Asymmetries in Benefiting, Harming and Creating

Paper by Ben Bradley, published on September 15, 2012 in The Journal of Ethics

It is often said that while we have a strong reason not to create someone who will be badly off, we have no strong reason for creating someone who will be well off. In this paper I argue that this asymmetry is incompatible with a plausible principle of independence of irrelevant alternatives, and that a more general asymmetry between harming and benefiting is difficult to defend. I then argue that, contrary to what many have claimed, it is possible to harm or benefit someone by bringing her into existence.

Causing People to Exist and Saving People’s Lives

Paper by Jeff McMahan, published on September 13, 2012 in The Journal of Ethics

Most people are skeptical of the claim that the expectation that a person would have a life that would be well worth living provides a reason to cause that person to exist. In this essay I argue that to cause such a person to exist would be to confer a benefit of a noncomparative kind and that there is a moral reason to bestow benefits of this kind. But this conclusion raises many problems, among which is that it must be determined how the benefits conferred on people by causing them to exist weigh against comparable benefits conferred on existing people. In particular, might the reason to cause people to exist ever outweigh the reason to save the lives of existing people?

Antinatalism, Asymmetry, and an Ethic of Prima Facie Duties

Paper by Gerald Harrison, published on April 15, 2012 in South African Journal of Philosophy

Harrison shows an argument for antinatalism based on Davind Benatar’s procreational asymmetry, which he finds superior because it does not depend on the view that coming into existence is always a harm for the created being.

His argument is based on the moral duty to prevent pain as well as the duty to promote pleasure. However, since duties need a victim, he suggests that only the former applies to the act of procreation and thus:

  • We have a duty to prevent the harms procreating causes, because there would be a victim (the created person experiencing the harms).
  • We don’t have a duty to cause the pleasure procreating causes, because there would never be a victim missing out on or being deprived of those pleasures.

Harrison concludes that other things being equal, these generate a duty not to procreate.

Every Conceivable Harm: A Further Defence of Anti-Natalism

Paper by David Benatar, published on January 1, 2012 in South African Journal of Philosophy

Many people are resistant to the conclusions for which I argued in Better Never to Have Been . I have previously responded to most of the published criticisms of my arguments. Here I respond to a new batch of critics (and to some fellow anti-natalists) who gathered for a conference at the University of Johannesburg and whose papers are published in this special issue of the South African Journal of Philosophy . I am also taking the opportunity to respond to two other critics whose articles have previously been published in South African philosophy journals. Clearly I cannot respond to all the arguments in each of these papers and thus I shall focus on what I take to be some of the central issues in each. None of the arguments to which I shall respond have caused me to revise my views. However, I am pleased to have the opportunity to show why this is the case

A New Argument for Anti-Natalism

Paper by Christopher Belshaw, published on January 1, 2012 in South African Journal of Philosophy

Consider the view that coming into existence is bad for us. Can we hold this and yet deny that ceasing to exist would be good for us? I argue that we can. First, many animals have lives such that they would be better off not existing. Second, if persons and babies are distinct things then the same is true of babies. Third, even if persons and babies are not distinct things – rather they are phases that human beings go through – still it is bad for babies that they come into existence. So it was bad for us to come into existence. But most of us now enjoy worthwhile lives. So it would be bad for us, now, to cease to exist

Furthering the Case for Anti-natalism: Seana Shiffrin and the Limits of Permissible Harm

Paper by Asheel Singh, published on January 1, 2012 in South African Journal of Philosophy

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 defended by David Benatar (1997, 2006). There are, however, other routes to an anti-natal conclusion. In this respect, Seana Shiffrin’s paper, “Wrongful Life, Procreative Responsibility, and the Significance of Harm” (1999), has been rather neglected in the natal debate. Though she appears unwilling to conclude that procreation is always wrong, I believe that she in fact puts forth a case for anti-natalism no less compelling than Benatar’s. My overall aim here is to demonstrate the force of her argument by defending a Shiffrin-esque route to anti-natalism from a powerful objection. This objection appeals to the common belief that because most people endorse their creation, procreation often is all-things-considered permissible. I will show how this objection fails, and why Shiffrin’s rationale for anti-natalism, as I will be representing it, ought to be taken seriously.

Quality of Human Life and Non-existence: Some criticisms of David Benatar’s formal and material positions

Paper by Julio Cabrera, published on June 3, 2011 in Revista Redbioética/UNESCO

In his book, Better Never to Have Been (Oxford, 2006), David Benatar attempts to show that coming into existence is always a serious harm. In order to prove his point, he develops two lines of argument, one formal, another material. In this paper I intend to show that: (1) There is a logical problem in the formal argumentation that affects the soundness of the supposed “asymmetry” between the absence of pleasure and the absence of pain, which constitutes the core of this line of argumentation. (2) Although the material argument is basically correct, I maintain that it suffers from the limitations of the theoretical approach adopted, of empiricist and Utilitarian type. (3) I discuss briefly the alleged “independence” of the two lines of argument trying to show that the formal line depends on the material one

The Negative Ontology of Happiness: a Schopenhauerian Argument

Paper by Manolito Gallegos, published on March 21, 2011 in Heidelberger Graduiertenjournal für Geisteswissenschaften

In this essay I will examine Schopenhauer’s contention that there is, in fact, no hap-piness, and that instead it is merely a lack of suffering that we label as such. To do this,I will first explore the claim itself, as well as some additional hypotheses and argumentsthat Schopenhauer presents for this position. I will then make a number of objectionsand provide refutations for each of them, with the resulting conclusion being favourablefor Schopenhauer’s position; however, I will also comment on some areas of philosophythat could possibly yield problems for the position, as well as discussing briefly whatsorts of further conclusions might be drawn from the nonexistence of happiness, andwhich areas are clearly not affected by it without further argumentation.

Problems And Solutions For A Hypothetical Right Not To Exist

Paper by Manolito Gallegos, published on January 1, 2011 in Heidelberger Graduiertenjournal für Geisteswissenschaften

In this paper I will describe and attempt to resolve one of the main problems ofDavid Benatar’s textBetter Never To Have Been: The Harm of Coming Into Existence:whether it is possible for a right not to exist to be posited without there ever being aperson in existence to hold such a right. I will conclude that this is indeed possiblegiven an experience oriented view of personhood that I shall outline, and what otherconclusions might be drawn from such a view.

Better Not to Have Children

Paper by Gerald Harrison & Julia Tanner, published on December 21, 2010 in Think

Most people take it for granted that it's morally permissible to have children. They may raise questions about the number of children it's responsible to have or whether it's permissible to reproduce when there's a strong risk of serious disability. But in general, having children is considered a good thing to do, something that's morally permissible in most cases (perhaps even obligatory).