Sunday, 13 January 2013

"Coming into existence is always a harm"

"It is unlikely that many people will take to heart the conclusion that coming into existence is always a harm. It is even less likely that many people will stop having children [as a result]. By contrast, it is quite likely that my views either will be ignored or will be dismissed. As this response will account for a great deal of suffering between now and the demise of humanity, it cannot plausibly be thought of as philanthropic. That is not to say that it is motivated by any malice towards humans, but it does result from a self-deceptive indifference to the harm of coming into existence." (Benatar, David. Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming into Existence [Oxford; New York: Clarendon Press; Oxford University Press, 2008] 225)
"A man may beget a hundred children, and live many years; but however many are the days of his years, if he does not enjoy life’s good things, or has no burial, I say that a stillborn child is better off than he. 4 For it comes into vanity and goes into darkness, and in darkness its name is covered; 5 moreover it has not seen the sun or known anything; yet it finds rest rather than he. 6 Even though he should live a thousand years twice over, yet enjoy no good—do not all go to one place?" (Ecclesiastes 6:3-6, NIV)

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  1. Interesting. Why does he say that 'coming into existence' causes harm when what he means is 'existence causes harm.' Perhaps because he doesn't want to make an argument the logical conclusion of which is that he should off himself. The problem after all is not that there are too many children being born. The problem is that there are too many people already existing. Wouldn't the far more logical approach be to cull the herd of lesser mortals in favor of new individuals full of promise? Perhaps we could start by culling useless intellectuals who develop philosophies about the harm caused by having children.


  2. He distinguishes (rightly, in my view) that which doesn't exist from that which does. Regarding that which does, there will be individuals (most of them, most of the time) for whom perpetuating their existence outweighs the harm of ending it. However, for those which do NOT exist, the very reality of 'coming into being' as it were puts you in harms way.

  3. Also, if existence itself, (as opposed to coming into existence) causes harm, then it would be better to cause everything not to exist. But causing something not to exist is a harmful act towards it. So we would be minimizing harm by causing the maximum amount of harm possible.

    I'm going to go and lie down for a bit...

    Stephen Walton

  4. So as not to be accused of falling into the trap of the last posting about logic & not reading properly, I'm addressing Carl, not what John originally put up - the harm Benatar & the writer of Ecclesiastes speak of, is the harm/pain of existing....

    ... but is there a problem with over population really? Countries that are depopulating face huge problems. Things blamed on over populating are often caused by other things. I quite like this youtube clip, which has similar links

    I know you were joking about getting rid of intellectuals. But someone tried that, in Cambodia (& arguably mainstream political parties). At least we know what happens now when it's tried.

    Darren Moore

  5. One of the things that bother me about modern communication on the Web, particularly amongst bloggers, is the attention and pre-eminence given to intellectuality.
    Whilst I admire and respect the possession of knowledge and the ability to discern and disseminate the same, it would seem that some are ungraciously dismissive to those who do not match up their supposed intellectual superiority.
    Bloggers blog because they want their thoughts to be read by a wider circle than otherwise possible. Readers of blogs read blogs to discover what is being written and to possibly learn from it and benefit from the experience and knowledge of the blogger. Sometimes they feel led to make comment upon the same.
    I am ever so grateful that our Lord Jesus Christ, when seeking his disciples did not go to the intellectual and learned men of his day, the Sanhedrin. Instead, he went to the unlearned, hardworking and humble working men from his region. These men seemed to understand little during his lifetime but were enlightened and empowered by the Holy Spirit after his resurrection.
    It must be frustrating to find that one’s words are misunderstood and not appreciated but that is what Christian teachers of today must expect and work with. Until either the Holy Spirit reveals the truth or knowledge comes through ‘sitting at the foot of Gamaliel’ (not that that did Saul much good) the student is at loss for an explanation. (Like the eunuch and Philip).
    What is a man supposed to do if he has a life of unhappiness? The early saints were persecuted but retained their joy of the Lord. Or have I misunderstood this one as well? Please explain the purpose of your post.

  6. Darren

    Intellectuals (and they are always intellectuals) who make these 'surplus population' arguments never - and I mean never - include themselves in the surplus. They say "There are too many people in the world." They mean "There are to many other people in the world and they are all getting in my way!" The fundamental motivation behind the argument is not some commmitment to grand philosophical truth. It is rank selfishness.

    If they were being consistent, they would place themselves at the front of the sacrificial queue. But in fact, they are quite pleased to continue possessing the life they live, and so are completely indifferent to such 'harm' they may cause to others by their mere existence. (Not that they would concede that the existence of such great intellect could be described as 'mere' of course.) They are delighted that their parents chose to inflict them on the world despite the consequences that might attend. They have every intention of continuing to inflict those consequences on others for as long as they are able. Life may be a misery of suffering, but not for them. I intended to illustrate that fundamental hypocrisy with my suggestion that we start the culling with "useless intellectuals." They would scream like stuck pigs at the mere suggestion.


  7. 'Coming into existence' doesn't cause harm. It imposes an obligation on others. Do we really want to say that an imposed obligation is harmful to the one so obligated? If so, they we lay the groundwork for the complete repudiation of obligation. For why should one be obligated to his own detriment?

    This of course has subtle implications that explain the focus on 'coming into existence' instead of 'existence.' Obligations can be incurred after the onset of existence. If obligation is harmful, the one so obligated could legitimately claim to be harmed and demand relief. If the beneficary of that obligation(let's call him, say, David Benatar) wanted to continue living his otherwise harmful life, he would not want that relief granted. The restriction to a criteria of 'coming into existence' conveniently protects him from unwanted imposition. He after all will never again fall into the category of "not yet existing." But he has not established that he deserves relief from that unwanted imposition in the face of the harm and suffering he has inflicted on those around him.

    In truth, he simply wants to keep on living. He thus falsifies his own arguments. For if his life was absolute suffering and misery, he could consistently seek only to end it. He would on the basis of alleged harm deny to others what he patently demands for himself on the basis of self interest. How do I know he demands it? He hasn't yet hung himself from the ceiling rafters.


  8. If this were Facebook, I'd have clicked "like"

    I'm sure that's right. In fact, have you noticed the very non-intellectuals that buy what the intellectuals say, (they're called celebs), tell us that there are too many of us, consuming too much.... celebs! They fly in their personal jets, dripping in gold to tell us to take fewer car journeys & consume less. Even Elton John said it at G8... an artist known for his moderation!

    Rant over.

    But it also gets back to John's thing about logic. The population thing is logical to the very end. There just aren't that many facts in it.

  9. Hrmph. How about ...

    "But he has not established that he deserves to have that obligation enforced in the face of the harm and suffering he has inflicted on those around him."