The View from Hell

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My Work on Antinatalism

with 8 comments

The following are pieces I’ve written addressing various aspects of philanthropic antinatalism.

Procreation and Suicide, written before I read Better Never to Have Been, arguing that one reason it is unfair and wrong to require a sentient being to remain alive against its will is that the being took no voluntary action to come into existence. I argue that the “social contract” justification for state power is weaker in states that prohibit suicide. And I argue that if one voluntarily reproduces, one may not ethically commit suicide under the earlier justification, since one has at that point acted to ratify one’s life.

Benatar’s Account of Value (It’s Not Nihilism) – in which I explain why philanthropic antinatalism is incompatible with nihilism.

Birth and Consent: An Alternate Philanthropic Route to Antinatalism, in which I attempt to ground antinatalism in concern for unconsented harm, without reference to the antinatalist asymmetry, and explain how birth is similar to genital mutilation.

Life Rights and Death Rights, in which I briefly introduce J. David Velleman’s “option to live without explicitly deciding to live,” which option is removed by an institutional right to die, and also introduce the symmetric “option not to exist without explicitly choosing to die,” which Velleman very much does not address, and which is removed by birth.

Velleman’s Sorrow of Options, in which I map out several arguments from different starting points using Velleman’s concept of options as potentially harmful, including the “options” granted to an entity by virtue of its being brought into existence.

Unfriendliness is Unsolvable, in which I argue that the fact that being brought into existence is always a harm may preclude the existence of a friendly, powerful AI.

Where Do Rights Come From? (Or, A Weird Consequentialist Reason Why Pure Consequentialism Fails), a fairly silly essay in which I explore the concept of rights Thomas Nagel develops in “Personal Rights and Public Space” and attempt a consequentialist justification for avoiding consequentialism. I go on to explore a possible right not to be born, as well as a right to die.

Three Meditations on the Sweetness of Life, in which three instances of the widespread cannibalism of children by parents are related.

Tort Law and the Harm of Death, in which I examine the harm of death with reference to Nagel and O.H. Green and explain how American tort law accords with the counter-intuitive view that death is not a harm to the person who dies.

Moral Dilemmas Involving Harm to Children, in which I argue that ethical problems involving whether it is wrong to harm a child if one feels it is ultimately in the child’s interests are insoluble in a particular way, in that the true responsibility for any harm to a child lies with his parents’ decision to create that child, and the justification that the harm is “in his interests” is irrelevant.

Limits on Human Happiness, in which I examine some of the problems facing humans that are insoluble except by radical biological or brain changes.

The Moral Effect of “Being Glad It Happened,” in which I argue by analogy that it is irrelevant to an action’s morality that the object of the action is subjectively grateful for the action after the fact.

The Austrian Basement and Beyond: Consequences of Rejecting the Antinatalist Asymmetry, in which I present examples with a view to pointing out the ethical horror entailed by rejecting the antinatalist asymmetry on the grounds that it is counter-intuitive.

The Sense of the Asymmetry, in which I explain some of the implications of my earlier examples, and present another example that does not involve the creation of new people.

Inflicting Harm and Inflicting Pleasure on Strangers, in which I present another example, this one about ecstasy and peanuts, over which there is wide agreement of intuition. The example illustrates one of the arguments for antinatalism: that it is wrong to harm a stranger without his consent merely to provide him with a pure benefit (as opposed to preventing greater harm). It also supports a stronger claim: when evaluating actions that will harm non-consenting strangers, their potential pleasure doesn’t count.

The Rape Doctor Hypothetical, which I will let speak for itself.


Written by Sister Y

August 2, 2008 at 2:19 am

8 Responses

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  1. Anti-natalists make some very intelligent points, although I think David Benatar’s argument from the pleasure-pain asymmetry is specious. Even without that argument, however, it’s true that too many people have children who shouldn’t have children, and even if it’s OK for some people to have children, too many of *those* people have more children than they should.But here’s a worry I haven’t seen anti-natalists address. Millions of stupid and superstitious (i.e., religious) people around the world will never be convinced by anti-natalist arguments, and they’ll continue to have children just as often as they now do. So the more that intelligent, non-superstitious people persuaded by anti-natalism refrain from having children, the more the planet will come to be dominated by the children of the stupid and superstitious, who because of their heredity and upbringing will continue to spread stupidity and superstition. Even anti-natalists should recognize that we have some duty to future generations not to leave them a badly polluted planet, including a planet badly polluted by stupidity and superstition. So people smart enough to be anti-natalists are stuck in a moral bind, aren’t they? How to resolve it?–Houyhnhm


    October 31, 2008 at 2:16 pm

  2. Hi there. I’m a philanthropic antinatalist – I think it’s wrong to procreate because it’s a harm to the babies themselves – but there is a group of antinatalists called the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement that you might (uncharitably) call misanthropic antinatalists, since they believe it’s wrong to procreate because it’s a harm to non-humans. As to the <>Idiocracy<> issue, I think VHEMT makes the case against having babies, even if you’re smart, beautifully in the essay < HREF="" REL="nofollow">Biology and Breeding<>. An excerpt: “Breeding for power is a remnant of that ancient tradition of mass murder we call genocide. The motivation remains the same.”

    Sister Y

    October 31, 2008 at 8:26 pm

  3. Thanks for your reply. I think the “breeding for power” line isn’t a fair response, however, for two reasons. First, even if we allow that “Breeding for power is a remnant of…genocide,” it’s not the same thing as genocide (or else I could paint Benatar’s hope for human extinction as immoral because it too smacks of genocide, on a truly grand scale). But, more important, it’s not about power anyway: the hope that future generations will live in a world not overrun by the stupid and superstitious is no more a power-grab than is the hope that they’ll live in a world not choked by air pollution. I’m not proposing that anyone be killed to avoid either kind of world. I think antinatalism invites a problem of demographic pollution, a problem that antinatalists need to address honestly.–Houyhnhm


    November 26, 2008 at 12:35 pm

  4. There are so many variables in your future <>Idiocracy<> scenario – the nature and mechanism of the harm are both uncertain. I’m not sure “people convinced antinatalism is true” are necessarily all those with higher IQs or other traits that the human race would be miserable without. Even if it were, I’m not sure lower IQ would harm the future population of the world – think Karl Rove. And evolution takes place over thousands or even hundreds of thousands of years – it’s slow and unpredictable. At any rate, the <>certainty<> of harm if one chooses to reproduce outweighs the nebulous possibility of harm to future generations from removing oneself from the future gene pool. The idea that the harm I’d do by having a baby would be outweighed by the fact that <>my genes are so awesome that the world needs them<> is self-serving, overconfident, and, I think, unwarranted (not just in my case, either).

    Sister Y

    November 26, 2008 at 9:28 pm

  5. Hey Curator, its Compoverde from anti-procreation movement. Just checking in. Like what I’ve read so far. Its good to get the antinatalist message out there. I’ll put your link on my blog.


    November 28, 2008 at 8:09 pm

  6. Nice to meet you.

    Sister Y

    November 29, 2008 at 5:44 am

  7. Curator,I believe you’ve met me before; you’ve left a comment on my blog a while ago. The blog was


    December 1, 2008 at 12:45 pm

  8. Hi, this is the Elizabeth you sent you the Wilson book link. The first Anon made a good point that I think you didn't quite address: antinatalism may be morally justified, but it's still a Darwinian dead end. As even Benatar mentioned on page 69 of BNTHB, traits such as pessimism that foster antinatalism tend to be selected out of the gene pool. It seems that antinatalism will always be a stochastic phenomenon rather than something most people would voluntarily adopt.


    July 6, 2009 at 12:27 am

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