The Argument For Not Being

Mar 14 2013 @ 8:06pm

Rhys Southan considers it while reviewing David Benatar’s Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming into Existence:

(1)   Those who exist experience suffering, which is bad.

(2)   Those who exist experience pleasure, which is good.

(3)   The absence of suffering for the nonexistent is good, even if that good is not enjoyed by anyone.

(4)   The absence of pleasure for the nonexistent is not bad, because there is nobody for whom this absence is a deprivation.

In Benatar’s estimation, since existence includes suffering (claim 1), it loses to nonexistence’s lack thereof in claim 3. But existence and nonexistence tie in the clash over pleasure in claims 2 and 4. Benatar calls this “the Asymmetry.” The fact of suffering means there are negative aspects to existing, but since you can’t miss pleasure if there is no you to miss it, there is nothing bad about never being born. Therefore, having a child creates suffering that wouldn’t otherwise exist, and since suffering is bad and nonexistence isn’t, let’s never breed again.

How he dismantles that idea:

Utilitarians like Benatar tend to aggregate all the world’s suffering into a unitary metaphysical reservoir of concentrated, pulsating agony – like that river of psychomagnotheric slime in Ghostbusters II that exploded from the sewers as New York City got grumpier – and who wouldn’t want to pull the plug on that? But we experience life as individuals, not as a collective mind, and one advantage of this is that throughout the entire world, there is no more pain perceived at any one moment than what a single person is capable of experiencing – and most of us are pretty well equipped to handle that.