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

And now an atheist college

So how will this be different from regular colleges?

Famed atheist Richard Dawkins will be among a group of British academic elites who will launch a new college that will rival top British universities like Oxford.

The New College of the Humanities in central London will offer degrees in English, philosophy, history, economics and law starting from fall 2012.

The private college is founded by 14 professors. Richard Dawkins, author of the bestseller The God Delusion, will teach evolutionary biology and a required course on science literacy.

Other academics include historians Sir David Cannadine and Niall Ferguson, former Oxford professor of poetry Sir Christopher Ricks and psychologist Steven Pinker.

AC Grayling, a well-known British humanist and atheist, will serve as the college’s first master. He is the author of The Good Book: The Humanist Bible, a manifesto for secular humanists that was published in March 2011.

“Our priorities at the college will be excellent teaching quality, excellent ratios of teachers to students, and a strongly supportive and responsive learning environment,” said Grayling.

“Our students will be challenged to develop as skilled, informed and reflective thinkers, and will receive an education to match that aspiration.”

Creators of the new institution say it offers a “new concept” in university education.

Students at New College will take core courses in three areas: Science Literacy, Logic and Critical Thinking, and Applied Ethics. In addition to receiving an undergraduate degree in their area of study, students will be granted a Diploma of New College.

via Atheist Richard Dawkins Helps Launch New Humanities College in London, Christian News.

It appears from the website that the college will be affiliated with the University of London.  I don’t see an atheist version of a statement of faith or any reference to an ideological agenda.  But check out the faculty.  Peter Singer will teach the Applied Ethics course!   The faculty is exceedingly thin–one literature professor and they will offer an English major?  I don’t see how they could pass an American accreditation visit, let alone “rival” Oxford, which, while currently hospitable to atheists, at least has a bigger view of the humanities than is evident here.  An atheist version of the humanities would leave out just about every great writer, artist, and thinker.

Party our way to extinction

Ethicist Peter Singer–he who believes in the killing of the handicapped and unwanted but born children but not animals–takes up the question of whether living is worth it.  He is reviewing, in the New York Times, a book by  philosopher David Benatar entitled Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming into Existence.

Benatar . . . 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!

Of course, it would be impossible to get agreement on universal sterilization, but just imagine that we could. Then is there anything wrong with this scenario? Even if we take a less pessimistic view of human existence than Benatar, we could still defend it, because it makes us better off — for one thing, we can get rid of all that guilt about what we are doing to future generations — and it doesn’t make anyone worse off, because there won’t be anyone else to be worse off.

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? – Opinionator Blog – NYTimes.com.

We have “unfulfilled desires”; therefore, it is better not to exist.  Notice how quickly contemporary thought turns nihilistic.  And notice how those who believe it can no longer even sustain  the ordinary joys and pleasures of living.


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