A Discussion on Antinatalism | Is Life Worth Beginning?

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Antinatalism is the view that it is immoral to have children. Perhaps its most well-known contemporary advocate is David Benatar, whose book ‘Better Never To Have Been’ advances the ‘asymmetry of pleasure and pain,’ claiming that, before birth, an unborn person’s potential pleasures are morally irrelevant, but their potential suffering matters greatly in our deciding whether or not to bring them into existence.

A useful diagram explaining the asymmetry can be found here: https://philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/59139/is-benatars-asymmetry-of-pleasure-and-pain-wrong

To explain this, Benatar asks us to think of Mars, on which there is no life. We do not lament the non-existence of potential pleasure on Mars; it’s not a bad thing that there is no pleasure being experienced there. However, arguably, it is a good thing that there is no suffering.

In other words, to suffer from a lack of pleasure, there must be a person actually existing to do the lacking, whereas to benefit from a lack of pain does not require a potential person to actually exist.

In this discussion, I speak to Jack Hancock (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCf_M41aNZ0tDeyP-32aPEIw) about the asymmetry, as well as whether a case for antinatalism can be made if the asymmetry is rejected. On Jack’s channel, we spoke about wild animal suffering (‘the vegan blindspot’), which is available in the link below.

Please note these are my preliminary thoughts on antinatalism, which I would like to develop in response to comments on this discussion, and perhaps make a future video expressing more solidified views.


Discussion on Wild Animal Suffering: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_TaFwHa5ZRs

Humane Hancock’s channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCf_M41aNZ0tDeyP-32aPEIw

D. Benatar, Better Never to Have Been: https://amzn.to/2RbkJ4q


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Please note these are my preliminary thoughts on antinatalism, which I would like to develop in response to comments on this discussion, and perhaps make a future video expressing more solidified views. Do send me any resources or arguments you think may be of use.

Also, sorry for the audio: Jack's computer was overheating and so you can hear the fans whirring throughout. Hopefully it isn't too distracting.

I think being born is not worth it. My mom was the first generation to finish university in her family and only due to some funds my granpa left for her to go to school. She had to work hard and juggle school and work. We, two of three kids, only got to finish by a hairline. I finished uni at 30 and my brother at 24 because we had to work while going to school. The third kid didn't finish school and is now jobless and separated from her hubby who also didn't finish uni. They have three children who likely will not finish uni also. These kids will also likely not finish university, so the grinding poverty will perpetuate. It's not worth it.

I think the problem is antinatalism doesn't belong in a community of atheists. Atheism doesn't believe anything while antinatalism believes. Atheism isn't any basis for a community.

Communities should form around beliefs. They do around superstitious beliefs but I am not a member of any of those. Naturalism is good and a good basis for a community.

Antinatalism should find a group to belong to, I think they would be quite happy with the post monderist. Asymmetric valuation of pain and pleasure is ethical stand that seems made up to draw the shocking conclusions desired. What else could it be made from?

16:40 – But this is just overly focusing on suffering. It's like saying I know that some people get happiness, but I reject this and for me life is just about suffering, and in doing this you actually end up just not being rational. As life isn't just suffering and to reject every other state other then suffering, is to eat a cup cake, get a rock in it hurt your tooth and say I will never have cupcakes every again. It only seems logical when you don't focus on what makes people happy. It only works if you focus on suffering and on top of this state I won't try to see the bright side of life, and will just focus on darkness. I won't even focus on contentment, I will just focus on suffering, it ignores what is good about existing.

It's like getting a food on your plate you don't like so chucking the whole plate in the bin, because of one thing you don't like.

The main issue I see with antinatalism is the assumption that life is either suffering, or pleasure. There is no middle-ground. There is no contentment or somewhat happy or somewhat content most of the time. To me suffering is disease. Being in pain, when you get ill and your stomach aches badly or serious toothache that is close to actual real suffering. Being burned or set on fire is real suffering, or losing your mind and not understanding existence properly and being in fear anxiety mode, this is closer to real fear and suffering. This hardly ever happens. It's rare that anyone is in constant pain or suffering, but people that haven't experienced anything like this, think that pain is slight confusion. But it isn't. If someone is depressed a lot then they could argue they don't feel satisfied in life, but that is more to do with finding their purpose, or finding what makes them happier, then actually suffering, although not being able to do things which make you happy would possible make life seem pointless it still wouldn't be suffering. So to me a lot of antinatalists ignore the middle-ground in which people are comfortable most of the time, not overly happy, but not truly in pain or sad either, and most of the time this is where people are at. They're not suffering, they not always over the moon, they're in a place that is closer to contentment then suffering. Same with animals in the wild. It's rare a predator chases them, but if a predator was chasing them, then if they're able to comprehend pain, then most likely the fear of harm would mean a predator chasing them would scare them, but 90% of their day they're not running from predators. So most of the time they will be at least content. So that is a huge flaw with antinatalism in that it concentrates too much on suffering but doesn't comprehend that most of the time animals and people aren't suffering.

The second issue with antinatalism when it comes to people is if they don't like existence, they can choose to opt out of exist. So to then say that they should go stop everyone existing because they think this would be better when most people will not suffer most of the time is to actually put their feelings about existence on everyone else. When what they should be doing is working out how to be happy. How to make the world better. How to improve the world, they shouldn't be giving up on existence, they should be working harder to make it more worthwhile.

The third issue is if you created a world where suffering didn't exist or at the least the worst situation was just boredom and just wanting to feel happier, then the premise there would only be suffering isn't true. If you make it very hard for people to be in a position of suffering then the argument no longer works, and the real issue is they don't know how to be happy, this is their real problem.

So basically the problem I see is that antinatalists struggle with working out how to make life feel worthwhile, or think that suffering cheapens life experience and so it cheapens it so much they would rather not have existed, when they should be working out ways to remove that which cheapens that experience for them, and aim to make existence better. Basically I see antinatalists as defeatists, just accepting that depression is the only reality they will have in their life.

Annihilation of all life in our Universe. Wow! After listening to Yuval Noah Harari discussing how important philosophy is becoming with the potential technological disruption caused by scientific and technical advancements, I was warming up to the concept of a closer relationship of science and philosophy…….

Then, I listen to a couple of young bright philosophy students discussing antinatalism. Suddenly, in a moment of acute mental masturbation, both confess that if given the opportunity, they would happily push a button that would not only end all life on our planet, but all life in our entire Universe.

I think I need to go to the Fermilab channel and listen to Dr Don Lincoln or Matt at PBS Spacetime. 😆

Two points I have against this argument:
1. It brings down net human life to just pleasure and pain. I think this is an oversimplification. What about, peace, for example? That can be the absence of both pleasure and pain. Can we say, that being at peace for 90% of your life is worth 10% pain? Pain and pleasure are two sides of the same coin, but peace is different altogether.
2. it could be that the individual that is born brings about net less suffering in the world through his actions. If a Nelson Mandela or MLK is born, his being born would be much better than his not being born regardless of whether he suffered.

I read Benatar's book, Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming Into Existence. I was definitely skeptical but curious. On finishing the book, I thought he had made a better case than I had anticipated.

What about not being born is better than having to experiance suffering. But once you are alive the added value we give to the process of dying and stop existing is what makes life worth keeping.

I've been so excited to find someone with beliefs that so closely reflect my own. I was initially drawn to your videos about christianity years ago and was super excited when you announced that you became vegan. Now you are talking about Antinatalism, which is one of the topics I am most passionate about! I appreciate you, and watching your new videos is always the highlight of my day. Much love – Lily from Florida

Hey CosmicSkeptic, if you ever read this, please, consider reading " Reasons to be Cheerful " By Greg Egan. It's a very good SF/Philosophical book that will challenge your vision of happiness as a goal in life. I'm sure you'll find it wonderful.

I honestly couldn't care less if I had never been born. I could not know that I didn't exist or that I could exist. Being depressed can make you wish you never had been born, fortunately I don't feel that way all the time. I only feel sorry for those who do. The babies who won't be born due to anti-natalism won't care, they can't as they don't exist. Just like how the vast amount of potential people who are never conceived (the sperm and eggs that can become life) don't care either.

The AN casts aside the suicide argument – i.e. asking anti-natalists why don't they kill themselves? but he shouldn't cast it aside. time and time again AN's claim even the slightest suffering outweighs any good. so show me, show me how to stop this – kill yourself. and i don't say it glibly. because this IS the crux – the vast majority of people, even while experiencing suffering, are trying to live longer (myself included) and see life as a gift which conflicts with everything the AN says. the existence of the conscious self is EVERYTHING – without it, there is no philosophy, no ethics – to argue to eliminate this is beyond absurd.

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