This post is a response to another post by Tremblay defending Antinatalism, Benatar’s Asymmetry . In the post Bentar summarises and defends an argument in Better Never to Have Been by David Benatar. The summary of the argument is:
“(1) If a person exists, then eir pain is a bad thing.
(2) If a person exists, then eir pleasure is a good thing.
(3) What does not exist cannot suffer (therefore this non-existing pain is a good thing).
(4) What does not exist cannot be deprived of any pleasure (therefore this non-existing pleasure is not a bad thing).”
Due to the asymmetry between 3 and 4, Benatar and Tremblay argue that creating new people is bad.
This asymmetry seems incorrect to me, the logic that seems to be behind 3 and 4 does not seem consistent.
Tremblay writes: “[people who reject (4)]argue that to not start new lives is a deprivation of pleasure. But for whom is this a deprivation? It cannot be a deprivation to the non-existent, since that which cannot exist cannot be deprived. Is it a deprivation to the parent, or to humanity? ”
But isn’t this argument also an argument against (3)? If non existence isn’t deprivation for a person that would experience suffering. how can non existence be salvation for a person who would experience pain?
Tremblay writes: “We can imagine that the world might contain 12 billion people. That’s a whole 5 billion people that do not actually exist. And yet no one is mourning the loss of pleasure of these 5 billion imaginary people. A mother may regret that an expected child was stillborn, but the person whose death she regrets exists solely in her imagination. That which does not exist cannot be a person, or anything else.”
But what if circumstances were such that the mother didn’t want the child to be born because she knew it would person who would experience immense suffering (maybe she is trapped in a forced labour camp) and so is very relieved that the baby is still born? Is this irrational because ” the person whose death she [celebrates] exists solely in her imagination” ?
Here is the way I think about it. I have a choice to either create Person A or not create them. If I create A and they are happy, that is good, if I create A and they suffer that is bad. If I don’t create A and they would have suffered if I had created them than that is good. And if I don’t create A and they would have been happy, this is bad.
This is because of the opportunity cost of the choice to create A. The opportunity cost of a choice is the value of the highest value option that you didn’t choose. So if I don’t create A the opportunity cost is the value of A existing and being happy. Because I value that more than the option if they don’t exist I should choose to create them.
To illustrate my point further imagine a Paperclip Maximiser, a super intelligent AI that’s terminal value is to create paperclips. But this is a special paperclip maximiser, it values the creation of red paperclips but disvalues the creation of all paperclips of other colours. For simplicities sake, let’s say these values and disvalues are even, so it cares about creating one red paperclip the same amount as preventing one red paperclip from being created.
So if this Paperclip Maximiser was given a process that creates paperclips, but it wasn’t sure whether it made red paperclips or blue paperclips, would it also feel there was an asymmetry in the different possible outcomes? It seems clear that it wouldn’t. The Paperclip Maximiser only wants to increase the amount of red paperclips and minimise the amount of non red paperclips. it would view a situation where a red paperclip could have been created but wasn’t analogous to (4) as bad.
Now just to clarify my opinion, I reject (4) not because I think that nonexistent babies are floating around in nonexistent space and being deprived of pleasure. it is because I value a universe with a happy person in it more than a universe without one all other things being equal. Just like the Paperclip Maximiser values a universe with a red paperclip more than one which doesn’t have a red paperclip, all other things being equal. So I disagree with the ” therefore this non-existing pleasure is not a bad thing) ” part of (4).
Tremblay has made another post defending Benatar’s argument Clearing out confusion about Benatar’s Asymmetry. The post rephrases some content from the original, the first argument in the second post that s not in the first is that ” (4) cannot be worse than (2) because pleasure in fulfilment of a need is not any better than the absence of need in the first place. ” Tremblay appears to be saying that pleasure/happiness is of the same value as the non existence of the person experiencing that pleasure/happiness. This may be what Tremblay values (although in a comment in part 2 of this series he told me he agree with the statement “happiness is good,” maybe he meant only for people who already exist?) but I value someone existing in a state of happiness more than someone non existing, and if I could choose I would choose the former, all other things being equal.