Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming Into Existence

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Oxford University Press, 2008 - Philosophy - 237 pages
Most people believe that they were either benefited or at least not harmed by being brought into existence. Thus, if they ever do reflect on whether they should bring others into existence---rather than having children without even thinking about whether they should---they presume that they do them no harm. Better Never to Have Been challenges these assumptions. 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. Drawing on the relevant psychological literature, the author shows that there are a number of well-documented features of human psychology that explain why people systematically overestimate the quality of their lives and why they are thus resistant to the suggestion that they were seriously harmed by being brought 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. Although counter-intuitive for many, that implication is defended, not least by showing that it solves many conundrums of moral theory about population.

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This book is deliciously hilarious. Benatar has the driest, most piercing sense of humor that I have encountered since "Red Meat". If you have a taste for satire that humiliates the idiots that are passing in this world as intellectuals, this is the book for you!
Much as Swift does in "A Modest Proposal" (only for many, many more pages), Benatar stays solidly in character, never wavering from his insistence that his absurdly comical arguments are valid philosophy. And he does this with a stinging, laser-accurate caricature of the modern pseudo-intellectual that dominates the academy today. Trust me, if you have the intestinal fortitude to endure the nerve-gratingly pompous character that narrates this tome, you will be rewarded with innumerable guffaws, titters, giggles, and long, rich indulgences of bemused disgust. This is brilliant stuff.
Benatar's book is, intentionally, the very refutation of his comedic titular assertion. After reading it, you will be thankful that you exist, in order that you may enjoy such well-crafted entertainment.

Review: Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming Into Existence

User Review  - Andy - Goodreads

A bit egocentric in its presentation--all about "his views"--although maybe that is typically for philosophy. I want to stress that the 1.5/5 rating is not for the topic itself, which I think is ... Read full review


1 Introduction
2 Why Coming into Existence Is Always a Harm
3 How Bad Is Coming into Existence?
The AntiNatal View
The ProDeath View
6 Population and Extinction
7 Conclusion

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About the author (2008)

David Benatar is currently Senior Lecturer in the Philosophy Department at the University of Cape Town, South Africa. He received his Ph.D. from that university, did post-doctoral work at the University of Wisconsin-Madison from 1993 to 1995, and was Visiting Assistant Professor at the College of Charleston, South Carolina, from 1995 until 1997. His teaching and research interests are in moral philosophy and related areas. In 1999 he was awarded the University of Cape Town's Distinguished Teacher Award.

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