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View Full Version : David Benatar sums up antinatalism in 200 words for Oxford University Press interview


matt cardin
04-15-2017, 10:37 AM
In conjunction with the publication of Benatar's new book, the OUP blog has just published a new interview (https://blog.oup.com/2017/04/david-benatar-interview/) with him, conducted by the philosophy editor at OUP USA. Among other items of interest, right in his opening responses Benatar gives a remarkably succinct and lucid précis of antinatalism:

Peter Ohlin: The title of the new book is The Human Predicament. How would you describe that predicament, in a nutshell?

David Benatar: Life is hard. We have to struggle, often unsuccessfully, to keep unpleasantness at bay. It would be easier to make sense of this if life served some important purpose. Yet, while we can create some meaning, our lives lack any ultimate purpose. Death can relieve our suffering, but it cannot solve our problem of meaninglessness. Moreover, because death is annihilation, it is part of our misfortune (even when, all things considered, it is the lesser of two evils). In other words, our predicament is that life is bad but that death is too.

PO: How did you become interested in this topic, and how does it connect with your previous book, Better Never to Have Been?

DB: Apprehending our predicament commands one’s interest. To be aware of the suffering, the pointlessness of it all, and the grotesque finale seems unavoidably interesting -- or, at least, it is to me. Although there is no way to escape the human predicament once one is in it, there is a way in which it can be avoided, namely by never being brought into existence. Of course, it’s too late for us who exist, but because procreation involves replicating the predicament, the latter can be avoided by desisting from the former. That’s why it is better never to be or to have been.I'm of the mind that these two paragraphs make for a nicely quotable explanation for anyone who might ask. I wish I had had them on hand three weeks ago when I was introducing some students to Ligotti and sketching the current cultural circumstance surrounding his writing, worldview, and reputation, for which purpose I showed them the car conversation scene from season 1 of True Detective, which of course cribs from both Ligotti and Benatar.

ramonoski
04-15-2017, 05:05 PM
That sums it up particularly well! I found myself trying to explain antinatalism to someone not long ago and I resorted to quoting Ligotti, who I guess has Benatar beat by 192 words: "nonexistence never hurt anyone, and existence hurts everyone." I did deliberately avoid bringing up True Detective, though...

Mr. Veech
04-17-2017, 11:53 PM
I like Benatar, but I'm not all that keen on his negative utilitarianism. As a matter of fact, I don't really care for his asymmetry argument for a number of reasons, even though I know the argument itself is meant to appeal to our everyday understanding of pain and pleasure. Also, while I agree with him most days of the week regarding the notion that life is inherently meaningless, whether or not it actually is meaningless is something which can't be proven. It's important to understand that, I believe, given the fact that antinatalism is for the most part grounded in an atheistic worldview.

In other words, the question concerning the veracity of antinatalism as the cure for humanity's condition presupposes a legion of other questions, questions of a metaphysical and/or theological nature.

SIDE NOTE: I've made it quite clear that I consider myself an antinatalist on this website before. However, it occurred to me recently that there are some here who have children, so I will be less vocal about the matter. To be more specific, I will be sensitive to those here who might have children, assuming this subject is brought up in the future. There's a rather nasty habit amongst antinatalists who continually use the pejorative label "breeder" for those who choose to have children. I don't want to be associated with that.

cannibal cop
04-18-2017, 04:48 PM
David Benatar: ... It would be easier to make sense of this if life served some important purpose. Yet, while we can create some meaning, our lives lack any ultimate purpose. Death can relieve our suffering, but it cannot solve our problem of meaninglessness...

I don't think I agree with this. What if the purpose of our lives is to provide essential nutrition for some other life form? Or to render this world uninhabitable? Or because the universe wants MASH reruns?

Who cares? Would knowing it make life more tolerable?

Mr. Veech
04-18-2017, 11:02 PM
David Benatar: ... It would be easier to make sense of this if life served some important purpose. Yet, while we can create some meaning, our lives lack any ultimate purpose. Death can relieve our suffering, but it cannot solve our problem of meaninglessness...

I don't think I agree with this. What if the purpose of our lives is to provide essential nutrition for some other life form? Or to render this world uninhabitable? Or because the universe wants MASH reruns?

Who cares? Would knowing it make life more tolerable?

I think the important thing to remember is that the sheer existence of suffering renders the question regarding whether or not life has any meaning important. If suffering didn't exist, then the question is perhaps a trivial one. Most human beings could, for instance, tolerate plenty of suffering if there is indeed a meaning to suffering, i.e., if suffering itself is placed within a meaningful framework. Some have even pursued suffering in the name of an ideal. Just look at someone like the apostle Paul, or converts of Islam in the 7th Century.

But if a person believes there is no tenable framework for understanding suffering, then that person might be interested in what Benatar has to say regarding the matter.

cannibal cop
04-19-2017, 06:45 PM
Most human beings could, for instance, tolerate plenty of suffering if there is indeed a meaning to suffering, i.e., if suffering itself is placed within a meaningful framework.

But most human beings do put up with plenty of suffering in their own lives, even without the aid of any kind of moral framework to make sense of it.

What I'm saying is:

A.) Benatar's claim that our lives (and suffering) "lack ultimate purpose" is not necessarily true (nor even necessarily knowable);

B.) It's largely irrelevant anyway to the antinatalist position, at least as I understand it, that forcing someone into a life of suffering (or subjugation to an "ultimate purpose", if you want) is morally questionable, at best.

Mr. Veech
04-19-2017, 07:42 PM
Most human beings could, for instance, tolerate plenty of suffering if there is indeed a meaning to suffering, i.e., if suffering itself is placed within a meaningful framework.

But most human beings do put up with plenty of suffering in their own lives, even without the aid of any kind of moral framework to make sense of it.

What I'm saying is:

A.) Benatar's claim that our lives (and suffering) "lack ultimate purpose" is not necessarily true (nor even necessarily knowable);

B.) It's largely irrelevant anyway to the antinatalist position, at least as I understand it, that forcing someone into a life of suffering (or subjugation to an "ultimate purpose", if you want) is morally questionable, at best.

You're right. Most humans choose to reproduce in spite of the amount of suffering there is in the world. I'm definitely open to the idea that antinatalists are perhaps a more sensitive bunch than most people, which is why antinatalism itself is an impractical moral philosophy on a universal level. Nevertheless, if someone is inclined to believe in antinatalism, there's nothing stopping them from embracing it as the most appropriate response to the human condition.

Very few people are going to be persuaded by Benatar's ethical position. I'm sure he's aware of that. But he has to write books in order to stay relevant in the world of academia, i.e., stay employed. I'm not, of course, accusing him of having some crude ulterior motive.