Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Better off dead?

 Call for Papers: Benatar’s Better Never to Have Been
Special Issue of the South African Journal of Philosophy, one of the most long-standing philosophy journals in Africa, accredited by the ISIGuest Editor: Thaddeus Metz (Humanities Research Professor at the University of Johannesburg)Invited Contributors: David Boonin (Professor of Philosophy at the University of Colorado, Boulder) and Saul Smilansky (Professor of Philosophy at the University of Haifa)Professor David Benatar’s Better Never to Have Been (Oxford, 2006) is the most intricate and careful exposition and defence of anti-natalism. Benatar argues, on the basis of purportedly uncontroversial premises, for a variety of surprising and radical conclusions about the disvalue of our lives and our moral duties in light of it. Benatar argues that no matter how much happiness people might experience during their lives, it would always have been better for them never to have been created. And from the claim that human life is never worth starting Benatar further concludes that it is almost always immoral to procreate and that abortion in the early stages of pregnancy is morally required.Contributions are sought for an issue of the South African Journal of Philosophy devoted to several facets of anti-natalism and of Benatar’s treatment of it in particular. These include, but are not restricted to, the following:

•      Precisely where is Benatar’s argument for anti-natalism most questionable? How does it compare with other arguments for anti-natalism? Do they share common premises or strategies? Which is the most defensible?
•      Is it plausible to hold anti-natalism without pro-mortalism, viz., the view that we should commit suicide?
•      Under what conditions might one be justified in creating a person whose life is not worth starting in terms of her well-being? Can it be right to create such a person for the sake of helping others? How might considerations of human dignity figure into a justification for creating her?
•      If a child is always worse off for having been created, what are the moral responsibilities of her parents with respect to her? Is compensation owed, and, if so, what kind and how much?
•      If the typical human life is indeed a net harm, how should the state get involved? Should it facilitate wrongful life suits, or discourage procreation?
•      From what standpoint is it appropriate to appraise the quality of our lives? Standpoints range from the most subjective, that of an individual, to that of ‘the universe’, the most objective viewpoint available. Is there a principled way to determine where on the scale is suitable?
Deadline for submissions: 15 October 2011. Manuscripts should be submitted electronically to Thaddeus Metz (tmetz@uj.ac.za). Those whose papers are selected for inclusion in the special issue will be invited to participate in a workshop with Professor Benatar, to be held at the University of Johannesburg on 23-24 November 2011.
I'm tempted, but I think I'll content myself with a blog post instead.

I wonder what other arguments for anti-natalism there are. Wikipedia says:
Antinatalism is the philosophical position that asserts a negative moral value judgment towards birth, thereby forming a counterpoint to natalism. It has been advanced by figures such asSophoclesArthur SchopenhauerHeinrich HeineMark TwainEmil CioranBrother Theodore[citation needed]Peter Wessel ZapffePhilipp MainländerGustave FlaubertPhilip Larkin,Chris KordaLes U. KnightDavid Benatar,[1] Matti HäyryThomas Ligotti and Richard Stallman.[2][3]
The only philosophers that I recognize on the list are Schopenhauer, Benatar himself, anMatti Häyry, whose views on this I don't know. Schopenhauer has a complicated view, though, and Larkin is not clearly against birth. He was miserable, it's true, but the most obvious bit of evidence to cite for his alleged anti-natalism would be the clearly not-entirely-serious This Be the Verse. (Proof that it is not serious: a) read the title, b) he did not "get out" as early as he could.) As I recall and understand him, Schopenhauer thinks that most individual lives are full of more boredom and pain than happiness, and so, in this sense, not worth living, but he also thinks of life itself and the life of each species as at least fascinating if not beautiful. So birth might be bad from a subjective point of view, but not necessarily from the objective point of view. And the subjective point of view is barely real on his view. In short (but not in conclusion, since I haven't argued for this), I'm not convinced that there are any serious anti-natalists other than Benatar. (My guess is that Mark Twain might have been joking.) And how serious even Benatar is has been disputed. 

Is it plausible to be an anti-natalist without being a pro-mortalist? I suppose so. Maybe. There is a difference between never living, on the one hand, and living and then dying, on the other. So one could hold that it is best never to be born but that, having been born, it is better to live on for the time being rather than ending one's life. I don't know how plausible that view is, but it seems to be a conceivable one.

Under what conditions might it be justifiable to create a person whose life is not worth starting in terms of her well-being? Conditions of ignorance, perhaps.

What compensation is owed by parents to the offspring they misguidedly bring into being? How about food and shelter, education, etc. for the childhood years? 

If human life is a net harm, how should the state get involved? The state should use its bombs to put us all out of our misery.

From what standpoint should we appraise the quality of our lives? I wonder what points there are on the scale from the individual (subjective) to the universe (objective)? A culture, society, or association perhaps? I would suggest that this is a job for the APA

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