For the blog's mission and submission guidelines, see http://philosopherscocoon.typepad.com/underappreciated_philos/2013/07/mission-statement.html David Benatar's "Better Never to Have Been" -- Underappreciated Philosophy? - Over/Under-appreciated Philosophy?

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08/04/2013

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Marcus Arvan

Excellent comment, Roman. I think you've expressed Benatar's argument as clearly and persuasively as possible. But of course the asymmetry still seems more than a bit weird, no? Yes, you're bringing a child into the world who will suffer -- a bad for the child -- but the child is likely to experience a good deal of good *once* in existence. I know that Benatar wants the argument turn on the fact that it's impossible for anything to be good for non-existent individuals, but why isn't "more good than evil" for an *existent* person good enough to justify having a child (for its sake *once* it is in existence)? This is the issue that I keep running up against.

dan dennis

Hi Roman

I think the asymmetry just does not get off the ground with me. I just cannot see why one would accept it (other than if one has certain prior intuitions which I don’t have).

Without the asymmetry one has no problem. Either one says, prior to having the child, that one cannot consider the effect on the child of bringing the child into existence (because the child does not now exist so we cannot affect it). Or one says that a future state of affairs in which there exists child X and child X is suffering, is bad for child X so one should not bring this state of affairs into existence so should not bring child X into existence, and a future state of affairs in which there exists child X and child X is living a good life, is good for child X so one should bring this state of affairs into existence so should bring child X into existence.

Best wishes

Dan

Marcus Arvan

Dan: I have the very same problem with the argument.

Roman

Yeah, as I've said I agree that the asymmetry is problematic. But I also think it's important to consider Benatar's case for it--again, as he notes, most people agree with it *until* they see where it leads. So in a way, your intuitions on the matter are already clouded!

But I tend to think of the point also from my present--existing--perspective. When something bad happens, I do think--man, this wouldn't happen if I didn't exist. But when something good happens, if I think about it, I think "sure, if I didn't exist this wouldn't have happened to me, but I wouldn't care, so it wouldn't be a loss." So at least in my case, I think the asymmetry is pretty solidly lodged. But I am uncomfortable with starting the entire argument on the basis of the asymmetry without providing a grounding for it. For what it's worth, though, to me it seems about as solid as virtually any other moral intuition I can think of. The difference being, perhaps, that I can see on evolutionary/cultural grounds why many of those other intuitions would make sense for me to have.

dan dennis

Roman, you say ‘When something bad happens, I do think--man, this wouldn't happen if I didn't exist.’ I must say that I don’t have this thought – and I don’t think that the intuition you refer to as 'solid' as at all solid – so it may be that the divergence in intuitions starts here.

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