David Benatar (born 1966) is a South African philosopher, academic and author. He is best known for his advocacy of antinatalism in his book Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming into Existence, in which he argues that coming into existence is a serious harm, regardless of the feelings of the existing being once brought into existence, and that, as a consequence, it is always morally wrong to create more sentient beings.
- A few of my critics have claimed that I am committed to the desirability of suicide and even speciecide. They clearly intend this as a reductio ad absurdum of my position. However, I considered the questions of suicide and speciecide in Better Never to Have Been and argued that these are not implications of my view.
First, it is possible to think that both coming into existence is a serious harm and that death is (usually) a serious harm. Indeed, some people might think that coming into existence is a serious harm in part because the harm of death is then inevitable.
- "Still Better Never to Have Been: A Reply to (More of) My Critics", The Journal of Ethics, Vol. 17, No. 1/2, Special Issue: The Benefits and Harms of Existence and Non-Existence (June 2013), p. 148
- Killing people or helping them to kill themselves is usually wrong, because continued life is, we assume, usually in those people’s interest. It is extremely implausible, however, to think that continued life is always in a person’s interest. Quality of life can fall to abysmal levels. While there can be reasonable disagreement about how poor the quality must be before life is not worth continuing, it is an indecent imposition on people—an unconscionable violation of their liberty—to force them to endure a life that they have reasonably judged to be unacceptable. Accordingly, it is incumbent on liberty-respecting states to allow assisted suicide or euthanasia for those whose lives have become a burden to themselves.
- "Should there be a legal right to die?", Current Oncology, Vol. 17, No. 5 (2010), pp. 2–3
- The question is not whether humans will become extinct, but rather when they will. If the anti-natalist arguments are correct, it would be better, all things being equal, if this happened sooner rather than later for, the sooner it happens, the more suffering and misfortune will be avoided.
Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming into Existence (2006)
Oxford University Press, 2006. ISBN 978-0199296422.
- Each one of us was harmed by being brought into existence. That harm is not negligible, because the quality of even the best lives is very bad—and considerably worse than most people recognize it to be. Although it is obviously too late to prevent our own existence, it is not too late to prevent the existence of future possible people.
- Creating new people, by having babies, is so much a part of human life that it is rarely thought even to require a justification. Indeed, most people do not even think about whether they should or should not make a baby. They just make one. In other words, procreation is usually the consequence of sex rather than the result of a decision to bring people into existence. Those who do indeed decide to have a child might do so for any number of reasons, but among these reasons cannot be the interests of the potential child. One can never have a child for that child's sake.
- p. 2
- One particularly poor argument in defence of eating meat is that if humans did not eat animals, those animals would not have been brought into existence in the first place. Humans would simply not have bred them in the numbers they do breed them. The claim is that although these animals are killed, this cost to them is outweighed by the benefit to them of having been brought into existence. This is an appalling argument for many reasons [...] First, the lives of many of these animals are so bad that even if one rejected my argument one would still have to think that they were harmed by being brought into existence. Secondly, those who advance this argument fail to see that it could apply as readily to human babies that are produced only to be eaten. Here we see quite clearly that being brought into existence only to be killed for food is no benefit. It is only because killing animals is thought to be acceptable that the argument is thought to have any force.
- p. 3
- It is curious that while good people go to great lengths to spare their children from suffering, few of them seem to notice that the one (and only) guaranteed way to prevent all the suffering of their children is not to bring those children into existence in the first place.
- p. 6
- Assuming that each couple has three children, an original pair's cumulative descendants over ten generations amount to 88,572 people. That constitutes a lot of pointless, avoidable suffering. To be sure, full responsibility for it all does not lie with the original couple because each new generation faces the choice of whether to continue that line of descendants. Nevertheless, they bear some responsibility for the generations that ensue. If one does not desist from having children, one can hardly expect one's descendants to do so.
- pp. 6–7
- Although, as we have seen, nobody is lucky enough not to be born, everybody is unlucky enough to have been born – and particularly bad luck it is, as I shall now explain. On the quite plausible assumption that one’s genetic origin is a necessary (but not sufficient) condition for having come into existence, one could not have been formed by anything other than the particular gametes that produced the zygote from which one developed. This implies, in turn, that one could not have had any genetic parents other than those that one does have. It follows from this that any person’s chances of having come into existence are extremely remote. The existence of any one person is dependent not only on that person’s parents themselves having come into existence and having met but also on their having conceived that person at the time that they did. Indeed, mere moments might make a difference to which particular sperm is instrumental in a conception. The recognition of how unlikely it was that one would have come into existence, combined with the recognition that coming into existence is always a serious harm, yields the conclusion that one’s having come into existence is really bad luck. It is bad enough when one suffers some harm. It is worse still when the chances of having been harmed are very remote.
- p. 7
- Some anti-natalist positions are founded on either a dislike of children¹ or on the interests of adults who have greater freedom and resources if they do not have and rear children. My anti-natalist view is different. It arises, not from a dislike of children, but instead from a concern to avoid the suffering of potential children and the adults they would become, even if not having those children runs counter to the interests of those who would have them.
- p. 8
- On my view there is no net benefit to coming into existence and thus coming into existence is never worth its costs.
- p. 13
- The argument that coming into existence is always a harm can be summarized as follows: Both good and bad things happen only to those who exist. However, there is a crucial asymmetry between the good and the bad things. The absence of bad things, such as pain, is good even if there is nobody to enjoy that good, whereas the absence of good things, such as pleasure, is bad only if there is somebody who is deprived of these good things.
- p. 14
Why Coming into Existence is Always a Harm
- We infrequently contemplate the harms that await any new-born child—pain, disappointment, anxiety, grief, and death. For any given child we cannot predict what form these harms will take or how severe they will be, but we can be sure that at least some of them will occur. None of this befalls the nonexistent. Only existers suffer harm.
- p. 29
How Bad Is Coming into Existence?
- A charmed life is so rare that for every one such life there are millions of wretched lives. Some know that their baby will be among the unfortunate. Nobody knows, however, that their baby will be one of the allegedly lucky few. Great suffering could await any person that is brought into existence. Even the most privileged people could give birth to a child that will suffer unbearably, be raped, assaulted, or be murdered brutally. The optimist surely bears the burden of justifying this procreational Russian roulette. Given that there are no real advantages over never existing for those who are brought into existence, it is hard to see how the significant risk of serious harm could be justified. If we count not only the unusually severe harms that anybody could endure, but also the quite routine ones of ordinary human life, then we find that matters are still worse for cheery procreators. It shows that they play Russian roulette with a fully loaded gun—aimed, of course, not at their own heads, but at those of their future offspring.
- p. 92
- [T]he optimist’s impatience with or condemnation of pessimism often has a smug macho tone to it (although males have no monopoly of it). There is a scorn for the perceived weakness of the pessimist who should instead ‘grin and bear it’. This view is defective for the same reason that macho views about other kinds of suffering are defective. It is an indifference to or inappropriate denial of suffering, whether one’s own or that of others. The injunction to ‘look on the bright side’ should be greeted with a large dose of both scepticism and cynicism. To insist that the bright side is always the right side is to put ideology before the evidence. Every cloud, to change metaphors, may have a silver lining, but it may very often be the cloud rather than the lining on which one should focus if one is to avoid being drenched by self-deception. Cheery optimists have a much less realistic view of themselves than do those who are depressed.
- pp. 210–211
- It is unlikely that many people will take to heart the conclusion that coming into existence is always a harm. It is even less likely that many people will stop having children. By contrast, it is quite likely that my views either will be ignored or will be dismissed. As this response will account for a great deal of suffering between now and the demise of humanity, it cannot plausibly be thought of as philanthropic. That is not to say that it is motivated by any malice towards humans, but it does result from a self-deceptive indifference to the harm of coming into existence.
- p. 225
Debating Procreation: Is It Wrong To Reproduce? (2015)
With David Wasserman, Oxford University Press, 2015. ISBN 978-0199333554.
- To procreate is thus to engage in a kind of Russian roulette, but one in which the "gun" is aimed not at oneself but instead at one's oﬀspring. You trigger a new life and thereby subject that new life to the risk of unspeakable suﬀering.
- p. 65
The Human Predicament: A Candid Guide to Life's Biggest Questions (2017)
Oxford University Press, 2017. ISBN 978-0190633813.
- In a sentence: Life is bad, but so is death. Of course, life is not bad in every way. Neither is death bad in every way. However, both life and death are, in crucial respects, awful. Together, they constitute an existential vise—the wretched grip that enforces our predicament.
- pp. 1–2
- Life's big questions are big in the sense that they are momentous. However, contrary to appearances, they are not big in the sense of being unanswerable. It is only that the answers are generally unpalatable. There is no great mystery, but there is plenty of horror.
- p. 7
- Life is meaningless, but it also has meaning—or, more accurately, meanings. There is no such thing as the meaning of life. Many different meanings are possible. One can transcend the self and make a positive mark on the lives of others in myriad ways. These include nurturing and teaching the young, caring for the sick, bringing relief to the suffering, improving society, creating great art or literature, and advancing knowledge.
- p. 63
Encyclopedic article on David Benatar at Wikipedia