Better no longer to be

Rafe McGregor, Ema Sullivan-Bissett

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)


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,2 one must also accept that suicide is preferable to continued existence, and that his view therefore implies both anti-natalism and pro-mortalism3. 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-mortalism4 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
Number of pages14
JournalSouth African Journal of Philosophy
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 30 Jan 2012
Externally publishedYes


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