Party our way into extinction!

People who oppose abortion  like to call themselves “pro-life.”  Proponents of abortion object to that term, which implies that they are “anti-life.”   But one of the most forthright defenders of abortion–also post-birth infanticide, euthanasia both voluntary and involuntary–really is “anti-life,” arguing philosophically that human life may not be not worth living.  Why?  Because we will experience suffering and because all of our desires will not be met.  (OK, he does conclude by saying that life is worth living in the sense of not wanting to shut off evolution, which gives hope that things might get better.)

I am referring to Princeton ethicist Peter Singer, who just over a year ago wrote this for the New York Times, a favorable review of David Benatar’s  Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming into Existence:

To bring into existence someone who will suffer is, Benatar argues, to harm that person, but to bring into existence someone who will have a good life is not to benefit him or her. Few of us would think it right to inflict severe suffering on an innocent child, even if that were the only way in which we could bring many other children into the world. Yet everyone will suffer to some extent, and if our species continues to reproduce, we can be sure that some future children will suffer severely. Hence continued reproduction will harm some children severely, and benefit none.

Benatar also argues that human lives are, in general, much less good than we think they are. We spend most of our lives with unfulfilled desires, and the occasional satisfactions that are all most of us can achieve are insufficient to outweigh these prolonged negative states. If we think that this is a tolerable state of affairs it is because we are, in Benatar’s  view, victims of the illusion of pollyannaism. This illusion may have evolved because it helped our ancestors survive, but it is an illusion nonetheless. If we could see our lives objectively, we would see that they are not something we should inflict on anyone.

Here is a thought experiment to test our attitudes to this view. Most thoughtful people are extremely concerned about climate change. Some stop eating meat, or flying abroad on vacation, in order to reduce their carbon footprint. But the people who will be most severely harmed by climate change have not yet been conceived. If there were to be no future generations, there would be much less for us to feel to guilty about.

So why don’t we make ourselves the last generation on earth? If we would all agree to have ourselves sterilized then no sacrifices would be required — we could party our way into extinction! . . . .

Is a world with people in it better than one without? Put aside what we do to other species — that’s a different issue. Let’s assume that the choice is between a world like ours and one with no sentient beings in it at all. And assume, too — here we have to get fictitious, as philosophers often do — that if we choose to bring about the world with no sentient beings at all, everyone will agree to do that. No one’s rights will be violated — at least, not the rights of any existing people. Can non-existent people have a right to come into existence?

I do think it would be wrong to choose the non-sentient universe. In my judgment, for most people, life is worth living. Even if that is not yet the case, I am enough of an optimist to believe that, should humans survive for another century or two, we will learn from our past mistakes and bring about a world in which there is far less suffering than there is now. But justifying that choice forces us to reconsider the deep issues with which I began. Is life worth living? Are the interests of a future child a reason for bringing that child into existence? And is the continuance of our species justifiable in the face of our knowledge that it will certainly bring suffering to innocent future human beings?

via Should This Be the Last Generation? – NYTimes.com.

What are the weaknesses in this argument?

Do, however, note Singer’s honesty in following the implications of his presuppositions.  (If there is no God, just a meaningless material universe, of course there can be no ultimate hope.  Or reason not to kill unwanted infants.)  But note too our contemporary culture’s UTTER inability to deal with suffering, to the point that it is widely considered better to die than to suffer, or to kill to stop suffering.  And note our contemporary culture’s UTTER orientation to the will, to desire, as if ANYTHING that interferes with our desires must be a great evil that casts doubt on the value of our lives.

HT:  Collin Hansen at Christianity Today

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • SKPeterson

    Materialist Buddhist nihilism. America’s new gift to the world.

  • SKPeterson

    Materialist Buddhist nihilism. America’s new gift to the world.

  • Tom Hering

    What’s interesting is the recognition that the world is in a fallen state, and that it’s Man’s fault. This is a door that any Christian worth his salt can walk through to start a conversation.

  • Tom Hering

    What’s interesting is the recognition that the world is in a fallen state, and that it’s Man’s fault. This is a door that any Christian worth his salt can walk through to start a conversation.

  • Helen F

    Nietzsche, if he were alive, would be smiling from ear to ear!

  • Helen F

    Nietzsche, if he were alive, would be smiling from ear to ear!

  • http://thefragrantharbor.blogspot.com Catherine

    I have no idea what to say to this. As someone who had no idea what personal suffering was like until this summer (an illness that knocked me off my feet, literally, and had my laying in bed for weeks in complete misery and feeling at times as if it might be better if I were not alive), this opens up a lot of questions. He seems to be talking more about our species as a whole, as opposed to individual suffering as in my case. But seriously… would he believe that if my parents knew I would inherit an autoimmune disorder in the womb, that it would be better if my mother had aborted me? So I wouldn’t have to go through the misery of this disease? Regardless of the fact that I will soon be taking medication that will allow me to live a normal life, it just seems so… cold to me. Yes, I experienced a lot of suffering. And yes, sometimes I felt like the only way out of it was to die. That’s what happens when you lose sight of hope. But I certainly DIDN’T want to die. And now that I understand what had happened with my disease and know what to look forward to in the future, things seem so much better, by the Grace of God.

    Why should we make that decision for our future children, then? Oh, you’re going to suffer too much, so it’s not worth it. So it’s better if you were never around. Who are we to determine what their worth in life is?

  • http://thefragrantharbor.blogspot.com Catherine

    I have no idea what to say to this. As someone who had no idea what personal suffering was like until this summer (an illness that knocked me off my feet, literally, and had my laying in bed for weeks in complete misery and feeling at times as if it might be better if I were not alive), this opens up a lot of questions. He seems to be talking more about our species as a whole, as opposed to individual suffering as in my case. But seriously… would he believe that if my parents knew I would inherit an autoimmune disorder in the womb, that it would be better if my mother had aborted me? So I wouldn’t have to go through the misery of this disease? Regardless of the fact that I will soon be taking medication that will allow me to live a normal life, it just seems so… cold to me. Yes, I experienced a lot of suffering. And yes, sometimes I felt like the only way out of it was to die. That’s what happens when you lose sight of hope. But I certainly DIDN’T want to die. And now that I understand what had happened with my disease and know what to look forward to in the future, things seem so much better, by the Grace of God.

    Why should we make that decision for our future children, then? Oh, you’re going to suffer too much, so it’s not worth it. So it’s better if you were never around. Who are we to determine what their worth in life is?

  • http://www.geneveith.com Gene Veith

    Bless you, Catherine!

  • http://www.geneveith.com Gene Veith

    Bless you, Catherine!

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Hmm. Are all the reruns intentional, or is this just an artifact of summer?

    Ultimately, I think Benatar makes some good points. Ours is a world of suffering — heartache to heartache we stand. And life offers no guarantees, no promises, no demands. And in this postmodern era, it really is about the will to power. “We are strong,” they say. “No one can tell us we’re wrong.” Life reminds one of nothing so much as a battlefield.

    Besides, we can’t deny our place in the universe. It’s too easy to see humans as opposed to nature, instead of being part of it. Much as Benatar has philosophized himself into believing the universe would be better without us, he has nonetheless concluded elsewhere that we belong here — to the light, to the thunder, to the whole planet. Whatever we deny or embrace, for worse or for better, we belong here, and it’s foolish to argue otherwise.

    But despair needn’t be our only response. As Benatar has said elsewhere, even if life don’t fight fair, even if it knocks us down, all these troubles could even be said to be “all in vain”, if we learn and grow from them. In other words, to struggle is part of the human condition, and no amount of philosophizing will get rid of the “hit me with your best shot” survival spirit within us.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Hmm. Are all the reruns intentional, or is this just an artifact of summer?

    Ultimately, I think Benatar makes some good points. Ours is a world of suffering — heartache to heartache we stand. And life offers no guarantees, no promises, no demands. And in this postmodern era, it really is about the will to power. “We are strong,” they say. “No one can tell us we’re wrong.” Life reminds one of nothing so much as a battlefield.

    Besides, we can’t deny our place in the universe. It’s too easy to see humans as opposed to nature, instead of being part of it. Much as Benatar has philosophized himself into believing the universe would be better without us, he has nonetheless concluded elsewhere that we belong here — to the light, to the thunder, to the whole planet. Whatever we deny or embrace, for worse or for better, we belong here, and it’s foolish to argue otherwise.

    But despair needn’t be our only response. As Benatar has said elsewhere, even if life don’t fight fair, even if it knocks us down, all these troubles could even be said to be “all in vain”, if we learn and grow from them. In other words, to struggle is part of the human condition, and no amount of philosophizing will get rid of the “hit me with your best shot” survival spirit within us.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    Does Peter Singer have children?

    I looked on wiki and googled, but didn’t find the answer.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    Does Peter Singer have children?

    I looked on wiki and googled, but didn’t find the answer.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    SG (@7), I don’t know about his having children or not, but Singer is behind this website, which seems to be at odds with Benatar’s* conclusions. See this warm, fuzzy video for more.

    *The real one, not the one I was jokingly referring to earlier (@6)

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    SG (@7), I don’t know about his having children or not, but Singer is behind this website, which seems to be at odds with Benatar’s* conclusions. See this warm, fuzzy video for more.

    *The real one, not the one I was jokingly referring to earlier (@6)

  • Cincinnatus

    Came for the Pat Benatar reference; leaving satisfied.

  • Cincinnatus

    Came for the Pat Benatar reference; leaving satisfied.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Cincinnatus (@9), I’ll be here all week. Make sure to tip your server.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Cincinnatus (@9), I’ll be here all week. Make sure to tip your server.

  • nowafonseca

    Nihilism? well, since it’s illegal to force sterilizations, this depraved point of view might be bred out by the birth of our children who enjoy their ice-cream cones and hugs.

    @Tom Hering I’m with you. Glad secular society can at least admit humans are what’s wrong with humans. A starting point at last!

  • nowafonseca

    Nihilism? well, since it’s illegal to force sterilizations, this depraved point of view might be bred out by the birth of our children who enjoy their ice-cream cones and hugs.

    @Tom Hering I’m with you. Glad secular society can at least admit humans are what’s wrong with humans. A starting point at last!

  • steve

    Nice, tODD.

  • steve

    Nice, tODD.

  • steve

    What is Singer’s basis for knowing that we’re suffering? What is Benatar’s basis for claiming something is either satisfying or, even more vaguely, insufficiently satisfying? Where’s the baseline? Is the state of suffering completely self-evident in the absence of any other state? Suffering, it seems to me, is entirely relative. People can, and do often, endure much without ever thinking about it. We adapt to our surroundings. We adapt to “pain”, sometimes without realizing it. What I’m saying is that we only know what suffering is when we know what suffering is not.

    Conversely, we only know what things are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy because we know, we see, and we experience what things are not. One can’t remove the knowledge and experience of suffering without also removing the knowledge and experience of what is not.

  • steve

    What is Singer’s basis for knowing that we’re suffering? What is Benatar’s basis for claiming something is either satisfying or, even more vaguely, insufficiently satisfying? Where’s the baseline? Is the state of suffering completely self-evident in the absence of any other state? Suffering, it seems to me, is entirely relative. People can, and do often, endure much without ever thinking about it. We adapt to our surroundings. We adapt to “pain”, sometimes without realizing it. What I’m saying is that we only know what suffering is when we know what suffering is not.

    Conversely, we only know what things are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy because we know, we see, and we experience what things are not. One can’t remove the knowledge and experience of suffering without also removing the knowledge and experience of what is not.

  • helen

    “A THOUGHT FOR TODAY:
    For sleep, riches and health to be truly enjoyed, they must be interrupted.” –Jean Paul Richter, writer (1763-1825)
    [borrowed from 'A Word a Day']

    Catherine, most of us play the hand we’re dealt, not knowing what we have inherited until we’ve passed it on to another generation. I’m sorry that your particular cards are so excruciating but I hope there has been some alleviation of that! Some have turned their intimate knowledge of personal hardship into a large heart for other people’s misfortunes. They’ve “been there” in ways that the ‘silver spoon’ people can’t imagine.

    Which is not to say that you are insulated from all misfortune by enough money….
    But as the high school joke ran back in our really penniless days,
    “Money can’t buy happiness, but I could surely be unhappy in more comfortable surroundings!”

  • helen

    “A THOUGHT FOR TODAY:
    For sleep, riches and health to be truly enjoyed, they must be interrupted.” –Jean Paul Richter, writer (1763-1825)
    [borrowed from 'A Word a Day']

    Catherine, most of us play the hand we’re dealt, not knowing what we have inherited until we’ve passed it on to another generation. I’m sorry that your particular cards are so excruciating but I hope there has been some alleviation of that! Some have turned their intimate knowledge of personal hardship into a large heart for other people’s misfortunes. They’ve “been there” in ways that the ‘silver spoon’ people can’t imagine.

    Which is not to say that you are insulated from all misfortune by enough money….
    But as the high school joke ran back in our really penniless days,
    “Money can’t buy happiness, but I could surely be unhappy in more comfortable surroundings!”

  • http://mikeerich.blogspot.com Mike Erich The Mad Theologian

    This whole post reminds me of my own experiences as an agnostic in which I felt myself moving toward the same sort of conclusion. If there is no God and we are just an accident of the universe with no significance, this is not a conclusion that can be easily dismissed. If life has no higher meaning than naturalistic philosophy gives to it, is it worth having?

  • http://mikeerich.blogspot.com Mike Erich The Mad Theologian

    This whole post reminds me of my own experiences as an agnostic in which I felt myself moving toward the same sort of conclusion. If there is no God and we are just an accident of the universe with no significance, this is not a conclusion that can be easily dismissed. If life has no higher meaning than naturalistic philosophy gives to it, is it worth having?

  • Dennis Peskey

    [Note: Mr. Singer has three children (females) and three grandchildren; see: http://www.thelifeyoucansave.com/author

    I guess this is the summer of reruns (kudos to tODD #6). The argument being presented is but an expansion of the Josephus argument, i.e. tis better to die than live in slavery(insert favorite condition, albeit unbased, here)”.

    The problem then is the same as the problem now – Josephus was the only one not to follow his advice – he choose life as a Roman slave (and prospered quite nicely). His followers did not fare quite as well having all committed suicide (ya, I know – not self-inflicted – but they all did die.)

    The fallacy of Benatar and Singer’s argument is its’ very existence – theirs! While they love to preach this rubbish to the choir – they really do not enjoy the music nor lyrics. This reminds me of Michigan’s pariah Dr. Death (aka Kevorkian) who was more than willing to assist in terminating other human’s lives, but when confronted with a life sentence in the penitentiary did not practice what he preached.
    Pax,
    Dennis

  • Dennis Peskey

    [Note: Mr. Singer has three children (females) and three grandchildren; see: http://www.thelifeyoucansave.com/author

    I guess this is the summer of reruns (kudos to tODD #6). The argument being presented is but an expansion of the Josephus argument, i.e. tis better to die than live in slavery(insert favorite condition, albeit unbased, here)”.

    The problem then is the same as the problem now – Josephus was the only one not to follow his advice – he choose life as a Roman slave (and prospered quite nicely). His followers did not fare quite as well having all committed suicide (ya, I know – not self-inflicted – but they all did die.)

    The fallacy of Benatar and Singer’s argument is its’ very existence – theirs! While they love to preach this rubbish to the choir – they really do not enjoy the music nor lyrics. This reminds me of Michigan’s pariah Dr. Death (aka Kevorkian) who was more than willing to assist in terminating other human’s lives, but when confronted with a life sentence in the penitentiary did not practice what he preached.
    Pax,
    Dennis

  • fws

    The world survived doubleknit polyester leasure suites.

    And think of all the carnage to this transitory fad wrecked upon those big eyed cute polyesters being beaten with clubs …

    We will get through things.

  • fws

    The world survived doubleknit polyester leasure suites.

    And think of all the carnage to this transitory fad wrecked upon those big eyed cute polyesters being beaten with clubs …

    We will get through things.


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