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

3.93  ·  Rating details ·  1,203 ratings  ·  181 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
Hardcover, 237 pages
Published October 19th 2006 by Oxford University Press, USA (first published 2006)
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Average rating 3.93  · 
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 ·  1,203 ratings  ·  181 reviews


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Steven Phillips
Dec 21, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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. ...more
Augusts Bautra
Apr 11, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
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
Forn
Oct 15, 2012 marked it as to-read
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. ...more
Brett Talley
Nov 22, 2011 rated it did not like it
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
B
Nov 11, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Sep 07, 2013 rated it liked it
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
William
This book by David Benatar, an emergent figure for a developing antinatal moral theory, attempts to procure some framework based around a few controversial, but simultaneously attractive theses. Essentially, in each chapter, Benatar provides argumentation accompanied by corresponding systems and diagrams, he then assesses logical consequences that appear in further chapters and any conclusions and grievances which may arise from his work. All of this work is, of course, predicated on what initia ...more
Sarah Shaheen
Nov 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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
Lea
Aug 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
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.
...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
Dec 08, 2012 rated it liked it
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
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.
...more
Jeremy
Sep 15, 2010 rated it liked it
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
Ryan McCarthy
Aug 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
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.
...more
Leo Robertson
Aug 13, 2020 rated it liked it
I was unconvinced from the very beginning. Which isn’t to say I had a closed mind to these ideas, but I knew that, whether I was swayed, the conclusion on how I should live would be exactly the same anyway: minimise harm where possible, enjoy life when possible, maximise meaning when possible, and don’t have any damn kids.

So I went into this possibly depressing book quite breezily aware that its conclusions, no matter how plausible, would be pretty trivial where my own life was concerned. And I
...more
Andy
Jun 12, 2015 rated it really liked it

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
Jeff
Oct 14, 2019 rated it did not like it
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
Yousra
“The story so far:
In the beginning the Universe was created.
This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move.”

― Douglas Adams, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe




You’re probably thinking about picking this book up for one of those reasons:

1. You agree with the author that existence is pointless and life sucks and
you would love to just feel the comfort of knowing someone thinks the same as you.
2. You agree with the author that existence is pointless and
...more
Sarah
Jul 22, 2010 rated it it was ok
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
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
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."
...more
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. ...more
Mitch Grady
Mar 12, 2017 rated it did not like it
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
This is a creepy fucking book.
Ronald Lett
Oct 27, 2019 rated it did not like it
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
Andy McKenzie
Jun 13, 2012 rated it it was ok
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
s
Feb 23, 2009 rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: NO ONE, EVER
Shelves: nonsense, rubbish
this is a remarkably childish and stupid book. better to have never been written. (seriously though)
Cody Sexton
Jun 05, 2016 rated it it was ok
What moral obligations could we possibly have to people who do not yet exist?
David Benatar seems to think a lot. But I myself don’t find his moral arguments against procreation very compelling. His arguments are too utilitarian. His solutions only solve problems by way of eliminating the people who the problems are for. It’s a philosophy that sets out to solve a problem and ends with the destruction of the world as the solution. I guess technically we could “cure” cancer by killing the patient,
...more
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David Benatar (born 1966) is a South African philosopher, academic and author. He is best known for his advocacy of antinatalism in his book Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming into Existence, in which he argues that coming into existence is a serious harm, regardless of the feelings of the existing being once brought into existence, and that, as a consequence, it is always morally wrong ...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.” 119 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.” 76 likes
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