that we should not create more pointless suffering by creating new humans.
Every person, even those opposed to anti-natalism, can agree that having a child is essentially rolling the dice with another person's life, without their consent. None of us can see into the future; the future that involves our future children may indeed be grim. Reproduction is a form of Russian roulette, according to Benatar. For example, in the United States, 1 out of 4 women in America is raped during her lifetime. That means, if we have 2 daughters, there is a 50% chance that one of them will be raped. Knowing this, is it moral for humans to go ahead and create those daughters? Benatar believes that is it morally wrong to do so.
I loved this book. It can be dense at times as there is a ton of information in each paragraph; some parts of it can be hard to understand. That being said, this book is important and I don't see how Dr. Benatar's thesis can be refuted.
The truth of the propositions contained in this book has been obvious to me since I was 14 years old and is the reason why I became an atheist at that time. A few years later I realised that the validity of these propositions still allowed for a pantheistic God or process with certain conditions limiting that God or process as in Neoplatonism and Buddhism. A few years later I discovered that this position, after taking acount of the horrors of history and the reality of materialism, has the ancient and traditional name of Gnosticism, which is a broad church, that is to say there are many variants, but all of the variants can be reconciled with the arguments of this excellent book. Gnosticism itself could be regarded as a variant of Buddhism although I am not claiming a causal connection (which is however quite possible).
That anyone should fail to understand and agree with the argument always astonishes me but I have usually found that people do indeed find it difficult to accept, apparently, as far as I can see, because they just can't understand it. Why don't they understand it?
There are some who will find a large part of, and perhaps all, the answer in the work of Ernest Becker (1924-1974) and his 'denial of death' concept which laid the foundation for TMT or Terror Management Theory.
I would add that experimental psychologists have recently proved that humans are biologically programmed to see reality more optimistically than objectively. They do not see reality as it really is, unless they are traumatised in some way, and they will usually find a way to make the best of reality as given. Other recent studies have shown that even after psychological trauma people will gradually forget, unless forced to re-live it (but without the distraction of some physical activity according to the new apparently effective treatment for trauma).
I have therefore only been able to come to the conclusion that there is a psychological safety mechanism that blocks the truth about life from being transparently obvious, without which people would be vulnerable to some sort of mental collapse as a result of questioning their own existence, and the existence of their own children even more. For women there would be a biological block on that realisation in addition to the psychological one.
Atheists often pride themselves on being more tough minded than believers but if atheists don't accept these arguments they are just as unable to face the truth as those who, at least with some logic, are able to believe the REASON for their existence is guaranteed by a God whom they believe to be benign and who created them in a conscious and deliberate act.
I, of course, on the other hand would say that if we were created by a conscious and deliberate act then whatever entity or process was responsible for that act cannot be benign. That is Gnosticism. It is pretty much the same as Buddhism, is curiously related to Sufism, and in some very interesting ways similar to Hindu Vedanta*; reality is seen as an illusion or as deceiving in all four, but the entity or process is more neutral and less opposed to humanity in the others: I've never understood why and it doesn't need to be - it seems like an evasion which Gnosticism confronts head on.
Just in case you think I have excluded Christianity I should point out that the most common form of Gnosticism outside science fiction is Gnostic Christianity.
You might ask what Gnosticism adds to the argument of this book. The answer is that it adds a context of meaning which is what those of us who are already alive NEED, to go on. Unless we are going to commit suicide, whether individually, or collectively as a civilisation, then we need to affirm a meaning, a reason for being here. But it is not the same thing as the fundamental reason for being here which cannot be a good reason.
I could go further than the author of this book and say that from a purely rational, objective ethical point of view bringing life into this horrifying and cruel world (even if there are some compensating distractions for some people some of the time) is as great a crime as killing. Both cause suffering, often of exactly similar kinds and degree. Killing of course usually involves some suffering for the victim, and often even more suffering for those left behind, and means the end of any personal projects the victim was engaged in; these factors all play a part in our feelings - as does its irrevocable aspect, and the way in which the perpetrator arrogates to him or herself the right to end the life of the already living, and perhaps more important than their lives as such, their life-projects which might have involved considerable personal investment. The already living in the world (not in the womb) have rights the not yet born don't have - namely the right to go on living, the right to complete their life-projects.
But bringing someone into the world can and does lay them, or their descendants for whom the original parents would be just as responsible, open to any amount of suffering including being the victim of murder, torture, painful accidents and diseases, mental pain, or continual and excessive exploitation - and the parents arrogate to themselves this right. Time honoured, commonplace, and instinctive it may be but is it rational and is it ethical?.
Those who think that existence is on balance an acceptable condition should read more history and world news. Yes it's happening right now somewhere else - Zimbabwe, Darfur, Angola, the Congo, Somalia, Mexico, Brazil, Colombia etc. etc. There are acid attacks on women in Bangladesh, India and now Pakistan and Cambodia, with bride burnings continuing in India, we have recently had more people burned alive in their churches and cut down with machetes in Kenya, and even more recently immigrants from Zimbabwe have been beaten to death and burned alive in South Africa. And right here too of course there is plenty of appalling violence and vicious cruelty - just read the local papers.
Even the Bible and Koran are 'realistic' enough to offer, or appear to offer to the naive reader, heaven/paradise as the only true home fit for humans. It is fairly clear that for most of those who believe in these faiths life is only justified by the life hereafter. I can't help thinking there is an undeniable realism about that attitude leaving aside the unfortunate lack of evidence for the final destination. Perhaps they do see life itself unvarnished, and clearer than the rest of us.
No one has ever suggested a reason for human existence other than that it is for the glory or self satisfaction of God. Not much of a reason, even if you have a god. In any case, as any Gnostic will tell you, this is the very explanation which forced him to come to the conclusion that the God who supposedly created humanity is no friend of ours but a callous observer, and that there might possibly therefore be another sort of God who is sensitive to our plight and wants to extricate us from this world.
Since it is impossible to provide a reason for life as such this means you can only provide contingent justification for life, for the individual who is already living and with the natural instinctive compulsion to stay alive, and since that inevitably means getting involved in projects, small and large, these too provide other reasons to stick around. But none of these natural and strong attachments to being alive apply to someone who doesn't exist, so why burden someone with these unnecessary problems, obligations and duties when there is no good reason to be alive in the first instance.
* just where Buddhism is least like Gnosticism is where Hinduism is most like it i.e in the mythology. The mythology of Gnosticism never really crystalised into a satisfactorily rational form. William Blake our greatest Gnostic had the same problem with his Prophetic Books, and similarly Philip Pullman our best known current exemplar and a great admirer of Blake.
Thomas Hardy, another great Gnostic, had absolutely no problem finding a way to express his vision.
Kafka, Mann, Rilke and Becket can only be properly understood in Gnostic terms.
Most recent customer reviews
Taking the perspective of the potential child is a great way to inform the discussion.Read more