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Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming into Existence

3.91  ·  Rating details ·  986 ratings  ·  152 reviews
Better Never to Have Been argues for a number of related, highly provocative, views: (1) Coming into existence is always a serious harm. (2) It is always wrong to have children. (3) It is wrong not to abort fetuses at the earlier stages of gestation. (4) It would be better if, as a result of there being no new people, humanity became extinct. These views may sound unbeliev ...more
Kindle Edition, 250 pages
Published October 19th 2006 by Oxford University Press (first published 2006)
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Average rating 3.91  · 
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 ·  986 ratings  ·  152 reviews


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Steven Phillips
My girlfriend was on the fence about having an abortion so I picked up a copy of this here shit right here, had her read it and VOILA! Fetus Deletus! This shit is magic and I recommend all sexually active males retain a copy!
Erroll Treslan
Seldom will you find a philosopher who can write this well for laypersons with the courage to advance such a counterintuitive thesis. While people may find Benatar's conclusion repugnant (i.e. coming into existence is always a harm and extinction of the human race should be desired end), it is exceedingly difficult to find any flaw in his logic. This is a great piece of work and philosphically sound. While it may have been better that Benatar had never been, I am sure glad that he is being.
Augusts Bautra
Apr 11, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Mr. Benatar sticks it out alone. In the face of religion and base natural drives he argues that there is nothing intrinsically good about procreation. He goes even further than that and, striking repulsion in the faces most potential and actual parents, denouncing them as "playing Russian roulette with a fully loaded gun—aimed, of course, not at their own heads, but at those of their future offspring".

The book is not without it's problems, of course. If the topic does not scare off most of the r
...more
Steve
May 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A roommate in college commented he found me quite boring when philosophizing, which may be universally true; with that disclaimer, and with the deepest of breaths, I’ve attempted to compile succinctly my thoughts on what I believe to be the most important work I’ve read in a long, long time. While his book is not revolutionary, anti-natalist thought has been with us for some while, Professor Benatar has summoned the courage to (a) present the case for anti-natalism with unabashed, focused energy ...more
B
Nov 11, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Better Never to Have Been is a tremendous philosophical work dealing with antinatalism. In it, David Benatar argues for that which no one has the courage to argue for: That coming into existence is always a harm and that sometimes life may not only not be worth starting but also not worth continuing. The book is very well written and extremely clear. You can tell that Benatar really went out of his way to make sure this was an accessible book to everyone. His case is purely logical and you won't ...more
Rory Švarc
As noted on the blurb of this book, Benatar defends a view that 'almost no one accepts': coming into existence is always a serious harm. Indeed, though he doesn't state it in these terms, his conclusions hold not just for the actual world, but also entail that, for any logically possible world, coming into existence is at best morally neutral.

These ideas are based off a commitment to an asymmetry between pleasure and pain. This is the thought that, although it is wrong to bring into existence a
...more
Forn
Oct 15, 2012 marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Haven't read it, and I don't know if I will, but I'm happy to have found that there are actually other people along the same line of thinking as mine.
Brett Talley
Nov 22, 2011 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: no one
Eh. *shrugs shoulders* Shock jock philosophy that fails to be all that shocking. Like a trip to the latest exploitation flick where we find out that we've seen it all before. Did I read every word? No need. As is typical with this type of "philosophy," Mr. Benatar lays out his premise and then spends the rest of the book repeating it, over and over and over. Does he really believe what he writes? Who knows?

It is sad that modern philosophy has fallen so deeply into the nihilism abyss that we lit
...more
Sarah Shaheen
Nov 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favourites
What's peculiar is that I thought the kernel of Benatar's case against existence to be axiomatic. An asymmetry in judging the (bad) in states of existence and non-existence. The bad being suffering, illness, and human condition variety. The existent is benefited from the good in life, and adversities decrease the quality of life. The non existent isn't affected by deprivation of the good, yet is benefited from avoiding pain, even though there is no one to experience either.

I dismissed my initia
...more
Benjamin
Jan 11, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An absolute must-read for anyone considering having children, either voluntarily or under duress, and for all those who are childless by choice who need to know that they are not alone. Enjoy!
Mooncalf
There are a couple of times in this book when Benatar just asserts some point that he has not argued for earlier in the book. One example of this is his claim that after a certain amount of pain no amount of pleasure can make a life worthwhile. This seems quite wrong.

He argues that because of the non identity problem coming into existence is always a bad thing. This might be a problem for deontologists, but definitely not for consequentialists.

He talks about how the polyanna principle makes us b
...more
Lea
This is a really thought-provoking book and I agree with its main take away: that procreation is immoral. However, I find some of the arguments a bit sloppy, mainly regarding his position that each and every life is not worth starting because it contains suffering.

Edit:

As I keep re-reading bits and pieces of this and flipping through the pages for my MA thesis, I am always so grateful for Benatar's writing style. It's straight-forward and to the point.
Karl Steel
needs more phenomenology. we don't live our lives all at once. for this reason, the balance-sheet method to calculating whether existence is a good or an ill doesn't work.

that said, there's almost no good reason to bring another human being into existence. on that point, he and I agree.
Jeremy
Sep 15, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: philosophy
A fascinating book that stakes out a well-argued if quite unusual position - that given the suffering of human existence (which is bad) and the fact the a non-existent being does not regret missing out on pleasure, it is better not to come into existence. The author is careful to draw a distinction between coming into existence (through being born) and ceasing to exist (via suicide for example.) He is arguing against giving birth to new children, not in favor of suicide. In the course of making ...more
Peter (Pete) Mcloughlin
The author argues with Utilitarian arguments that it is better to have not been born and coming into existence constitutes a harm. I studied physics as an undergrad and sometimes your model gives absurd answers because our reality is truly bizarre and sometimes it gives absurd answers merely because your model is wrong for that range of phenomena. I think a misapplication of the model of utilitarianism is the heart of the problem. Utilitarian calculus is great at figuring in places like public p ...more
Andy
Jun 12, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

I found this book after reading Thomas Ligotti's "The Conspiracy Against the Human Race." This is a far more philosophical, dry text. Ligotti is focused on the "nightmare of being" and the human condition with a focus on the "curse" of consciousness and it's relation to horror fiction in particular. Benatar is more focused on the traditional anti-natalist viewpoint.

I thought this was a rigorously and deftly-argued book, and while Benatar realizes he isn't likely to change many minds, he feels he
...more
Mary Slowik
No less essential than The Conspiracy Against the Human Race, this book lays out a broad, powerful argument against any further procreation on the basis of harm done. Admittedly counterintuitive (like other facts of life), the central, pro-death, extinction-embracing thesis is actually the most philanthropic route. The sooner human suffering ends altogether, the better. That said, my personal bias on the subject didn't blind me to flaws in this book, such as the almost immediate descent into psy ...more
yyy
Apr 17, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great quote:

"Some know that their baby will be among the unfortunate. Nobody knows, however, that their baby will be one of the allegedly lucky few. Great suffering could await any person that is brought into existence. Even the most privileged people could give birth to a child that will suffer unbearably, be raped, assaulted, or be murdered brutally."
Redag
Dec 30, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Required reading for folks who believe that procreation is justified. You don't need to be convinced by Benatar's arguments, but you should have tested yourself against them before taking up the awesome potential for harm that comes with procreation.
Sarah
Jul 22, 2010 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
There are some interesting arguments in this book about the rationality of continuing to create more people, but everything hinges on the idea that to exist is to be harmed. It seems that because it is unavoidable that we will occasionally be hungry or a little cold or that sometimes people are murdered, we would all be better off never experiencing anything at all. That seems a bit extreme and subjective to me, and I was never fully convinced of the premise but it was enlightening to follow the ...more
Mitch Grady
Mar 12, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Early on, he dismisses with the wave of the hand what is easily the biggest problem for his thesis: what, exactly, is the ontological status of these objects that are better off for never having been?
David M
Dec 07, 2017 marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
This is a creepy fucking book.
Ryan McCarthy
Aug 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
There is only one really serious philosophical problem, and that is reproduction.

Seriously one of the top three most important pieces of philosophy I've ever read.
Stephen Douglas Rowland
Good lord this is a difficult read, far more scholarly than The Human Predicament: A Candid Guide to Life's Biggest Questions and almost purely focused on antinatalist arguments. I barely finished high school, and I've never had much interest in philosophy, so the way everything was presented here was new and challenging for me. I cannot help but marvel, slack-jawed, at the way Benatar's mind works, anticipating his detractors' counter-arguments and crushing them almost before they can be made. ...more
Andy McKenzie
A bit egocentric in its presentation--all about "his views"--although maybe that is typical for philosophy. I want to stress that the 1.5/5 rating is not for the topic itself, which I think is fascinating and worth considering, in appropriate settings, but rather for the actual logic. The outright refusal to make harm/benefit trade-offs, even in theory, is just a non-starter for almost anybody who thinks about this issue. Also it got a bit technical and terminology-heavy at times, which at least ...more
Jeff
Oct 14, 2019 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Antinatalists
Updates added March 2020 begin with the title below.

I give up. I could only be bothered to read the first three chapters, in which Benatar (1) maps out the book, (2) attempts to show why coming into existence is always a harm to the person brought into existence and (3) attempts to show how bad existence is. I also read the conclusion chapter. Then i attempted to reread chapters 2 and 3 so that i could write down my objections to, counter-arguments to, or criticisms of Benatar's claims. But
...more
Clorisu
Benatar's essential argument hinges on the following premises:
"() the presence of pain is bad,
and that
() the presence of pleasure is good.
However, such a symmetrical evaluation does not seem to apply
to the absence of pain and pleasure, for it strikes me as true that
() the absence of pain is good, even if that good is not enjoyed
by anyone,
whereas
() the absence of pleasure is not bad unless there is somebody
for whom this absence is a deprivation."

I agree with premises 1 and 2, but I'm not sure
...more
Shelley
Oct 07, 2016 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: childfree, philosophy
I am the kind of person who was likely to be receptive to Benatar's book. I have always known I never wanted children, got voluntarily sterilized at age 21, and at age 60 have never regretted that decision.

I believe that very few people are suited to become parents and also believe that anyone who wants to bring children into the world should be required to have years of education, as well as be required to do continuing education courses during pregnancy and for 18 years after the child is bor
...more
Basma Abdallah Uraiqat
This book offers an extremely interesting perspective and one of the most controversial books that I have ever read. The writer is extremely brave in his ideas and this attempt at publishing them. It can be very offensive to most people yet though provoking if one is able to tolerate such an extreme stand on issues of existence and procreation.

However, as the ideas themselves are intriguing at the least, the adopted philosophical method I believe did not do the writer much favor. He has employed
...more
Ronald Lett
Oct 27, 2019 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: philosophy
I guess I am not this book's target audience. I agree with the author's conclusion somewhat, so I was quite prepared to enjoy this book, but it contained nothing of interest. The entire first chapter was spent telling the reader what the author was going to do in the rest of the book. The rest of the chapters were filled with thought experiments to justify the author's opinions. This would have been okay if the experiments were interesting. They were not. At no point are any empirical cases refe ...more
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“It is curious that while good people go to great lengths to spare their children from suffering, few of them seem to notice that the one (and only) guaranteed way to prevent all the suffering of their children is not to bring those children into existence in the first place.” 111 likes
“Creating new people, by having babies, is so much a part of human life that it is rarely thought even to require a justification. Indeed, most people do not even think about whether they should or should not make a baby. They just make one. In other words, procreation is usually the consequence of sex rather than the result of a decision to bring people into existence. Those who do indeed decide to have a child might do so for any number of reasons, but among these reasons cannot be the interests of the potential child. One can never have a child for that child’s sake.” 68 likes
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