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Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming into Existence
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The above-mentioned conclusions all follow more or less straightforwardly from Benatar's main thesis, which is almost literally expressed in the title of the book: For any conscious being (whether human or non-human) it would have been better never to exist, since coming into being is always an overall harm, and thus worse than non-existence, for that being (though not necessarily for other already existing beings, e.g. parents and siblings). Benatar argues for this astounding thesis by drawing attention to an alleged asymmetry between pain and pleasure (both understood broadly): Non-existence implies the absence of both pains and pleasures, but whereas the absence of the pains is something good, it is not the case that the absence of the pleasures is bad or something to be deplored. A potential person is not deprived of anything, claims Benatar, by not being brought into existence.
Some immediate, but confused, objections can be dismissed easily. One example is the objection that life must be an overall good for a person, unless that person is willing to commit suicide.Read more ›
1) it is wrong to bring someone into the world if that is going to cause that person too much pain.
e.g. If you are sure that person is going to have AIDS or live in extreme poverty, so that she will suffer an immensely excruciating pain.
He, then, argues that:
2) All lives, even the best ones are very bad. So you know, for sure, that by bringing someone to life, that person is going to suffer so much pain. Far more than pleasure.
3) Therefore, it is wrong to procreate.
In this line of thought, abortion, for instance, in the early stages of pregnancy is not only right, but morally mandatory. In addition, he establishes a very important difference between "lives worth continuing" and "lives worth starting", arguing that we are not morally obliged to kill ourselves. Absolutely not. But since by bringing someone into life I will expose this person to serious harm, it is best not to bring anyone into life.
Arguments to defend 2:
1) Pleasures and the hedonistic project are condemned to defeat, since any pleasures you have will not be able to undo the pain you will necessarily suffer.
2) Pain is part of the structure of the world and by bringing someone into life you are, ipso facto, exposing that person to serious harm.Read more ›
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.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
While many may find Benatar's thesis hard to accept on an emotional level, it's difficult to find fault with his pragmatic argument. Read morePublished 1 month ago by SWeberful
What is written below was originally posted on Amazon.co.uk in July 2008.
The truth of the propositions contained in this book has been obvious to me since I was 14... Read more
I was recently introduced to a philosophical tenet of which I had never heard: anti-natalism. It popped up on a social media newsfeed as a radio interview with the author of Better... Read morePublished 10 months ago by Joseph A. Domino
For those who want to get to the bottom of things quickly, the core of Benatar's argument can be found in his brief magazine article "No Life is Good. Read morePublished 15 months ago by AK
This is a very important book that I think anyone who has any serious thoughts about improving the lot of all the living should read, regardless if you ultimately agree or disagree... Read morePublished 15 months ago by Yin-Haan
This is an important topic but I felt the arguments Benatar gave were rather weak. Benatar argues for anti-natalism, the view that humanity ought to stop reproducing and... Read morePublished 17 months ago by NC
I quite enjoyed-- more than I thought would be possible at its outset-- Better Never To Have Been. As I am not a logician, I found the style slightly off-putting at the beginning,... Read morePublished 17 months ago by Christina
(For more see reasonandmeaning.com)
David Benatar is professor of philosophy and head of the Department of Philosophy at the University of Cape Town in Cape Town, South... Read more