Hooray for babies

South African Journal of Philosophy 30 (2):197-206 (2011)
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David Benatar has argued that the coming into existence of a sentient being is always a harm, and consequently that people who have children always do wrong. The most natural objection maintains that in many lives (at least) while there is some pain, there are also goods (including pleasures) that can outweigh the suffering. From Benatar’s perspective this move, while possibly useful in assessing the lives of those who actually exist, is not an effective defence of procreation. In the case of people who do not yet exist, he maintains that there is a crucial asymmetry arising from the putative fact that the absence of pain is good even if that good is not enjoyed by anyone, whereas absence of pleasure is not bad unless there is somebody for whom that absence is a deprivation. For the potentially existing, he concludes, preventing the pain of existence is justified, but not so facilitating enjoyment of its pleasures. I argue that the asymmetry is insufficiently motivated. I also sketch two additional lines of argument against the asymmetry. First, it may not include all relevant factors. Second, plausible duties to prevent pain require possible sufferers, but do not apply straightforwardly when extended to include preventing the sufferers themselves



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David Spurrett
University of KwaZulu-Natal

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