Life: Worth Continuing vs. Worth Starting
In sticking with the sort of antinatalist theme I have going on today, I figured I’d address a question that people often ask antinatalists. This is a challenging question at the surface, though it is readily defended.
I read Better Never to Have Been for a second time today (all the way through in a single day, goes faster the 2nd time really) with a particular aim of picking up some different elements of the book that I think are applicable but I kind of didn’t give much thought to the first time through. The first time through I just kind of got the crux of the book, but this time I think I made more sense of an underlying argument that I essentially missed the first time through, and that is the difference between present and future existence.
The premise of the book remains unchanged: to come into existence is always an incredible harm, and that harm is not negligible nor is it even moderate, but it is a severe harm. Thus, it would have been better never to have been born as the non-existent do not suffer harm. Only “existers,” as he refers to them, suffer harm. Of course, only existers experience pleasure, but since the non-existent are not deprived of anything by not experiencing pleasure (as they are unaware of its existence), it’s not bad. Basically, the argument in favor of not existing can be summed up in the following matrix:
|Not Experience Harm
|Not Experience Pleasure
(Neither Good nor Bad)
Thus, we see for existence, we have “good” and “bad,” but for non-existence we have “good” and “neither good nor bad.” Thus, non-existence is, in general, preferable to existence.
That said, in differentiating past and present tense, we have to look at life “worth starting” vs. life “worth continuing.” Since it’s better never to have been, no life is worth starting. Fine, we’ve established that. That’s a done deal. However, that’s just future tense and does not address present tense. For a life already started, however, we seem to have a lower standard by which we judge a life worth continuing to live.
Make no mistake about it, I fully accept that it would have been better had I never been brought into existence. Yet, somehow, I have a continued existence (at least for awhile), and at the moment, yeah, I do have my reasons for continued existence. They give me that “relief from suffering” as Benatar describes it, to make my existence worth continuing, at least for the moment. There could come a time where the suffering becomes too much even for that to make existence worth continuing, however.
This is an example of how I hold my already existent life to a much lower standard than a merely potential-existent life in deeming whether or not it’s better to exist or not exist. We all do it, too. Every last one of us. This is how even though as an antinatalist who would have preferred not to have come into existence, I can justify sticking around at least temporarily (and here is the answer to a question a lot of people have asked me in the past as to why if I truly believed the tenets of antinatalism, why not just off myself now). Thus is my defense of that.
Well, that’s kind of a rough justification, and I can’t begin to do as good of a job as Professor Benatar has of justifying this. Just go read the damn book. It’s the most sensible, eye-opening, and, quite frankly, factual/truthful book I’ve ever read. My favorite book of all time.