Better Never to Have Been

by Harry on September 3, 2008

I see that David Benatar’s excellent book Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming into Existence has just come out in paperback. It’s almost enough to make me regret that I am on sabbatical this coming year. In my Contemporary Moral Issues course I always teach abortion as the first topic, because it gets them to read two of my favourite pieces of applied philosophy, Thomson’s A Defence of Abortion, and Marquis’s Why Abortion is Immoral. I also take a bit of time to discuss conceptual space, and used to use the view that abortion is always obligatory as an example of conceptual space that no-one occupies. Now, however, I include chapter 5 of Benatar’s book (Abortion: the ‘Pro-Death’ View) in the course packet. Benatar is a terse, unfussy, and careful writer: the argument is complicated, but the writing is excellent, and it is an easy, and compelling, read. I was annoyed that it first came out in an expensive hardback which I could not, in good conscience, assign, and feared that it would not sell well enough to be paperbacked. So, now I’ll be happy to assign it.

The opening lines give the basic structure of the argument:

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 recognise 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 is thus morally problematic.

[click to continue…]