Dec 07

Better for Whom?

Via Bryan Caplan, commentary from Tyler Cowen on anti-natalism:

Most people believe that they were either benefited or at least not harmed by being brought into existence… David Benatar argues that coming into existence is always a serious harm. Although the good things in one’s life make one’s life go better than it otherwise would have gone, one could not have been deprived by their absence if one had not existed. Those who never exist cannot be deprived. However, by coming into existence one does suffer quite serious harms that could not have befallen one had one not come into existence… The author then argues for the ‘anti-natal’ view—that it is always wrong to have children—and he shows that combining the anti-natal view with common pro-choice views about foetal moral status yield a ‘pro-death’ view about abortion (at the earlier stages of gestation). Anti-natalism also implies that it would be better if humanity became extinct.   (jb’s emphasis)

Sorry..  Better for whom, or what?  How can the word “better” mean anything if there are no moral actors to judge?   Does he mean “better for the Earth?”  The Earth will eventually melt into a pile of slag.  Only intelligent life, acting as moral agents can possibly prevent that.  Does he mean “Better for animals?”  Again, every fluffy bunny, every species of dog, fish, cat,cow, or woodchuck will eventually go extinct, but for the intervention of intelligent life.

Or maybe his position is more extreme – all life is suffering, all life is pain, therefore, all life (in the universe) must be destroyed, so that the amount of suffering will be decreased.   Benetar takes suffering, and places it on a pedestal, as the one thing that must be avoided at all costs.

I’m sorry, but that doesn’t strike me as  either interesting or profound.  If I said “Tickling is the one thing in the universe that must be avoided at all costs”, I could easily follow that with demands that birds be made extinct, artificial feathers destroyed and everyone’s fingers cut off, so that we could all avoid the horror of being tickled.

And everyone would simply respond with, most charitably, an incredulous stare.    I suggest the same response for Mr. Benetar’s proposal.

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