|Publisher||Oxford University Press|
|Followed by||The Second Sexism|
Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming into Existence is a 2006 book by South African philosopher David Benatar, best known for being associated with antinatalism and philosophical pessimism. The book was preceded by Benatar's 1997 paper "Why It Is Better Never to Come into Existence", where he expounded on what would eventually become the book's major concepts.
Better Never to Have Been directly concerns Benatar's antinatalist philosophy: sentient beings are harmed when they are brought into existence, and it is therefore wrong to procreate. He derives this conclusion from two arguments: an asymmetry between good and bad things, such as pleasure and pain, and the view that human beings have an unreliable assessment of life's quality.
Asymmetry between pleasure and pain
Benatar argues that there is what he calls an asymmetry between good and bad things, such as pleasure and pain:
- the absence of pain is good, even if that good is not enjoyed by anyone, whereas
- the absence of pleasure is not bad unless there is somebody for whom this absence is a deprivation.
His justification for this argument is that the absence of pleasure is only bad when somebody exists to experience that absence; if pleasure is absent and there is no person to be deprived of it, it is not bad.
In his review, philosopher Yujin Nagasawa questioned why Benatar framed Better Never to Have Been as a positive thesis, rather than as a counter-intuitive philosophical puzzle. As a result, Nagasawa felt that he could not recommend the book to everyone. Bioethicist David DeGrazia published a rebuttal to Benatar's arguments in 2010; despite the disagreement with Benatar's position, DeGrazia commended the book, stating: "I conclude with praise for his work and the intellectual virtues it embodies." In 2013, Benatar responded to critics of the book in the paper "Still Better Never to Have Been: A Reply to (More of) My Critics".
In popular culture
- Benatar, David (1997). "Why It Is Better Never to Come into Existence". American Philosophical Quarterly. 34 (3): 345–355. ISSN 0003-0481. JSTOR 20009904.
- Belshaw, Christopher (9 June 2007). "Review of Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming into Existence". Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews. ISSN 1538-1617.
- Singh, Asheel (2018). "The Hypothetical Consent Objection to Anti-Natalism". Ethical Theory and Moral Practice. 21 (5): 1135–1150. doi:10.1007/s10677-018-9952-0. ISSN 1386-2820. S2CID 254464712.
Anti-natalism is the view that it is (almost) always wrong to bring people (and perhaps all sentient beings) into existence. This view is most famously championed by David Benatar (1997, 2006).
- Smuts, Aaron (2014). "To Be or Never to Have Been: Anti-Natalism and a Life Worth Living". Ethical Theory and Moral Practice. 17 (4): 711–729. doi:10.1007/s10677-013-9461-0. ISSN 1386-2820. S2CID 254462083.
Benatar presents two independent arguments for anti-natalism. The first argument attempts to show that it is always prudentially bad to be brought into existence. This argument depends on a controversial asymmetry between goods and bads: The absence of pain is good, whereas the absence of pleasure is neither prudentially good nor bad for the non-existent. The prudential asymmetry grounds the anti-natalist moral claim. Accordingly, I will refer to this as the asymmetry argument. The second argument does not depend on the asymmetry. Instead, it defends a wholesale pessimism about the human condition. We can call this the argument from pessimism.
- Benatar, David, Better Never to Have Been (2006, 30).
- Metz, Thaddeus (2011). "Are Lives Worth Creating?: Critical Notice of David Benatar, Better Never to Have Been (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006)". Philosophical Papers. 40 (2): 233–255. doi:10.1080/05568641.2011.591828. ISSN 0556-8641. S2CID 147119569.
Again, Benatar suggests that these emotional reactions are best explained by the asymmetry thesis. In particular, we exhibit negative emotions toward unhappy lives because pain is bad and its absence is good, and we do not exhibit negative emotions toward nonexistent lives that lack happiness because the absence of happiness is not bad when there is no one to be deprived of it.
- Benatar, David, Better Never to Have Been (2006, 35).
- Nagasawa, Yujin (1 July 2008). "Review: David Benatar: Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming into Existence". Mind. 117 (467): 674–677. doi:10.1093/mind/fzn089. ISSN 0026-4423.
- DeGrazia, David (1 August 2010). "Is it wrong to impose the harms of human life? A reply to Benatar". Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics. 31 (4): 317–331. doi:10.1007/s11017-010-9152-y. ISSN 1573-1200. PMID 20625933. S2CID 10284785.
- Benatar, David (1 June 2013). "Still Better Never to Have Been: A Reply to (More of) My Critics". The Journal of Ethics. 17 (1): 121–151. doi:10.1007/s10892-012-9133-7. ISSN 1572-8609. S2CID 170682992.
- Calia, Michael (2 February 2014). "Writer Nic Pizzolatto on Thomas Ligotti and the Weird Secrets of 'True Detective'". WSJ. Retrieved 31 May 2020.