A case against Anti-Natalism

Anti-Natalism is a philosophical position that assigns a negative value to birth. Antinatalists argue that people should abstain from procreation because it is morally bad (some also recognize the procreation of other sentient beings as morally bad).

The Asymmetry Argument:

David Benatar argues that there is a crucial asymmetry between the good and the bad things, such as pleasure and pain:

  1. the presence of pain is bad;
  2. the presence of pleasure is good;
  3. the absence of pain is good, even if that good is not enjoyed by anyone;
  4. the absence of pleasure is not bad unless there is somebody for whom this absence is a deprivation.

My Rebuttal for the Asymmetry Argument:

In the holistic case of pleasure and pain with my subjective opinion, the potential pleasure of life outweighs the potential pain experienced. It is understandable how our evolutionary process wired us to “feel” more pain than pleasure as it helps with our survival. The states of fear, anxiety and stress can enhance our ability to survive and live a life of low risk which in turn would increase the chances of passing on our genes to later generations and possibly increase our chances of a pleasurable life in the present moment.

An objection regarding the 3rd premise of the asymmetry where “the absence of pain is good, even if that good is not enjoyed by anyone”. If there is no one to experience the pain, who’s making the judgement of it being good or even who’s experiencing the absence of such things, for all life is a balance of pleasure and pain. This isn’t a statement of morality. The absence of pain is only good for those who can experience it. The absence of pleasure is only bad for those who can’t experience it. So, with regards to “the absence of pleasure is not bad unless there is somebody for whom this absence is a deprivation”, the same could be said for the absence of pain, as it could also be “ the absence of pain is not good unless there is somebody for whom this absence is a good thing”.

In scenario B (of the diagram) there is no one to distinguish the difference between the “absence of pain” and the “absence of pleasure” therefore the values of “good” and “not bad” cannot be assigned without adding a subjective opinion through one’s personal experience. e.g. for the anti-natalist, the “absence of pleasure” is “not bad”. For me, the “absence of pleasure” is “bad”.

Defining Pleasure — An Utilitarian approach:

Concerning the diagram above, in scenario B, the Absence of Pain is labelled as “Good” whilst the Absence of Pleasure is labelled as “Not Bad”. For me, the Absence of Pleasure is “Bad”, as shown in scenario A. I think we have a misconception with regards to the word “Pleasure”. A state of being is satisfactory and though boring, should be seen as pleasurable e.g. If i get punched in the face, i feel pain and it is “bad” and on the contrary, if I don’t get punched in the face, i don’t feel pain and therefore it is state of pleasure and satisfaction for me to experience(or not experience). Our relationship to this satisfactory state of being (not getting punched in the face) should be seen as pleasurable, preferable and desirable. For me, there is no state of being which is in the middle of pleasure and pain. All states of being which are satisfactory and where no pain exists is pleasurable and preferable e.g. I am currently sitting at my desk writing this and it is a pleasurable state for me to be in. Therefore you can’t discount life because you can experience pain, because you’re also depriving the potential beings of their potential pleasure.

This distinction is purely subjective and I’m sure there’s a middle ground in the case of disabled children and people facing cancer to end their own life or if detected before birth to not even begin their life in the first place. Choosing to not reproduce because of future uncertain suffering is just foolish when our state of suffering is self-made.

Defining Pain:

There should be a distinction made between pain and suffering.

Pain is a part of your existence, it’s natural. It manifests when you lose something you love or when your body suffers an injury. In other words, it’s a natural reaction to an externally negative event.

Suffering, on the other hand, manifests when you refuse to accept reality. It’s a choice that leads you to wish that things were different and stems from your judgment of things. Consequently, it’s a product of your mind and your thoughts. Suffering only exists because you negatively interpret reality.

Merging both pain and suffering as a consequence of being is the source of contention. The pain of losing a leg or another person can be burdensome but manageable, whilst the possible suffering as a consequence can be overwhelming due to the social cost of such events.

The possibility of pain is unavoidable for sentient beings, but suffering as a consequence can be prevented. For beings in existence, a maximization of pleasure is the final goal and though our methods may vary (money, power, sex etc.) and sometimes be plain wrong(murder), there is a right answer through introspection. Suggesting a state of non-existence through extinction is deeply nihilistic. It’s through meaning that one obtains true pleasure, a reason for existence. Instead of opting for none existence of our future children(there’s an argument of consent which I will address soon), we, as a species should learn how to maximize pleasure and minimise suffering.

The continuance of existence and suicidality dilemma:

The anti-natalist thought of non-existence can lead others to believe that continuing to live is not worth it. Why waste time waiting for fortune to kill you when you can do it yourself? why incur the potential suffering and hang onto life? why not minimise the definite suffering by ending your life as quickly as possible?

Why should a person have an interest in continued living? Is it because my life is good enough at the moment that positives outweigh negatives? If so, why oughtn’t I bring new life into the world if I can be confident I can make it such that positives outweigh negatives? If I can’t be certain that the new life will be net positive, can I be certain my own life will be a net positive? In which case, is suicide rational in case my life does deteriorate in the future?

Alternatively, is the interest in continuing to exist the same biological biases built in us that want us to procreate? If antinatalism is hindered by our pre-existing preferences towards life, is this same bias wanting us to extend our lives beyond what should be a rational suicide?

If I grant the asymmetry argument, then why doesn’t it compel one to be for suicide? After all, ceasing to exist and having no further experience is not a bad thing, it has already been argued that this non-existence is a very good thing.

The Play Analogy Argument:

Picture yourself at a play. At some point during a play, you decide its a bad play. If you knew it was going to be this bad, you wouldn’t have gone in the first place. Furthermore, you will recommend to other people that they don’t go see it (antinatalism/Future people). However, once you realize this, you are now faced with a decision. Is it bad enough that I should leave the play immediately (pro-suicide immediately), should I wait a bit to see if it gets any better or if the good might outweigh the bad (put off the suicide decision until later), or should I go ahead and stay for the remainder (anti-suicide)?

Impossibility of consent:

  1. great harm is not at stake if the action is not taken;
  2. if the action is taken, the harms suffered by the created person can be very severe;
  3. a person can not escape the imposed condition without very high cost (suicide is often a physically, emotionally, and morally excruciating option);
  4. the hypothetical consent procedure is not based on the values of the person who will bear the imposed condition

My Rebuttal to both:

The play analogy by itself is fine, but when it becomes a moral obligation on the side of the individual to not just recommend but prevent others(Future people) from watching the play. That is a problem. Why does one have a moral obligation to prevent the suffering of others, but not to create pleasure for them also? is it because you have no control of either so you’d rather not have them both?

  1. The extinction of the human race is of great harm to humans.
  2. The potential pleasure unexperienced can be unretainable (the opportunity for that particular potential human being to experience “Being” is forever lost).
  3. The philosophy of stoicism is a remedy for this and not only for them but for others around them, to live a happy life even if life isn’t as you intended it to be.
  4. The values of the hypothetical person don’t exist

The impossibility of consent shouldn’t lead someone to make an executive decision, as the ratio of possible pleasure and pain is unattainable. If the child inherently will be born with a disability, it is permissible for abortion or when conceived under poor living conditions etc.

As humans, our moral obligation should lie at an increase in pleasure over the avoidance of suffering. As one naturally leads to the decrease of the other.

When you can’t discern the possibility of pleasure or pain inflicted, one is morally obligated to give the final choice to the unborn child, whether to lead or end their own life.

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Sai Penukonda

Sai Penukonda

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Hi, welcome. Here I write about investing and philosophy. Let me know if you have any requests.