Better No Longer to Be: The Harm of Continued Existence

Rafe McGregor, Ema Sullivan-Bissett

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4 Citations (Scopus)
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David Benatar argues that coming into existence is always a harm, and that –
for all of us unfortunate enough to have come into existence – it would be
better had we never come to be. We contend that if one accepts Benatar’s arguments for the asymmetry between the presence and absence of pleasure
and pain, and the poor quality of life, one must also accept that suicide is
preferable to continued existence, and that his view therefore implies both
anti-natalism and pro-mortalism. This conclusion has been argued for before
by Elizabeth Harman – she takes it that because Benatar claims that our lives
are ‘awful’, it follows that ‘we would be better off to kill ourselves’ (Harman
2009: 784). Though we agree with Harman’s conclusion, we think that her
argument is too quick, and that Benatar’s arguments for non-pro-mortalism deserve more serious consideration than she gives them. We make our case using a tripartite structure. We start by examining the prima facie case for the
claim that pro-mortalism follows from Benatar’s position, presenting his response to the contrary, and furthering the dialectic by showing that Benatar’s
position is not just that coming into existence is a harm, but that existence itself
is a harm. We then look to Benatar’s treatment of the Epicurean line,
which is important for him as it undermines his anti-death argument for
non-pro-mortalism. We demonstrate that he fails to address the concern that
the Epicurean line raises, and that he cannot therefore use the harm of death
as an argument for non-pro-mortalism. Finally, we turn to Benatar’s pro-life
argument for non-pro-mortalism, built upon his notion of interests, and argue
that while the interest in continued existence may indeed have moral relevance,
it is almost always irrational. Given that neither Benatar’s anti-death
nor pro-life arguments for non-pro-mortalism work, we conclude that pro-mortalism follows from his anti-natalism, As such, if it is better never to have been, then it is better no longer to be.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)55-68
JournalSouth African Journal of Philosophy
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2012


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