Is It Immoral To Have Children? | Talking with David Benatar

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So welcome back to the cosmic skeptic podcast everybody today

I am thrilled to be joined by Professor David Benatar of the University of Cape Town

He is of course the world's probably most well known

proponent of

Antinatalism, which is the view that it is immoral to bring new sentient creatures into existence

That is it's immoral to have children

His views have stood up quite some controversy for being so seemingly outlandish

but he's also got a sizeable minority of people who are supporting him and who've

Decided that what he's saying actually has quite a lot of weight to it. I think the view is absolutely

fascinating and its most comprehensively spelled out in his

2006 book better never to have been a link for which is available in the description and I'd recommend reading it because it's a

Fantastically interesting book and covers a wide range of different areas in philosophy

and you might be surprised at some of the places that it takes you to such as discussing the ethics of

Disability and things like this now given the current pandemic. I'm going to be filming this episode

Remotely professor Bannister is very protective of his privacy and so in a first for the podcast you won't be seeing his face

So for the entire podcast, if you're watching this as a video, you'll only be seeing my face

but remember that if you prefer to listen to this

You can also find the podcast on iTunes and Spotify and other streaming platforms as well

And if you are listening on those platforms do be sure to give us a rating

Because it does help the podcast to grow now. It has been quite a while since the last episode of the cosmic skeptic podcast

I was hoping to film a new batch of episodes a new series as it were over the coming weeks

but unfortunately, the quarantine has stopped me from doing so I try to do the interviews in person rather than

Remotely, but if you like this kind of thing then do me know if you'd like to see a season of remotely filmed podcast episodes

Or whether you think I should hold off and wait until I can interview more people in person if you like this as an episode

Then perhaps we'll do more of them in the coming weeks now

I think it will help in listening to this conversation

If you have some familiarity with the anti-natal list argument

But don't worry if you don't because we do spell out the argument in the discussion

But then we start discussing some of its objections and some of its sticking points

so we don't go in as much detail as someone as a new listener might like if they've never heard of

antinatalism before it might be worth either looking it up online and

Researching it a little bit that way or maybe even reading professor benetiz book before listening to the conversation

But you can also listen to this conversation

Straight off the bat if you feel like it, but regardless of when you do it

I would recommend reading the book at some point no matter what because it is just so fascinating and interesting and challenging as well

So without saying anything more I now present to you professor David Benatar

So I'm joined now by

Professor David Bennett our professor. Thank you for being here. My pleasure. Nice to be with you

It's it's great to have you've been one of the most requested guests that I've had

And I think part of the reasons for that is because about a year ago

I went vegan and since then I've become something of a vegan advocate on my channel and

For some reason once I started talking about veganism

All of a sudden I was getting all of these

requests to talk about antinatalism now I've spoken a lot about

suffering and pleasure based morality before but for some reason specifically talking about veganism brought up the question of

Antinatalism, like I don't know if you have any opinion on why that might be why the to asine is connected


Think there are lots of interesting connections. Some people think there's an entailment between the two and I'm not convinced there. I think they're additional

Assumptions what me needs to make and the assumptions may be built it be reasonable ones

But I don't think that the one view entails the other and nonetheless I do you think they're connections. So here's just one example

Sometimes people argue that we actually do animals a favor by bringing them into existence

And then that if we didn't have this whole enterprise of eating animals, it'd be many animals that are not brought into existence

So we're actually doing my favor by bringing them into existence and then a while later killing them and and eating them

Now, of course not going to that kind. Mr


at least that the quality of the life of the animals here is of a reasonable standard and that's not going to be true of

Most animals that are brought into existence for for eating but there's nonetheless an interesting argument in the background there

that is whether we are in fact benefiting animals if they have a reasonable quality of life before they killed and

An antenatal astir for example has an excellent argument for why you're not benefiting the animal there by doing that

This is just one of I think numerous connections between these ideas

I see. I mean I would be tempted to argue that if what you're doing is actually

Minimizing suffering for an animal and producing more pleasure that by the definition of veganism that for philosophical ethical vegans use about minimizing suffering

To animals that perhaps that would actually be a vegan thing to do

But I just it's just interesting to think about why that you might be connected

Where as my audience didn't seem to connect antinatalism to just my general talking about pleasure and pain in general?

But this is one of the places I wanted to begin

If we could because of course we can jump into the philosophy of antinatalism

but I think a lot of people would be interested to know what your meta ethical foundation for all of this is because it seems

in better never to have been that you kind of take for granted almost a

Utilitarian approach and I don't know if you see it as a utilitarian approach or something slightly different

A lot of people have assumed that I'm offering a utilitarian argument

But I don't think I'm doing that I've attempted to offer

for the most part a theory neutral argument for antinatalism in other words

I don't think it presupposes utilitarian or the ontological or

virtue theory of approach

so I think the arguments are quite

Quite independent of of any commitment to one or other of those theoretical ethical positions

So you think somebody could still be in anti-nationalist become convinced of?

Antinatalism without having to accept the premise for instance that suffering is intrinsically bad

Well, it only gives be utilitarian to think that suffering is intrinsically


the way that I'm thinking about it, is that some people might see

Certain forms of suffering as a good thing

Intrinsically if they're of a certain kind I'm thinking specifically maybe a religious morality. Of course, the utilitarian would say something like a

Suffering is only good insofar as it also procures some kind of pleasure

As a as a side-effect or something like that like the pain of going to the gym for the pleasure of being healthy

But I think that to see suffering on its own as always

Always bad no matter what seems to be the utilitarian principle to me. I don't know if you disagree with that. I

I don't

Disagree that utilitarians will hold that view where I don't think you have to be utilitarian to all that view

I see. I think I think the crucial distinction is between

where the pain let's say is intrinsically bad and whether it is

Instrumentally bad and I think it's always going to be intrinsically bad

If you know what pain is then you're committed to the idea that it is intrinsically bad

If that's not to say that it could not be instrumental value arising from pain. So if you've

Got a sore tooth. You want a pain in your tooth and that leads you to go to the dentist and

By getting the dental treatment you avoid something still worse? Well, then the pain has had some instrumental value. I don't deny that at all

but I just don't think that says anything about the

intrinsic this value of pain

And nor do I think that you have to be utilitarian and all to think that pain is intrinsic eaters variable, right?

So the pain would still be bad in itself

It's not as like because the pain of the toothache leads to a good thing that the pain becomes a good thing

Because I've heard some people argue that way but rather the pain is still a bad thing intrinsically

But just leads to something which is which is pleasurable

That's perhaps. I'm interpreting you there

So yes, I think there's no contradiction between thinking that pain is intrinsically bad and sometimes instrumentally good

Okay. So this is the first point of contention that I think we can we can arise


Well, it follows from a consideration about when you say that suffering is bad for instance

I understand that you mean suffering is bad for the person in question rather than being bad in personally

I know you wrote about this in

Still better never to have been a response to some of your critics, but just to clarify

This is what we're talking about right in the argument for antinatalism when you talk about suffering being bad

You mean the fact that it's bad for the person involved not just bad

kind of

Objectively neutrally if you know what I mean

Well, I do think that it's bad for the person but we have to be clear about what we mean when we say bad for

The person because obviously in the scenario if somebody doesn't exist you'd very soon run into trouble

if you were saying that the let's say the absence of

Suffering for that person is good for that person. If you meant that in a literal way because obviously they aren't literally there

So when I say that the presence of pain is bad

For the person or the absence of pain is good for the person even if they don't exist

the phrase for the person has to be

clarified and qualified in a certain way and what I mean by that is it's bad when

Judged from the perspective the interests of that

person or potential person

Okay, I see

So with that in mind

Why don't we talk through?

Why it is immoral in your view to have children or to let's say to bring new sentient creatures into existence

And we'll and we'll see if this might because I want to clarify that at the beginning because I feel like this will help inform

the discussion about the nature of

Suffering pleasure for beings that do not exist

So perhaps you can help me by just walking through the argument in the in the kind of most base level way that you can

So, I think that

There are two questions

The one question is whether coming into existence is good or bad or neutral

For the being that's brought into existence and then it's a separate question whether it's wrong to bring somebody into existence

Now I'm of the view that it's never in somebody's interests to bring them into existence

But never there's never a benefit to them

It's always given the way the world is going to be a net harm because there's nothing to be gained

By being brought into existence and the argument for that. Is this axia logical asymmetry?

that i've noted between the between pain and pleasure or harms and benefits more generally and

the presence or the absence of those

So what I maintain is that the presence of pain is is bad. The presence of pleasure is good

The absence of pain is good, but the absence of pleasure is not bad

unless there is somebody who is thereby deprived and

The implication of that is that

Bringing somebody into existence is never going to be in in their interest. It's never going to be to their advantage

But there's a separate question about whether we do something wrong in

bringing them into existence

because if it were the case that

The amount of harm in somebody's life were minuscule and I don't believe that this is ever true

I think all lives are characterized by a large amount of bad

But if it were the case that we're just a small amount of buried in life

And there were a large amount of pleasure to be derived

Let's say for that person or for other people then it might be that when you weigh out those interests

It would be permissible to bring somebody into existence all the time

we are weighing up interests of different people and this would be another scenario where we'd be doing that and you might reach the

Conclusion, depending on what do you have? You might reach the conclusion then that it's not wrong to bring this person in to exist

So thus being in the existence

Sure, so I think what really what seals them after for me?

The an teenagers conclusion is just how bad the quality of all lives are and given how bad they are

I don't think that this can be compensated for by the interests of other people. I think there's a real

there's a real serious harm done to

The beam is brought into existence

So to be clear, would you say that if the asymmetry argument were to fail or if people weren't convinced by it?

Let's say perhaps rather that antinatalism can still make sense. Just based on the amount of suffering that each life entails

Yes, now I think they are two different kinds of asymmetry arguments

So the one is the axial logical asymmetry, and I think that's what you're referring to when you refer to the asymmetry argument

Yes, that's certainly what I call the asymmetry argument in better narrative being but there are other a symmetries

these are what I call empirical asymmetries between goods and Bad's and I think the O's

asymmetries explained in part why there's just so much bad in in lives and

I think that those empirically symmetries play an important role in in telling us just how bad it is to be brought into existence

Yes, now do you think that a lot of this rests on nothing more than intuition?

The reason I ask that is because with some of the examples that you give of different kinds of asymmetry

And I recognize this is the important sticking point for antinatalism. As far as I understand. Is that in some way at least sometimes

Suffering counts for more than pleasure in some way shape or form. Maybe you've got a contention with the way I've stated that but

You might give an example. I've heard you give the example for instance of

Mars and how it's not a bad thing

That there's no pleasure on Mars because there's nobody up there on Mars and we don't think that it's a bad thing that there isn't

Any pleasure up there and yet we do think it's a good thing that there's no suffering

To me that seems maybe intuitively true at least the first time I heard it it seemed intuitively true


My problem was that thinking about it more clearly

I realized that maybe that is nothing more than just me thinking about it from my

Perspective and realizing that actually for the Martians that don't exist. It's neither good nor bad

their state of non-existence

Well, I mean, they're serious questions here about what role intuitions play in

in ethics and in philosophy more generally I

Don't think that we can we can entirely detach ourselves from our our raw judgments from the intuitions that we make

Obviously we got to subject those judgments to to critical scrutiny, but there are data points in in our evaluation of views

I mean, let's imagine that I

propounded a view

That was it's istening opposite to utilitarianism

We might call it suffer ism and with the view that we ought to produce the greatest amount of misery possible

greatest mount of death and misery possible and

and let's imagine somebody wanting to refute this view said but look this contradicts all our

Intuitions and I said, well, you know, what do you--what intuitions mean that I mean anything I've got this

Theoretical view that we ought to produce the greatest amount of misery possible, and I'm not interested in your intuitions

Well, that would be that'd be a terrible argument on my part

It's not that we need to treat our intuitions as decisive

But they certainly import important data points

and if somebody comes up with some theoretical view that contradicts all

of our intuitions including the ones that we've got most reason to hang on to

Well, then, I think there's something wrong with that theoretical position

So would you?

Take issue with anti-natal ists who would perhaps afford a similar response when somebody says but I have a really strong intuition

about children about childbearing

I have a really strong intuition that it's a good thing to have children and that might be a result of my evolutionary heritage

I might recognize that perhaps it's philosophically unjustified in some ways, but I could just say that it's undoubtable

that some people have this really strong intuition that having children is not just

Permissible, but but a bit of positively good thing to do and if you come along and present this theory of antinatalism

Do you see a kind of?

Reflection of what you've just said in this kind of line of thought somebody say no

No, no, but I've just made the claim that we can't dismiss intuitions per se here were entirely

What I'm saying is we need to subject

intuitions to a to critical scrutiny and sometimes we need to

Weigh up different intuitions and see what we need to give up and this

Theoretical card what we need to give up on that theoretical account. We want to establish some sort of reflective equilibrium

We need to establish some conclusion that that's well reasoned through


so I'm open to

Evaluating intuitions if somebody's got a good reason why I should reject an intuition

And then I'm open to considering that all are marking is that we shouldn't just reject all intuitions out of hand immediately

I see. Okay. Well, so let's talk about it. Then. Let's let's get to the let's get to the grid of this

You say that?

For someone who doesn't exist

The fact that they are not experiencing pleasure is not a bad thing

Because they're not being deprived of anything and yet in the fact that they're not

suffering is a good thing a

Lot of people would want to are asked how can you say that given that?

Earlier, we we clarified that when you say something is good or bad what you really mean is good or bad for the person for?

a person who doesn't exist

It seems to make sense in the case of pleasure what you're saying to say that well

It doesn't make sense to say that this person

Is deprived of pleasure because there's no one to be deprived

But how then can you say that somebody's being deprived of suffering in a good way

Well, I mean, obviously you wanna try avoid

Misunderstanding about what it means good for somebody this is the point that I was making earlier

So I'm obviously not claiming that it is somebody there

Who has no pain?

So when I say that smiiing is better for somebody or worse for somebody I'm having to make a comparison between two scenarios

One in which they do exist them one in which they don't exist. The first thing to realize here is that

This is a very unusual kind of scenario most times when we thinking about whether something harm

Somebody will benefit somebody they exist in both of the scenarios

So that's the that's the situation which we used to thinking about matters

Now we face with an unusual scenario where the person doesn't exist in in both options and both alternatives

so one thing we can do is we can

We can adopt the kind of procrustean view and assume that our usual concepts must apply

unwaveringly in this unusual kind of case

all we can do is we can recognize that there's something unusual about this case and

Recognize that our usual contents might need to be adapted somewhat in order to cater for it

and I believe that that second way is the wiser way to

to to attend to this problem and

There are a lot of people I think in philosophy who want to sort of a very clever solution

They they say well our ordinary constitutes don't apply here and we've got to stick with these ordinary

concepts and therefore there's nothing wrong by bringing a suffering there by bringing a suffering child into existence and I want to say

well that may be a clever and a kind of technical sense, but it's not wise to

Treat the unusual case like the usual case

Much wiser to recognize is something distinctive about this unusual case which might require an adaptation of our ordinary concepts

So I would totally agree with this

My reaction is however that the way that I would treat the situation of non-existence differently is to say that for someone who's alive

Potentially if they're deprived of pleasure, that's bad and if they're deprived of suffering, that's good

Whereas for the person who doesn't exist because they don't exist

The deprivation of their pleasure is not bad, but neither is the deprivation of their suffering good

This is kind of the heart of the asymmetry is how we can justify

The idea that there needs to be a person to be benefited in order for pleasure to be good

But that doesn't need to be a person to suffer in order for the absence of suffering to be good


You can go down your route if you like and it is a route that I considered

But that has all kinds of other implications and the question is whether you will intercept accept all of those other

Implications somehow Suika goes in every one of them

Well, for example

Somebody could conceive a child that they know would suffer horribly this is

This is not just the ordinary suffering of an ordinary life. This is unusual suffering

Let's say and then the child would die at age five or six or ten as the case may be

most people think that if you knew that in advance and you

Could avoid bringing their child and isn't that that's exactly what you should do and if you willingly went into that

Ignoring the sufferings of this potential child you would be doing something wrong

Now the question is how do you explain that? If you don't accept something like this basic Oetzi illogical asymmetry?

Is the it's the essence of your question?

Because if I did accept that there was an obligation not to bring that child into existence

I would then simultaneously be committed to saying that there was an obligation to bring beings into existence that did experience more pleasure

Well, that's why in truth you can go what I'm saying is

you you've said that we ought to treat the absence of pleasure and the absence of pain in the

Non-existent equivalently so that it's not good to avoid

Pain by avoiding a person now, it seems to me that

That's going to lead you to have to make a judgment about the case. I've just described that seems intolerable

well, okay now it was it's possible that there might be some other explanation that you could give and I have explored a range of

Other explanations that people might give for a wife be bad or wrong to bring the miserable child into existence

but the point I'm making is that

to to support the

Asymmetry that I'm advancing there are multiple factors. We need to consider to see what the best explanation is

And I think that this basic asymmetry has lots of explanatory value it explains the case that I've just mentioned

Explains the range of other cases. It solves certain problems in population ethics

It has all of these theoretical benefits, which means I don't think we ought to give it up there quickly

So what's the problem with me saying that?

For this potential child, let's say for my child since I don't have any children

the fact that my child is currently not suffering is

Neutral and yet the moment that that child becomes born any suffering it experiences become bad. What's the problem with that view?

Well, what what reason would you have not to bring it into existence

Because once it's been brought into existence that would become a bad thing. And then what about

Why aren't you creating babies at the moment that on ordinary views would have lots of pleasure and benefits

Well, for instance, let's say that I agreed with you on your second point about that

Most human life's do contain more suffering than pleasure that there are a lot worse than people think that they are that they are

And here I was to agree with you that we therefore shouldn't bring new beings into existence

But that the asymmetry still fails if you see what I'm saying

Yes, so you so you're saying if you accepted my other arguments for antinatalism

Then you wouldn't be bound to accept the the axial logical asymmetry

I'm saying that if I accepted the argument about life being really bad, I could say that for that reason

I don't have an obligation to bring new beings into existence who will experience pleasure, but I can still say


What I said earlier that the suffering for my child is neutral until it comes into existence

Because your your response to that was to say well

Why don't you then have an obligation to bring children into existence who do experience pleasure?

And I could respond by saying that I don't think any child ever would

Right. Well, then you just accepted the a teenager's conclusion by and by another route. That's right

Yeah, I mean, so I'm I'm not accepting it personally at least not at this stage

Let's say but what I'm trying to get to the heart of is right now, I'm trying to discuss the philosophy of the asymmetry

So with the conclusion of antinatalism can stand as a separate question

But I'm trying to see if if this is a functional objection to at least the asymmetry that you're presenting

Well, I mean

I think there's a there's a sort of methodological point here because most people are not going to accept the second point that you accepted


and so they said the first the first port of call is it ways to evaluate their day symmetry and

then then is the further point about

How bad life is now if you think that all lives are so miserable that we order not to bring anybody into existence

Well, there may be you don't need the X the illogical asymmetry

Yeah, I'm sure you don't but the so the reason that I that I'm pressing this is because as certainly my audience are often interested


philosophical and ethical concepts in the abstract kind of at a math or ethical level

We're interested in the in the idea and the conclusion that it leads to is also interesting, but that becomes more

More of a practical consideration. I just wanted to to question this and see

Because I totally agree with you that you can come to an anti natives conclusion without the asymmetry

Which is something that you agree with but nonetheless you do think that the asymmetry

holds and I'm trying to present an argument here that would

that would

Rebut the asymmetry argument but not rebut

Antinatalism if you see what I mean, and I wondered if you think of this is a good argument against the asymmetry

I'm not sure. It's a good argument against the asymmetry

It may be an argument for why the asymmetry isn't necessary in order to reach the conclusion

Okay, so

In other words, I just wanna kind of recap here to make sure I'm not missing anything

my argument was something like

I'm going to say that my child who currently doesn't exist is in a state of neutrality the fact that

He's not experiencing suffering is not a good thing

It's it's neutral the fact that he's not experiencing pleasure is neutral because he doesn't exist the moment he begins to exist

He will experience more suffering than pleasure

And for that reason once he begins to exist it would be a bad thing that he exists

But before he exists as far as the the being is concerned like it's it's neutral

Well, but there is a distinction to be drawn here. Obviously, this non-existent being is in a state of neutrality

That's obviously true. Obviously, there isn't there no experiences in a non-existing being so that's that's obviously true

But you can't use that to leverage a point against the axial article asymmetry, which is trying to compare

two scenarios one

In which the being does exist and one in which the being doesn't exist and is trying to work out which of those is better

In terms of the interest of the being who exists in only one of those scenarios

okay, so

When I say that the beings in a state of neutrality, I mean a state of moral neutrality

I know this is perhaps something you you wouldn't agree with

That is to say it's not a bad thing or a good thing like it's not it's not a bad thing that there's no pleasure

It's not a good thing that there's no suffering. It's a state of moral neutrality

What I would then say is that

If you compare the existence of this child versus in the non-existence of this child the two scenarios

That is the scenario in which it exists

I've granted that it will experience more suffering and yet the state before it exists is neutral and therefore

existing is still worse than non-existing when you compare the two scenarios because you've got

You've got excess suffering versus neutrality

what I'm denying is

the ability to say of the being that doesn't exist that the fact that it's not suffering is good is is a

Positively good thing. I I feel at the moment in my considerations

the furthest I can go is to say that it's in a state of neutrality and

potentially everyone who is alive is in a state of net suffering and therefore it's not worth bringing them into existence but not because

The lack of suffering for someone who doesn't exist is good

But rather because the lack of suffering for someone who doesn't exist is neutral compared to the suffering of existence

You're trying to compare the two scenarios whether the person comes into existence or doesn't come into existence and you know that if you bring

Their being into existence it's going to suffer

Don't you think that you can make the comparison that the alternative scenario is better than that?

Yes and better when judged in terms of the interests of the being that exists in the alternative scenario

Yes, I certainly agree and I think the that's what I'm able to do

Without granting that the lack of suffering is is good

what what I mean to say is that

if if I kind of see it as a

Scale with neutrality in the middle suffering on one side and pleasure on the other side

I can say that the state of non-existence is morally neutral and the state of existence for my child is suffering

So when you compare the two situations, it is better for the person that they don't exist

Yes, that's exactly that's exactly what I mean

when I say that the absence of that pain is is good and

Good in terms of the interests of the person that you would otherwise have brought into existence

But do you not see a problem with with framing the absence of that?

Pain as a positive good rather than just a neutrality to be compared against the positive suffering of existence

No, I don't think so, I think it's go there's going to be a problem if you insist on using

the ordinary concepts in the unusual case

But if you recognize that there's something unusual about this case and so you need to adapt the concepts

Then I don't think there's anything mysterious or strange

About saying that when you make this comparison between the two scenarios

It is

Better in terms of interests of the being who would exist in one that they don't exist. Okay


the reason why I think that this can lead to


but does not actually but but does count as an argument against the asymmetry is

Because it relies on the fact that the person who exists is going to experience more suffering

So perhaps this will help explain my position

if we switch the if we switch the situation around and I know you don't think this is true for any

human being that lives but we can hypothesize a human being for whom there is a

Majority of pleasure, you know 80/20 something like that

now you would say that it's still not worth bringing that being into existence because before they exist

The the lack of that suffering is a good thing

But the lack of the pleasure isn't a bad thing

what I'm saying here is that if we consider the person who doesn't exist to be in a state of neutrality as we did a

moment ago

Then we can compare the two situations

And see that for the person who doesn't exists there in a state of neutrality and for the person who does exist

There in a state of positive or net pleasure. Let's say

Therefore when you compare the situations you have more pleasure in

the existence than the non-existence now, of course this

You would reject but you would reject this on the grounds of an asymmetry between pleasure and pain

But what I'm saying, is that a moment ago

We reversed the situation and I said that perhaps we have we can we can ascribe neutrality

To the being that doesn't exist and net suffering to the person who does exist and therefore conclude that it's not worth living

But do you see why I don't think that needs the asymmetry or white way

I think that that kind of counts against the asymmetry because if you just change the the reality of the situation of the person who

Does exist so that they are experiencing more pleasure then without the asymmetry?

The argument would run to say that they should be brought into existence

But there are two questions here

the one is with you need the asymmetry in order to generate ante natal as

conclusions and the other is whether you ought to reject the asymmetry and

I don't think you need the XE illogical asymmetry in order to generate

Ante natal conclusions you could get that why another root?

One which recognizes the predominance of bad over good in inner life

but that doesn't mean to say that we ought to reject the

Axial logical asymmetry just because you don't need it with some other set of assumptions doesn't mean to say you ought to reject it

Okay, well on that count then I suppose I hope that because this is this is a fascinating point of contention. I hope that my

listeners can

try and work this out for themselves, but maybe one way to

discuss this further because you say that you've said a few times now that we have to take special consideration about how this is a

This is a this is a unique case not existing and we may need to treat it differently

So let's talk about if we can

why it is the

These arguments that apply to people who don't exist

Do not apply to people who do exist for instance

A lot of people misunderstand antinatalism upon first hearing it thinking that it's an argument towards

Suicidality or something like that because it seems like you might be suggesting life is not worth living and so we should end our lives

Perhaps you can briefly just explain why that's not the case in your view

Right well

Although I think there's no interest in coming in to existence

My sense is once we do exist. We have an interest in continuing to exist now

That's not to say that that interest could not be defeated

I do think that the quality of life can

Become so terrible that although you've got an interest in continuing to exist your interest in avoiding all these horrors

outweighs your interest in continuing to exist but it is the case nonetheless that once you

Start existing you've got an interest in continuing to exist. And so I think different standards apply to the question

Whether life is worth starting and where the life is worth continuing

It's a higher bar as it were to be met for the question about whether life is is worth

continuing or worth ending

So do you think that interests have moral worth intrinsically kind of of their own accord?

regardless of the amount of suffering a pleasure that they may bring

Well, that's a complicated question because some of the interests are going to be interests connected with the goods or Bad's of

future life so part of an interest in continuing to live might be an interest in

The goods that you will derive if you continue to live and the goods that you'll be deprived of if you don't continue to live

But I think that is a another interest and that is the interesting just being propelled forward and continuing to exist

independent of of

The other pleasures or pains?

It's not that this interest can't be compared against and perhaps sometimes outweighed by some of those other interests

but I have a sense that is this interest in continuing to exist and there so

You know if you're not finished, maybe that's fine


I was just going to say that the reason

The reason I ask this is because reading your work one of the questions that came at the most to me was this question about?


Especially as pertains to the question of abortion

And perhaps the taking of the taking of lives without people being aware that their lives are being taken for instance

Perhaps I could just get your view on on this question. It's an analogy

I'm sure you've heard I can't remember who it comes from but

suppose you're on a train and you meet a stranger who has a terminal illness or something like this and

You wish them


You know

You want them to - it becomes?

In your interest for that person to be healthy because you care about them because you're an empathetic person

But once they get off the train, you never see them again, and you never have contact with them again

Now if that person does get well again, which is in your interest, but you never find out is that good for you?

Well, it depends on what V you have about interests here

I'm just not sure that this is the relevant debate to be having about the question of abortion

Well it could yeah

In the case of abortion, we're dealing with at least if it's in the earlier stages of gestation

Can be dealing with the being that?

May not have interests of a morally relevant kind at all

So I'm not sure that the question you've just posed is what's going to get us to the heart of the matter about abortion

well for the moment, I'm just trying to talk still about the difference between

Beings that don't exist and do exist and I hope you'll see why this becomes relevant in a moment. But to me

intuitively, it seems that it's not good for the person on the train if that person if the

Terminally ill person becomes healthy because of the fact that they never become aware of it, even though you might say they have an interest

In the person's becoming well what you're really saying is that they have an interest in

Kind of knowing that the person gets better and being able to benefit from it in that way

I don't think in other words that their interest in the person getting well is in itself

Of moral worth such that if that person does get well but the person on the train never finds out about it

They are therefore benefited

Well, I think there's a confounding variable in the case that you provided

And that is you've stipulated. This is a complete stranger

Yeah, so let's make and let's take another case which would test your hypothesis about with you

What what you don't know can't a con harm you so let's imagine that you have spent your entire work

Producing some magnum opus. Hmm and

you leave it to be sent off to the publisher and you you die and


it gets burnt in some conformation and

it never sees the light of day and

The question now is well have your interests been set back by this work having been destroyed?

You'll never know about it because you did you'll never know one way or the other

But have your interests been set back by being burnt? Yeah. It's an interesting consideration

My response would be to say that it might make sense to say that your interests have been negated

But that it's not bad for you that that happens because you're dead


Why do you why you why do you draw that inference that from

Minh your interests that Rd published to it not harming you but

Isis can depend in part on what your conception of harm you so how do you understand harm, so I understand harm

in essentially utilitarian measure to be judged by suffering

So in other words there needs to be somebody to be doing the suffering for it to be bad for them

Well, let's be careful here. So let's imagine somebody

poisons you and

You die painlessly. Hmm that they're harmed you

Well, this is exactly the question that I was going to pose to you

which is essentially this that I see my future self as as much a potential person as

My child for instance. I see it as a person that does not exist yet, but could or could not

And my contention is that I feel like the asymmetry argument that you present if it holds would also hold for living beings

because of the fact that

If I die painlessly

I feel like that can't be bad for me because I'm not aware of it happening and I don't suffer from it

and yet you would thereby be

Preventing my future self who doesn't exist yet

You'd be preventing my future self from experiencing any suffering. And yes, you'd be preventing them from experiencing pleasures as well

But because I don't have any interest anymore because I'm dead and because that person now doesn't exist

And as you say the deprivation of their pleasure is not a bad thing

I don't see why the same argument wouldn't apply to say that we have a preference to being painlessly killed now

Of course in practice, this wouldn't work because you'd probably you you would need to be unaware that you're being killed

So not something we could kind of implement universally but in the individual case of somebody being killed without their knowledge

It seems like the antenatal this argument in this specific case Lisa saying that this is this is a good thing

well, I'm worried that you layering one assumption upon another two to produce this the Sabitha said it's we

Have to we have to look evaluate one assumption at a time

So you're saying that somebody poisons you and you die painlessly. You're not harmed. Yes

I've now we have we have decide whether we want to accept that that hypothesis or not

Think about what the theoretical implications would be lets say for painless murder

Yeah, now there'll be secondary effect on other people. They may be secondary victim happy

But let's imagine some sorority were they're not the secondary effects and other people and somebody could painlessly kill you

Presumably you would think then that that ought not to be criminalized

well, it gets complicated because of course the very act of decriminalizing something like that would probably lead to more suffering because people would need

to become aware that that's something that's that's illegal to do and it would probably cause some kind of panic I do think I

Stipulate i've recognized those scenarios. Yes

Maybe you could control for those scenarios

Well, so morally you don't want it and if you don't wanna frame it in terms of criminalization. Yeah. Yeah, the

suggestion that you've not harmed somebody by killing

Well, of course, you can except that you if you if you're an epicurean

But then we're having a whole nother debate about the about the badness the death

this is

If we talk about minority views here, this is a minority views now

It may be the correct one, but we need to evaluate that you I I don't think there's much going for that view. Absolutely

I think

Sorry good. Well, I just wanted to clarify

that what I do think here is that

For the person who is being killed if they're killed without their knowledge and don't experience any pain then it makes no sense to say

That it's bad for them. Now. That's not to say that it's not bad for other people you could even say that

because somebody has to do the killing the kind of

character that that would instill in a personal or cultivate in the person itself would be bad and if it's genuinely neutral whether the person

Dies or not?

then the the small kind of

Character effect it has on the person do the killing for instance might be enough to tip the balance

but what I'm saying is is for the person who dies I

Don't think it makes sense to say it's bad for this. So this is a well-known argument

It's an old argument. It goes back to the Epicureans. It's a very resilient argument

I don't think that there is a knockdown response

I don't think that we can definitively to disprove the epicurean view which is exactly why it's been resilient over millennia

But if we want you to know whether we ought to accept this view

We need to balance out different considerations

So there are arguments in in Reverse

There are arguments which suggest that you can harm somebody by depriving them of goods that they would otherwise

Have had they would otherwise have had you can harm somebody by annihilating them

these are all alternative views that attempt to address the epicurean argument and

Each of these positions would have some shortcomings and some strengths

and again, what I'll suggest is that the wise approach is one that ways these up and

Tries to reach the conclusion that is most reasonable on a balance of considerations to to reach

when I do that, I reached the conclusion that

death is bad for the person who dies I

Can't give you a mathematical proof for that. I can't give you a knockdown argument for that

But I do think that the weight of considerations supports that view rather than the epicurean view


I suppose what I'm trying to do is Express what I feel and what I know a lot of my audience have felt when

Encountering antinatalism, which is that it seems on the surface level to be an unintuitive view

But once you become convinced of the the asymmetry or something like that, it leads me

and the nature of pleasure and pain and its effect on a person it leads me to the unintuitive conclusion that

Death is not bad for the person dying

And as you say maybe this is just kind of a clash of a clash of intuitions here

but the way that I see it is that it makes just as much sense to see my future self as a potential person as

to see my son as a potential person and let's say that

harming that that killing killing somebody killing me does harm me it would of course harm me in a

in a in a finite way to a finite amount and

Are you would you say or would you argue that?

the amount that somebody is harmed in your view by being killed is

Not outweighed by the amount of suffering that they'll experience in the rest of their life if life is as bad as you say it

is so

now, I think we've moved on to a different question and I am worried here that we've got too many open issues perhaps

so I either like to try to

Close down some of the issues that we know what assumptions we're working on

Or I think we should shift focus so much what you want to do in the time available?

Well, I wonder what you think has most kind of gaping leaving left open here

Well one question is the question about the badness of death for the person who dies

Mm-hmm. So when I when I made a point about that thing you brought me back to 1980 ISM

But I don't want to come back to antinatalism

If your argument against antinatalism rests on the epicurean view

I want to then first settle the Epicurean to you or at least recognize where the difference is between us

I see so my my argument about death here isn't an attempt to

disprove anti nationalism is an attempt to show that I think that the logic of

Not bringing someone into existence also applies to taking someone else out of existence. That's not to say that antinatalism is wrong rather

I think it's an argument to say that if antinatalism is correct, then there's also

an obligation

Or maybe not an obligation, but it can also be a good thing for a person to die

Well, it may be if the Epicurean is correct, but I don't think an antenatal astiz committed to epicureanism

So you're an anti-node list and now there's a separate question about whether you should be an epicurean

and if you think that there's no

Harm to the person who dies in being dead only being killed painlessly

Then it may well be that

ending your life

Sooner rather than later is exactly the right thing to do because you'll avoid all the result in misery

But and anything like this is not committed to the epicurean view merely in virtue of being an antidote list

sure, I'm

Not saying that's the case

I suppose what I'm trying to say is that if somebody takes that view of death that it would then follow from anti naturalism

It is also a good thing for people's lives to end

Would you say at least that much that if if the epicurean view of death is correct?

Then it would actually be a good thing because I think the the epicurean line would generally be that it's somewhat neutral

If you die because you know, it's got no effect on you

but it seems like if you take an epicurean view and you mix it with the

Asymmetry argument you actually land on the conclusion that it's good to die

Well, I mean there's a there's a sort of rough way in which I think that's true

But there's another way in which I think it's not true

But it's not clear to me that the epicurean can say just the safety Queen can say the death is bad

It's not kidding me. The epicurean can say the death is good for the post-new dies

Yes, so I don't think the epicurean would say

but see this is my intuition because in the same way that if an epicurean

Isn't able to say that death is bad and they shouldn't be able to say that death is good. That's the same kind of

problem of

asymmetry that I see with antinatalism intuitively that if you can't say that it's if you can't say that it is

Bad that someone isn't suffering you can't say that it's good that they're not. Sorry. If you can't say that, it's bad

They're not experiencing pleasure. You can't say it's good that they're not suffering to me

That's just as unintuitive as the epicurean somehow saying that it's not bad if you die, but it is good that you die

Again I'm worried that there are multiple issues that are open here one of them of course is that

You're saying that your future self is like a new being

yes, are you drawing a comparison between you and your future self and the non-existent person becoming an existing person and I'm worried about

That assumption. Hmm

I think that once you just maybe there may be

Differences between you and the person that you will evolve into in 20 30 40 years time. I don't deny that

But I don't think we're dealing with the same

Kind of case as we are when a person has not been brought into existence and then they're brought into existence

It's not that you're continuing to elect to live is

Coming into existence that's different that's continuing to exist


I'm maybe let me think of another way to I

Know I suppose that would be a different question. I think

It gets complicated here because of course. There's always going to be


transgression of one person into their future self

but perhaps again maybe this is something that that we should perhaps leave to the audience because I do want to get to

some other considerations

Namely that there's another question that I wanted to ask you and and I don't want to run over time here

So leaving these things open in the air

I hope people realize how many questions there are lying in the air

but I suppose one of my principal aims with this podcast episode is to


Considerations of antinatalism to my audience rather than necessarily talk them into it or talk them out of it if you see what I'm saying

the question that I want to ask is

Something like this you've said in the past


You wouldn't be in favor that there are good ways and bad ways of bringing about human extinction for instance

You wouldn't be in favor of a method of bringing about human extinction. That's painful because of course for the people who do exist

the suffering that they'll experience

During the extinction will matter is that about right that you wouldn't be in favor of?

Creating a mass extinction in a way that would be painful for people who do exist


so the question I want to ask is this you've pointed out in embedded never to have been that when you when you don't have

Children, you're not just preventing the suffering of your child. You're also preventing the suffering of your child's child

And your child's child's child and innumerable generations that stretch on into the future now

if again, hypothetically cuz in practice this wouldn't be the case, but if hypothetically some


developed some kind of

Nuclear weapon or had some kind of big red button, you know

They could press that that would wipe out all sentient life on earth

But it would do so quite painfully it would do so by nuclear radiation or by way fires or something like this

my problem is this like obviously there would be a

Lot of suffering that would be caused by that by that process of extermination over the course of a you know a week or so

but given the the sheer number of

That on your view you'd be saving from suffering because there would be no progeny

Do you not think that the suffering that you would say that that government would save by pressing that button?

Over the multiple generations that are now not going to exist would be worth

The suffering that they caused by causing the planet to go extinct

Yeah, I think it does depend on what background moral theoretical view you have. So it may well be that

utilitarians would think that that's the right thing to do if all these

Conditions are met and as you rightly pointed out you'd almost never know that those conditions are met

But it may be that the deontologist for example would say although I'd be preventing a great deal of misery

It would be wrong for me to violate the rights of all these people by terminating them. That's not within my entitlement and

Is this something that you as a philosopher would remain ambiguous on?

Because you kind of you don't think it matters

Well, no I do a point

I can bearly never to have been where I think one's theoretical background makes a difference

And so at least I'll evaluate the question of phased extinction and I think that different theoretical positions

Could yield different answers about the permissibility of phased?

Extinction and I think something similar would be true about this sort of scenario that you you're imagining now

right so I can certainly grant that phase extinction would be better than

Painful extermination, but would you be willing to grant the painful extermination if it was a hundred percent?

If it caused a hundred percent finality would be better than allowing people to continue existing and producing

the practical question looms very large for me because I don't think that you could ever know that and

Human history is littered with people who think they know when they don't know

who have utopian visions that cause

Immense amount of immense amounts of misery. And so I think there's very good reason

Not to be that confident in yourself


especially when you're talking about the level of suffering that you'd that you'd

Be interesting in a case like this. Yes, certainly

That it practically even the consequentialist even the utilitarians would be would be opposed to this

so at the mall foundational problem that I have is

really this idea of of playing God and I think they're just too many people who have

irrigated to themselves this this right to

To to play God to decide for all humanity for other competent beings

What would to be done? It's a very very dangerous view to hold

So I don't have the sort of godlike view of our powers or of our responsibilities

And I've got limited responsibilities

It's not my my job to prevent suffering for the rest of time

It's my job to prevent the suffering that I can reasonably competent. I can do without causing more harm



Obviously the example I give is a hypothetical one and in philosophy

We can just kind of assume in the hypothetical that you do have total knowledge. Your objection is something like

The practicalities are really important because we can never actually be sure that the conditions are as we say they are

That the point that I would want to make is that this is the same earlier when I brought up the the unintuitive

conclusion that maybe it's not bad to

Kill a person painlessly I'd make the same point

This is actually the exact argument the exact argument that I give in response to people who like yourself say

it seems troublesome to say that it's it's just okay to kill people painlessly and my response, is that well the

Practicalities do loom large and we never know if they actually have no family

no one that will suffer from their disappearance that

We know that the person who kills them isn't going to develop kind of a liking for it or as good that's going to affect

Them in some way like or have a negative psychological effect even on them

Because they think they're doing a good thing. I would say like the

Practicalities of this matter make it such that. We probably shouldn't normalize killing people painlessly

but in the hypothetical situation

I'm willing to grant that if we did just happen to know all of this

Then we could say that it was

okay to do and I'm wondering if you're at least will to do the same thing in saying I

Agree with you that the practicalities do loom large and are important but if we just hypothetically grant that you could know that this painful

Extermination would bring about the end of life on earth

Do you think it would be a moral obligation to do so?

No, I think it would depend on what we you had. So let's look at some scenarios. Let's imagine that I'm a utilitarian

Well, if I were utilitarian I might think to myself that in fact, this is the right thing to do

But I might also think that if I were to say that it's the right thing to do

Then I would be embolden in people who believe they know things when they don't know things and who would start

Killing off people and animals in scenarios. We in fact they're going to do more harm than good

and so from the utilitarian perspective, what I ought to do is shut up about

About that advice because I know that it's going to be misused by people who've got far too much confidence in themselves. So

It's not obvious. What a utilitarian would say to you

Given that sort of dilemma Ben. Let's look at a deontologists

Well a deontologist might say well, I'm fully cognizant of all the misery that's going to result from my not pressing the button

But it's not

Within my rights to press that button. I mean think about a much smaller scale case

Let's imagine you see somebody who's suffering from a terminal disease and they want to continue existing

they they believe it's worth their while to

Continue to live out the next few days or weeks whatever it is. They have left whereas it is

You're very firm belief that all they're going to have is suffering that by killing them

Now you will be relieving them of a net a net harm

Well, may you go and kill them if this is a competent person I didn't believe so

I don't think that would be appropriate for you to do now the scenario you've presented me is a scenario writ large

We are not speaking about one person in the scenario I'm speaking about

Seven or eight billion people. Hmm a

Deontologist may and quite plausibly say this is not within my rights to do that. So isn't this somewhat similar?

I'm thinking specifically at the case of

somebody thinking that their life is worth continuing you having this firm conviction that it's not

If we take a version of anti nationalism that's not reliant on asymmetry

but just reliant on your view that life is actually really bad and you make the point that people's lives are often and usually

much worse than they themselves know or

think that they are is this not a similar kind of judgment that you would make if somebody said

Look, I mean

this this person who exists if I have a child like

I can know with with considerable certainty given the conditions that I'm going to bring them up in or something again

we can just grant this hypothetically that they themselves are going to be off the opinion of

Being glad to have been born now

like an antenatal Ascan say I know that they would be glad to if you ask someone they say that they'd rather been born but

They're actually just wrong in their own analysis of their own situation. I could just as well

say to you like

Who are you to make that judgment for them in the same way that you could say?

Who am I to make that judgment for the person dying on the street? Well, there's a crucial difference

The one is you're dealing with a competent being and the other is you dealing with a non-existing being

So it may well be that I believe the competent being is wrong. I often believe competent beings are wrong there many competent beings

I believe are wrong. Well, I don't believe I'm entitled to interfere with them because that's the whole point is we parceling our decision-making authority

We're precisely because we are fallible. Hmm, and they get to decide for themselves if they're making a mistake that's their business

Now when you're thinking about bringing somebody in to use this since this is an entirely different scenario

Not only is there no competent being there. There's no being at all and

You can prevent everything

That would happen to that person by not bringing them into existence without any cost of them whatsoever

That seems to be to be a no-brainer case about what you should do. Yeah, okay

So let's try and just reformulate this briefly in the last few minutes here

let's get a bit more contrived to try and

Solve the kind of particulars of this situation. Let's say that a person is offered the chance by a

Time-traveler to make it such that they themselves never existed. Do you think they'd have an obligation to do so?

Toward to make sure they never exist it to make it such that they never existed

III want to resist the soon areum's I think there are lots of confounding

Factors in the scenario once you engage in this time-travel idea

You're asking people to imagine

Not that they didn't come into existence. At least. This is the net effect but rod that they go out to the existence

And think of it kind of Nicki. That's not what you're asking them


But already we know people have problems

Considering the counterfactual case the contractual scenario when they didn't exist because what they keep thinking is well

I wouldn't have been here and

I wouldn't have been able to do this and I wouldn't be able to exist and they sort of think about all the things that

they would have missed out on and

That's exactly the wrong way to think about it. So get given what we know about the unreliability of people's

counterfactual judgments about the conditions of their own existence

When you present them with a scenario that involves time travel back from some point where they do exist to some point when they didn't

We can't expect to get a reliable

Judgment in a scenario like that. It's gonna be an unreal. I suppose. I just also think that you

can't expect to get a reliable judgment from somebody who is

Going to die and knows they're going to die and thinks that it's going to be bad for them, I guess

That's the kind of comparison. I'm trying to draw here cuz I'd agree with you that if if you presented someone with this time traveler

They would actually be thinking in their head about

Like stopping existing rather than having never existed because in practice that's what it would mean to them

But we could come along and say look you don't understand

I mean

I know the way that you're experiencing

This is that if you say yes to the time traveler that everything

You want to carry on living as you are now and that wouldn't happen. You don't understand like

philosophically technically

You would never have existed

And the person you're making the decision for is your past self who is an incompetent being and you're making it on their behalf?

It seems like you just wouldn't get a competent answer out of them

But I feel like the same would be true with the person who's dying on the street

But these are two scenarios we're thinking about there's a real person there who's

Existing and now we have to decide whether to terminate their life or not and my view is you defer to them if they're competent

you know contrasting that with

hypothetical scenario, not a real scenario hypotheticals are not hypothetical scenario where you're

asking what an actual person

To travel back in time after having decided whether or not they should start existing. This is not a real decision

No, I agree. It's not a real decision. It's a hypothetical question and perhaps one that

Again, we can leave to the audience to consider because I realize we've just come upon on time

So unless there's anything else pressing that you want to say or gaping holes that you'd like to clear up

in in a few brief moments

I'd suppose that's a good place to end the conversation

Well, thanks. Thanks for the interesting debate and discussion. I do think that we've lived lots of issues open. I

Fear too many issues. Hmm. But if none of this been interesting engage in discussion, so thank you very much


And thank you for coming and I hope that the people listening at the very least are aware that these questions exists

Now if not quite if we haven't quite been able to come to a firm answer on them, so to everyone listening as always

Thank you for listening. Don't forget to subscribe if you're watching on YouTube and leave a rating if you're listening on various podcasting

Devices and click the notification bell everything that I do is supported by you on Patreon

So do find me on forward slash cosmic skeptic if you want to see more of this kind of thing

But as always thank you for thank you for listening

Thank you for being here and I have been Alex O'Connor and today I've been in conversation with Professor David Bennett. Ah