Is life worth living (the David Benatar interview)?

saor

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David Benatar (from SA) was recently on Sam Harris podcast to talk about his position on anti-natalism.

Putting aside that it was a frustrating conversation with Benatar making no headway other than to default on his starting position the whole time, I wondered what others made of his position. Which boils down to something like:

It is better to prevent potential suffering, than to afford potential good.
Or rather: It is the greater good to deny someone suffering, than it is to afford someone joy.

It's an oddly tricky position to just state clearly. But he makes the claim that it is better for people not to be born because much suffering is inevitable; that a chance at living and maybe experiencing good & joy should be trumped by the initial move to prevent potential suffering: Thus, bringing life into this world is the incorrect move (philosophically).

He made no real effort to explain his position or advance it, so I was left not at all compelled by his position.
Is there a framing of this that someone has found interesting - or is it always such a boring idea?

[video=youtube;1s88Ze41pRU]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1s88Ze41pRU[/video]
 

DMNknight

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The premise is idiotic, for it would have to be created by someone who was born, whom without it would not have been.

Premise aside, suffering gives life purpose, to stop suffering. It's the greatest teacher any living being has ever had.
 

Ninja'd

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Why can't he be like the rest of us and just say he doesn't want kids. No need to invent fancy words.
 

Compton_effect

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That entire argument can easily be countered. By Pat Benatar.
[video=youtube;qxZInIyOBXk]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qxZInIyOBXk[/video]

Besides - the entire argument is as impractical as discussing the existence of seeds in a banana. (Been there, first year philosophy students can be entertaining when stoned)
The entire anti-natalist philosophy relies on people not procreating. But everybody else who does not believe this, are procreating like rabbits. So the anti-natalist can only actively sustain their philosophy for one generation. Everybody else can sustain theirs as long as there's nothing good on television.
 

rietrot

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Just soulds like nihilism.
If this guy doesn't just end his own suffering he is a hypocrite.
 

saor

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Which is basically the same thing.
Not really.
One can hold both these positions simultaneously:

a.) Killing another person is wrong, and
b.) Preventing a person from being born is good.

Consider a world where every 6 / 10 people are born with a defect that causes them to experience much suffering throughout their lives. As the suffering endured by the sufferers outweighs the good in their lives, we might take the position that:

a.) It's wrong to kill another human (whether they suffer or not)
b.) It's better to prevent people from being born (as most of them will suffer)

I think that's a logically consistent position - those two views don't clash with each other. What I take issue with is the weight afforded to 'suffering' as the ultimate metric which determines whether our collective lives are worth preventing or not. I wonder what the anti-natalist would say about nature: If they were to fly to a planet uninhabited by man - is there a sufficient amount of suffering in nature (red in tooth and claw) to warrant unleashing the anti-natalist warhead?

If the animals should be prevented from being born (because some of them will suffer) - then the anti-natalist position seems like one in which only a pure utopia will suffice, and any number of suffering creatures is sufficient to start preventing births.

If the animals shouldn't be prevented from being born, and the anti-natalist is willing to step aside in this instance, I think they need to step aside in all instances. If it's ok to give the animals a pass, and animals are the precursors to humans (on earth) - it seems a strange thing for the anti-natalist to be critical of this particular cross-section of existence as that which contains too much suffering to warrant the project of life being called off.

It might just the case (universally) that as animals become intelligent and societies emerge, there will be long periods of much suffering (wars, famine etc.) as we slowly sort out our **** and shed out childish animal tendencies. If these are the (unfortunate) growing pains a civilization must go through in order to ascend their stupidity - it would seem that if the anti-natalist alien overlords had their way - they would intervene at every point in a civilizations early existence and prevent them from going further, because they would be intervening at the inevitable cross-section in time where all civilizations have a very high net amount of suffering.

It's a bit like thinking a poo in your pants is not worth living for.
Seeing as all children poo in their pants we should take the anti-natalist stance.
But given enough time people stop making poo's in their pants.
Making a poo in your pants is just a small cross-section of a much larger story.
 
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JacquesR

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For those who don't have the time to read the full book arguing for his anti-natalism (Better Never to have Been), here's an essay with a summary of it. It's not a nihilistic view at all (though it is arguably a pessimistic one), and it certainly has no bearing on existing lives, as opposed to hypothetical future ones.

(Disclosure: DB is a colleague of mine, who I've known for over 20 years, so I don't approach this conversation with any delusions of neutrality.)
 

saor

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The premise is idiotic, for it would have to be created by someone who was born, whom without it would not have been.
If Hitler ruled the world and all life was suffering and gas-chambers: Any person born into such an environment might very well take the position that life is not worth living. A being can surely reflect on their own situation regardless of whether such reflection results in a negation of their existence. There's no rule that says the only premises we should conceive of are those that support our existence.
 

DMNknight

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If Hitler ruled the world, not all life would be suffering. Most certainly not Hitler.

I understand the premise, but it is undermined by it's subjectivity.
It is best and succinctly described by this paraphrase from the "humans are awesome" megapost:
To paraphrase one of my favorite bits of a ‘humans are awesome’ fiction megapost: “you don’t know you’re from a Death World until you leave it.” For a ton of reasons, I really like the idea of Earth being Space Australia.
A more practical view on the matter comes directly from World War 2 german prisoner of war camps. A Psychologist (I forget his name at the moment) made a study of PoW's because he noticed that no matter the dire circumstances, some of the prisoners were actually happy.

Arguably then, suffering comes from a matter of choice and freewill. There are those people in life, who no matter how good or bad their circumstances are, are always happy and upbeat and those that are exactly the opposite.

Further to that, it can then be argued that the state of "suffering" is purely down to choice of the person in those circumstances.

Lastly, it would not be up to someone else to determine that state of being, especially not of someone who does not exist yet.
 

Techne

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A problem for this view is that you cannot measure or predict with sufficient certainty the amount of suffering new people will experience.
 

thestaggy

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The premise is idiotic, for it would have to be created by someone who was born, whom without it would not have been.

Premise aside, suffering gives life purpose, to stop suffering. It's the greatest teacher any living being has ever had.
That is very idealistic. The reality is most people that are born in to a life of suffering perpetuate the cycle.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cycle_of_poverty#Culture_of_poverty

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poverty_trap

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Learned_helplessness#Extensions

Beyond poverty it is even accepted that abuse can be passed along fron generation to generation. If the son is abused by his father and/or witnesses his father abusing his mother there is a strong chance that he will do the same to his own offspring and/or spouse.
 
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DMNknight

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Procreation is a choice (for some), in that regard, the argument is a valid one.

It falls flat due to the subjectivity of being able to measure subjectivity though.
 

Ninja'd

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For those who don't have the time to read the full book arguing for his anti-natalism (Better Never to have Been), here's an essay with a summary of it. It's not a nihilistic view at all (though it is arguably a pessimistic one), and it certainly has no bearing on existing lives, as opposed to hypothetical future ones.

(Disclosure: DB is a colleague of mine, who I've known for over 20 years, so I don't approach this conversation with any delusions of neutrality.)
What's his stance on forced sterilisations?
 

DMNknight

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That is very idealistic. The reality is most people that are born in to a life of suffering perpetuate the cycle.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cycle_of_poverty#Culture_of_poverty

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poverty_trap

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Learned_helplessness#Extensions

Beyond poverty it is even accepted that abuse can be passed along fron generation to generation. If the son is abused by his father and/or witnesses his father abusing his mother there is a strong chance that he will do the same to his own offspring and/or spouse.
So you're saying that your great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandparents (i.e. the first primate that we would classify as belonging to the species of homo sapien), who lived in object poverty according to today's standards, should not have bumped uglies because of all the suffering they were going through, being so poor and all?
 
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