Benatar’s asymmetry.

Antinatalism was given a huge boost by David Benatar’s book Better Never to Have Been. For the first time someone cogently and logically laid down the arguments against procreation in a way that can’t fail to give anyone pause. The asymmetry he contends exists between pleasure and pain is the fundamental claim of his book, upon which everything else, to a large extent, rests. I find that people don’t always understand it when I explain it as an aside, so I decided I might as well write a whole entry about it.

The asymmetry is illustrated by Benatar in this manner:

And he reviews it as such:

It is uncontroversial to say that
1)The presence of pain is bad
and that
2)The presence of pleasure is good

However, such symmetrical evaluation does not seem to apply to the absence of pain and pleasure, for it strikes me as true that

3)The absence of pain is good even if that good is not enjoyed by anyone,
whereas
4)The absence of pleasure is not bad unless there is somebody for whom that absence is a deprivation.

This is a little obtuse, so let me rephrase it in a simpler manner:

(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).

The end result is that there is a clear asymmetry between pleasure and pain, because of (4).

What evidence do we have that these premises are valid? (1) and (2) are fairly self-evident; humans wish to experience pleasure and to evade pain. For us moral agents, pain is bad, pleasure is good (if you don’t like good and bad, then use desirable and undesirable).

(3) and (4) can also be easily understood if one does not fall into the “non-existing person” trap. Using the term, I think, confuses people because, even with the adjective “non-existing,” the mind is drawn to imagining a person. This is why I wrote “what does not exist” (Benatar’s formulation is more rigorous but harder to follow).

One thing we do know about what does not exist is that it cannot experience anything, because only that which exists can have experiences. So that which does not exist cannot feel pleasure or pain, neither can it be feel deprived at the pleasure it could be missing or suffer from the pain it cannot receive. No matter how many ice creams you list, there is no non-existing thing out there suffering from being deprived of them.

As for those of you who believe the argument is pointless because we cannot speak meaningfully about what does not exist, I’ve already debunked that position in my entry on the Non-Identity Problem.

Before I continue, I want to address an objection I’ve heard before about (1). It could be argued that pain is not always bad, that we sometimes seek out pain for a higher good (such as going to the dentist). But this is a misunderstanding of the situation. It is not the pain that we seek but the higher good; if that higher good could be obtained without the pain, we would choose that option instead. If your two options going into a long and painful operation is to bite a literal bullet or get anesthetized, which would you choose? Unless you are an inveterate masochist, the pain of the operation is not what you seek.

The consequence of the asymmetry is, I hope, obvious: a hypothetical person’s non-existence is more desirable (or better) than an actual person’s existence. When we bring a new person into the world, we create a situation which is worse than the one where this person was not brought into the world. It is bad to procreate.

Beyond the objection to (1) which I addressed above, usually people try to reject the asymmetry by rejecting (4). They 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?

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.

At any rate, the fact that another person may feel deprived of the child’s non-existence does not affect the argument, which pertains to either a person’s existence or an alternative state of affairs in which this person does not exist. The fact that a parent might feel sorrow about an imaginary person is regrettable but there’s little we can do about imaginary sorrows.

Besides that, what if we reject (4)? This is where the real problems come in. If we reject (4), that means we posit that what does not exist can be deprived of pleasure. This means there is some space-fetus (or similar non-existing-and-yet-experiencing paradoxical creature) out there feeling the pain of not being able to taste ice cream, just waiting to be born in some woman’s uterus. And if this is the case, then we have an ethical duty to start as many new lives as possible. By that standard, only the Duggars are not avatars of pure evil.

Not only is this a claim that no one would be ever ready to make, but it is also paradoxical. To claim that women must be enslaved to their reproductive faculties nonstop is to use women as a means to an end, which is clearly evil (a similar sort of argument could be made against anti-abortion or pro-PIV advocates).

It can be said that antinatalism is unacceptable for many people. However, I think the consequence of rejecting (4) is just as unacceptable. The difference is that there’s no clear reason for rejecting the asymmetry, but there are clear logical and ethical reasons to reject any position which rejects (4).

What people who reject (4) really want you to believe is that having children is not bad, that it’s fulfilling some good. They don’t want you to draw the logical conclusion that rejecting (4) means that not having children is evil. They want to justify voluntaryism by making having children be equally ethical to not having children. But if (4) is false, and what does not exist is deprived and suffers from a lack of procreation, then not having children becomes the equivalent of deliberately starving children.

The natalists’ intuition is based, I think, on the false premise that starting new lives brings good with it because it creates pleasure. But this fact is only relevant if what does not exist is somehow deprived of pleasure; otherwise, creating pleasure does not make the universe a better place.

I think some people may still miss the point about absence of deprivation, so let me try to make an analogy to explain it more simply. Suppose Sober has no desire for alcohol whatsoever (because ey does not drink any alcohol, doesn’t use it for any other purpose, and has no need for the money ey’d get if ey sold it). In such a case, giving Sober a bottle of wine may appear to you to be a positive for Sober (since you gave em something), but to Sober this would not be an improvement, since Sober never feels any deprivation towards alcohol. All that’s been added is a net negative, since Sober now has to dispose of the bottle without offending you.

Obviously the analogy is not perfect (for instance, Sober actually exists in this hypothetical), but I hope my point is clear: an inability to be deprived entails the impossibility of improvement.

One may ask, why should we care about the asymmetry, anyway? People will have children or not have children regardless of ethical considerations. But people do consider ethical considerations when having children (just very stupid and stunted ones), while they disagree on what values should be instantiated.

What I am saying is that we should convince others that not creating suffering is a good value to instantiate, a better value than the very flimsy ones proposed as a support for reproduction. It’s stupid to want to propagate “your” genes (which are not “yours” to begin with), it’s stupid to want to continue the “bloodline” (another fantasy concept), it’s stupid to be irrationally scared of abortion (as much as it’s stupid to be irrationally scared of an appendectomy), and it’s not stupid to not want to create suffering.

My contention is that rejecting the asymmetry is far more absurd than accepting it. Two premises must be true for us to get to antinatalism:

1. Accepting that the asymmetry is true.
2. Accepting the principle that creating harm is bad.

Again, rejecting the asymmetry leads us to the conclusion that we must have as many children as possible, a conclusion which few would accept. Rejecting the principle that creating harm is bad leads us either to moral nihilism or to anomie, again conclusions which few would accept. I think it should be intuitively obvious to most people that antinatalism is less illogical or absurd than either conclusion. Certainly few people like the idea of human extinction, but it is still more desirable than procreation at all costs or a society in a state of total anomie.

56 thoughts on “Benatar’s asymmetry.

  1. anyasok February 12, 2013 at 23:58 Reply

    Excellent post Francois. Benatar’s position and the superiority of the antinatalist position were very well explained in a language that is easily accessible to everyone.

    I will reference this post in the future :)

  2. […] have previously written an entry about Benatar’s Asymmetry, an antinatalist argument which seeks to prove that procreation is […]

  3. Michael July 11, 2013 at 01:21 Reply

    Hi! I have been reading up on Benatars book lately. The asymmetry seems true. Your entry was very helpfull. However, I’d like to clarify Benatar want ro resist the question about assigning values to the quadrants (+, -, 0) because it is the wrong question to ask. The value assigments in the figure confused me a bit. The text is very clear. However, people tend to focus on the figure.

    The whole point is that (2) is good for a person in scenario A but does not constitute an advantage over X never exists in scenario B. By assigning positive charge to (2) and a ‘0’ to (4), it is suggested that (2) is an advantage over (4), but it quite clearly is not. “Now it might be asked what the correct value assigments are, but I want to resist that question because it is wrong one to ask” says Benatar (p 48).

    So I don’t think you are not entirely correct when you say “the asymmetry is illustrated by Benatar in this manner” figure 2.4 (p 46). The figure 2.1. (p 38) shows the true asymetry without value assignments.

    • Francois Tremblay July 11, 2013 at 01:36 Reply

      Yea, I agree with you, but I think that’s just an error by Benatar. On page 46 he analyzes this graph as if it was in line with his argument.

  4. pavel July 22, 2013 at 05:25 Reply

    Each individual has a certain balance. How this balance will *ultimately* turn out to be is what really matters. It’s the result of: X (amount of pleasure) – Y (amount of pain), over one’s *entire* existence. But since we can’t know or control this result, the anti-natalist argument should be based solely in preventing even a single potential negative result. A potential [infinite positive results + one negative result] is worse than no results at all.
    That’s why Benatar’s asymmetry is flawed. Pain and pleasure shouldn’t be treated separately…

    • Francois Tremblay July 22, 2013 at 13:16 Reply

      The problem with your objection is that pleasure and pain do not actually cancel each other out. We experience each in a separate, distinct manner, and there are harms so great that pleasure does not alleviate them (and vice-versa).

  5. pavel July 22, 2013 at 14:31 Reply

    I don’t quite understand your objection to mine. Are you saying that’s impossible/wrong to do arithmetics with pain and pleasure? If so, why? If not, then this the way to show the asymmetry. All is needed is to replace in Benatar’s asymmetry pain with “ultimate negative result” and pleasure with “ultimate positive result”. Without this refinement the asymmetry doesn’t make sense… Hypothetically all humans can experience pain, but in the end the pleasure to prevail (what if all go to heaven after death? this is just as a thought experiment).

    • Francois Tremblay July 23, 2013 at 00:11 Reply

      “Are you saying that’s impossible/wrong to do arithmetics with pain and pleasure?”

      Yes.

      “If so, why?”

      Because pleasure and pain are not things that cancel each other out. We experience them as separate experiences. And as previously mentioned, there are harms so great that pleasure does not alleviate them (and vice-versa).

      Even if it did, it wouldn’t refute the Asymmetry because it doesn’t change the Asymmetry in any way. The state with non-existence of person P is still better when you compare it to the state with existence of person P. Why do you think your canceling out changes anything?

  6. pavel July 23, 2013 at 04:03 Reply

    If you’re saying that “there are harms so great that pleasure does not alleviate them (and vice-versa)” why isn’t that the same as my arithmetic? We don’t seek the pain we receive after an accident. But depending on the gravity of the accident that pain can be cancelled by the healing. Or enduring for some years diseases, emotional distress etc. can be outweigh by an hypothetical eternal life in paradise… why aren’t those valid arithmetics with pain and pleasure? But since nobody knows (or can control) what the ultimate outcome for each individual will be, basing the antinatalist argument solely on pain vs pleasure is pointless. The antinatalist argument should be about preventing potential negative outcome, should consider the sum of pains and pleasures during one’s *entire* existence.

    • Francois Tremblay July 23, 2013 at 04:09 Reply

      Again, how does that change anything in the Asymmetry? Stop blabbering and answer the question.

  7. pavel July 23, 2013 at 04:24 Reply

    The way the asymmetry stands now is pointless. The asymmetry is still there but needs redefining as I pointed out.

    • Francois Tremblay July 23, 2013 at 13:25 Reply

      For a reason you are apparently utterly unable to defend or even explain.

  8. pavel July 23, 2013 at 14:27 Reply

    If I were a natalist I would reject separation of pain and pleasure. You would have to argue for the validity of such separation. Because what matters is how one feels (ultimately) after experiencing both. It’s (1)+(2) vs (3)+(4) ? vs ?. Pointless.

    • Francois Tremblay July 23, 2013 at 14:41 Reply

      Are you just gonna keep whining or are you actually going to argue the Asymmetry?

  9. pavel July 23, 2013 at 14:52 Reply

    No whining. Invalid separation of pain and pleasure, thus invalid asymmetry. Bye.

    • Francois Tremblay July 23, 2013 at 17:47 Reply

      You haven’t explained how this invalidates the Asymmetry, no. The comparison between the two states is still the same. You’re fucking wasting my time.

  10. pavel July 25, 2013 at 14:21 Reply

    If you’re interested I made a thread “Benatar’s Asymmetry revised” on philosophyforums(dot)com …

    • Francois Tremblay July 25, 2013 at 14:36 Reply

      Since you are a fucking time-waster, I don’t expect anything you say about the Asymmetry anywhere else to be worth any time to examine. Leave me alone.

  11. Julius October 20, 2013 at 11:06 Reply

    The assymetry makes no sense.

    • Francois Tremblay October 20, 2013 at 11:46 Reply

      What premise do you reject and why?

    • Michael October 28, 2013 at 08:16 Reply

      @Julius
      The basic insight is quite simple (but hard to accept):
      Although the good things in one’s life make it go better than it otherwise would have gone, one could not have been deprived by their absence if one had not existed. Those who never exist cannot be deprived. However, by coming into existence one does suffer quite serious harms that could not have befallen one had not one come into existence.

  12. […] “life is a good thing” has a clear, intuitive and powerful defeater: Benatar’s Asymmetry. The Asymmetry is completely reducible to a basic moral intuition and a basic logical […]

  13. […] of this argument include Benatar’s Asymmetry, the consent argument, anti-frustrationism, ecological arguments (e.g. VHEMT), and so […]

  14. […] 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 […]

  15. gruff November 27, 2014 at 09:43 Reply

    I reject the Asymmetry thusly: pain is not always to be avoided, and (sense) pleasure is not always to be sought.

    • Francois Tremblay November 27, 2014 at 15:04 Reply

      That’s great, but neither of these contradict Asymmetry premises. Which premise of the Asymmetry do you reject?

    • Michael December 4, 2014 at 00:25 Reply

      Benatar’s asymmetry is a harm/benefit asymmetry. Harm is a broader category than pain. The latter is explicitly experiential. “Many philosophers argue that not all harms and benefits are experiential, as made clear by, among other things, theories of harm/benefit that depend on “objective goods” and “objective bads”, where these goods and bads are thought to be as such irrespective of their impact on our experiential states. Benatar makes the effort to not commit himself to any particular normative ethical view; he did this to avoid rejections of the asymmetry on the basis of any given critic not accepting whatever specific normative ethical theory Benatar might have chosen”.

  16. […] this entry, I want to look at her attempt at rebutting Benatar’s Asymmetry (which I explain here). I believe her rebuttal is a failure because she has failed to fully grasp the Asymmetry, and her […]

  17. Heretic May 28, 2015 at 01:39 Reply

    One question I see used as a disagreement with antinatalism is that the state of non-existence can’t be a good thing when there is nobody to be aware that it is a good thing. Hello, the potential parents?

    • Francois Tremblay May 28, 2015 at 20:25 Reply

      That’s just subjectivism. Who cares if there’s no one to be aware of a fact? It’s still a fact. Didn’t the Earth exist billions of years before anyone was aware of its existence? (excluding the possibility of advanced alien astronomers)

    • Michael September 21, 2015 at 15:52 Reply

      Heretic, an advantage in existence seems to require some bad under the alternative state of affairs which there isn’t. Your comparable counterfactual non-existence is not bad at all for you (4) it’s better than to exist (3). The disadvantages are real (2). Our concern is about the relative advantages/disadvantages. The most fundamental level values operate on.

      David Benatar did not develop the axiological asymmetry /implies a strong presumption against procreation/ and then looked for reasons to justify it. The reverse is true, and is suggested by the order of his main work Better Never to Have Been itself. The presentation of the axiological asymmetry in BNthB is preceded by a discussion of a persistent problem in procreative ethics: the non-identity problem. Benatar draws attention to the axiological asymmetry as a way to solve a number of persistent problems in ethics, including the non-identity problem. Axiological asymmetry is way to describe most peoples (moral) intuitions. Ethical problems like the non-identity problem arise from moral intuitions.
      The Non-identity-problem arises in special cases and is a window to our deep procreative intuitions concerning the relationship between existence and non-existence (Benatar’s asymmetry), intuitions commonly masked by our social norms (sacrosanct status of baby making) and Pollyannaism (blind optimism).

      The non-identity problem, widely recognized by ethicists, seeks to understand why we think it would be better to not bring into being a child with a seriously harmed life (would be disabled, would be in poor socioeconomic conditions, etc.) than to bring it into being, even if we know that that child’s life would be a net-benefit despite the aforesaid harm. The asymmetry solves this puzzle pertaining to our moral intuitions (by describing them): The absence of significant harm is an advantage (quadrant 3), while the net benefit via never coming into existence is not bad (is no real lost benefit) (as depicted in quadrant 4). Indeed, The non-identity problem shows that there is no moral push (intuition) to start a new life even when we believe the good would outweigh the bad.

      Finally, the axiological asymmetry explains at least four other popular value judgments on procreation (as evident from his books).

      Take care :-)

  18. Michael May 29, 2015 at 07:44 Reply

    https://www.pdcnet.org/pdc/bvdb.nsf/purchase?openform&fp=ijap&id=ijap_2001_0015_0002_0255_0266

    In my opinion, It has the potential to be a very interesting paper in relation to this topic. I will soon get my hands on it and keep you updated.

  19. Michael June 12, 2015 at 05:24 Reply

  20. […] reply to the Asymmetry completely misses the point. He argues that only a person who has a terrible life has any grounds […]

  21. […] have previously written an entry about Benatar’s Asymmetry, an antinatalist argument which seeks to prove that procreation is […]

  22. […] Most people reject the Asymmetry either by rejecting premises 3 or 4 (see the argument in detail here). That is to say, they wish to argue that what is non-existent can feel pain, or be deprived of […]

  23. darthbarracuda June 19, 2016 at 18:46 Reply

    I’ve written my own critique of Benatar’s asymmetry on my blog. Basically, the asymmetry is intuitive but isn’t logically sound, and by itself does not lead to antinatalism (which is actually later admitted by Benatar in some of his later papers). There needs to be a negative view about life for the asymmetry to lead to antinatalism.

    On my blog, I argue that the good of the absence of pain is not equivalent to the good of the presence of pleasure, and therefore even if pleasure is supererogatory (meaning we have no duty to bring pleasure into existence and that the lack of pleasure is not-bad), the existence of pleasure is nevertheless a good thing, and that birth can logically be a benefit to an individual because they experience pleasure. I also argue that the lack of pain is not an example of good-ness, it is only an example of a better state of affairs in virtue of the lack of a bad-ness (and a lack of a bad-ness is not a good-ness).

    Because of this, the existence of various amount of pain and pleasure in life make being born both a harm and a benefit – it is only when the harms outweigh the benefits that birth becomes morally questionable. One does not have to believe that pleasure and pain, or benefit and harm, “cancel each other out” to believe this. For we eat ice-cream and enjoy the taste of ice-cream while simultaneously knowing that it is fattening. We are both benefited and harmed by eating ice cream.

    In regards to your post, I believe that your analysis of the asymmetry is flawed because you do not use counterfactuals as Benatar did in his original work. If the lack of pain “by itself” (without any counterfactual possible beings used as “placeholders”) is a good thing, then you logically have to believe that the entire universe is literally overflowing with good, since so much of the universe lacks entities that can experience pain. Benatar explicitly denies this for this very reason. He does not believe that the lack of pain is good “just because”, he believes the lack of pain is good when there is a possible person involved. However, unless Benatar assumes pleasure as supererogatory even in existence, he is logically committed to utilizing counterfactuals in the case of pleasure – in which case, the lack of pleasure is a bad thing.

    Just as the lack of pleasure is not a bad thing, the lack of pain is not a good thing. The lack of pleasure merely makes a state of affairs worse than a state of affairs with pleasure, and the lack of pain merely makes a state of affairs better than a state of affairs with pain. We can see this when we go back to your OP in which you stated that the lack of pain is a good thing by itself. Of course, like I previously said, we do not rejoice when we think about how empty the universe is and how little suffering there is in the large scale. This is enough to show there is a difference between the good-ness of the existence of pleasure and the good of the absence of pain.

    Ultimately I believe that antinatalism is the most rational and reasonable ethical position we can hold in regards to birth, but I don’t think Benatar’s asymmetry is the best argument for it. In my opinion, the best arguments for antinatalism are largely common-sense and aesthetic: appeals to the pure nastiness of suffering, the contingency of pleasure, and the subconscious fear of death.

    You can find my blog post on this here if you wish: http://demonsanddiscourses.blogspot.com/2016/06/final-remarks-on-benatars-asymmetry.html

    Please note that the previous posts on my blog regarding Benatar’s asymmetry are not an adequate example of my current position and were meant only for me to be able to “work my way through” the issue.

    Cheers.

    • Francois Tremblay June 20, 2016 at 00:19 Reply

      I will have to write an analysis of your post.

      That being said, your explanation here is nonsensical. The point of comparison is between a state of affairs where person X exists, and a state of affairs where person X does not exist. In that comparison, the existence of pleasure cannot be a good thing. This is all covered in my entries and having to repeat it is pretty tiresome.

      • darthbarracuda June 20, 2016 at 04:23 Reply

        Huh? How can the existence of pleasure not be a good thing? Even Benatar does not advocate this. It leads to pro-mortalism.

        • Francois Tremblay June 20, 2016 at 04:32 Reply

          Because no one is deprived of the pleasure in the state of affairs where person X does not exist.

          • darthbarracuda June 20, 2016 at 04:34 Reply

            This only shows that the lack of pleasure is not a bad thing. It doesn’t show that the existence of pleasure isn’t a good thing. Pleasure can be supererogatory.

            • Francois Tremblay June 20, 2016 at 04:42 Reply

              No one said the existence of pleasure in itself was not a good thing, only within the comparison.

              • darthbarracuda June 20, 2016 at 04:59 Reply

                But that’s not what Benatar claims. All he claims is that the lack of pleasure is not bad. He specifically says pleasure is good even in the non-existence/existence relationship. If you beleive that pleasure is not good when in comparison to non-existence then this leads to pro-mortalism.

                • Francois Tremblay June 20, 2016 at 05:10

                  The existence of pleasure cannot be good in the comparison, because, in a state of affairs where person X does not exist, no one’s being deprived of the pleasure. I already explained this, do try to follow.

              • darthbarracuda June 20, 2016 at 06:38 Reply

                Your blog is not allowing me to reply to your most recent comment so I’m replying here. Anyway, you clearly havr no understanding of supererogatory values. Just because the lack if pleasue is not bad does not mean it is not good when present. We can see how the not bad of lack of pleasure is the consequence of the lack of pleasure; in moral calculus terms we can also call the lack of pleasure as not good, since there is no good (no pleasure).

                You still have not replied to my criticism regarding the pro-mortalism of your position. If the existence of pleasure is not good because the lack of pleasure is not bad then you are logically committed to pro-mortalism, since death would remove all pain (a good) and the absence of pleasure is not bad while the loss if pleasure is equally not bad since you are non existent.

                So it’s really not me who needs to catch up, it’s you. Except I’m not being a jerk by using childish bravado to demean the opposition…

                • Francois Tremblay June 20, 2016 at 14:19

                  ” Just because the lack if pleasue is not bad does not mean it is not good when present.”
                  Again, I never said pleasure was not good in itself, merely that it gives no advantage to the state of existence.

                  “We can see how the not bad of lack of pleasure is the consequence of the lack of pleasure; in moral calculus terms we can also call the lack of pleasure as not good, since there is no good (no pleasure).”
                  Okay.

                  “You still have not replied to my criticism regarding the pro-mortalism of your position. If the existence of pleasure is not good because the lack of pleasure is not bad then you are logically committed to pro-mortalism, since death would remove all pain (a good) and the absence of pleasure is not bad while the loss if pleasure is equally not bad since you are non existent.”
                  How is this a criticism though? I have not made any secret that I am anti-procreation, pro-abortion, pro-infanticide, and pro-suicide. So how am I being inconsistent? You can’t just bring up any random point.

                  “So it’s really not me who needs to catch up, it’s you.”
                  What do I need to catch up on?

                  “Except I’m not being a jerk by using childish bravado to demean the opposition…”
                  Excuse me? You haven’t brought anything to the table yet. Once you do, feel free to complain about my behavior all you want. But right now you’re not making any point of substance.

              • darthbarracuda June 20, 2016 at 14:33 Reply

                If pleasure cannot give an advantage to existence (deprivationalism which is incoherent anyway), then pain cannot give a disadvantage to existence. If pain harms an individual, then pleasure benefits an individual. What matter is how much harm is done and how much benefit is acquired for the individual.

                If something is supererogatory, such as pleasure, then this means that even though the lack of it is not a disadvantage, the presence of it is an advantage. A world without pleasure can be worse than a world with pleasure without actually being bad. And a world without pain can be better than a world with pain without actually being good.

                • Francois Tremblay June 20, 2016 at 14:38

                  You have no answers but the same old bromides. “There can’t be an asymmetry because there just can’t!”

                  I really don’t give a shit what you think can or cannot exist.

                  Like I said, I will write a rebuttal to your entry, but I’m not interested in this discussion any more. You have clearly demonstrated you have nothing new, interesting, or intelligent to say.

                • darthbarracuda June 20, 2016 at 15:12

                  Magnificent handwave!

                  I never said that there cannot be an asymmetry of any kind, just not the asymmetry Benatar presents, and I have given my reasons in this comment section and on my own personal blog, so I’m really not just proclaiming there cannot be an asymmetry without any justification. Anyway, I do believe that there is an asymmetry of duties – we have a duty to not impose pain without consent but have no duty to impose pleasure with or without consent. And since there’s nothing wrong with no-pleasure, then there’s nothing wrong with abstaining from birth but there’s everything wrong with having children since we bring a disadvantage into the world. Thus the world without disadvantages is advantageous only in comparison to the world with disadvantages but is not advantageous by itself. In other words, nobody is harmed by non-existence, and everyone is harmed by existence. From a certain deontological perspective, this is unacceptable. Then there’s the asymmetries of best vs worst case scenarios, in which the worst case scenario is always greater in magnitude than the best case scenario. Or the fact that injury is quick but recovery is slow. The bottom line is that it is clear that pain is a necessary factor of life as we know it while pleasure is a contingent factor.

                  Before you go though I would like to know why you believe pleasure to not count as an advantage. Because I’m confused now, since previously you said:

                  “In that comparison, the existence of pleasure cannot be a good thing.”

                  but then you said this:

                  “Again, I never said pleasure was not good in itself, merely that it gives no advantage to the state of existence.”

                  But you clearly just said that the existence of pleasure cannot be a good thing, so which is it?

                • Francois Tremblay June 20, 2016 at 15:15

                  I agree with you about the duty argument, of course. I think that’s a more worthwhile argument than the Asymmetry. But since that’s what we’re discussing…

                  “Before you go though I would like to know why you believe pleasure to not count as an advantage. Because I’m confused now, since previously you said:

                  “In that comparison, the existence of pleasure cannot be a good thing.”

                  but then you said this:

                  “Again, I never said pleasure was not good in itself, merely that it gives no advantage to the state of existence.”

                  But you clearly just said that the existence of pleasure cannot be a good thing, so which is it?”

                  Again, you’re not following the conversation, which is why I am not interested in it any more. Pleasure is good in itself, but in the comparison, the absence of pleasure cannot be a bad thing, therefore pleasure does not add anything to any state of affairs.

              • darthbarracuda June 20, 2016 at 15:37 Reply

                “Again, you’re not following the conversation, which is why I am not interested in it any more. Pleasure is good in itself, but in the comparison, the absence of pleasure cannot be a bad thing, therefore pleasure does not add anything to any state of affairs.”

                I’m certainly interested in this conversation for what it’s worth.

                Why does the lack of a something have to be bad in order for it to be an advantage to acquire it? This is supererogation again. Do you deny that I would be benefited if I was randomly given a hundred dollars on the street? It’s not bad if I hadn’t been given the hundred dollars, but certainly I would like to have the hundred dollars – it would benefit me.

                From my point of view what makes something a benefit or a harm is how it makes a person feel.

                I go into more detail on my blog but essentially I do not agree with Benatar’s view that the lack of pain is good. If we look at this in a moral calculus perspective, the lack of pain is not-bad, literally, because there is no bad in the state of affairs (there is no pain). But I hesitate to assign a “good” value for this state of affairs. We typically say something is not-bad when it is neither horrible nor great either.

                And so even if you deny my point about pleasure being supererogatory and maintain that pleasure is not a net-gain of advantage, then I would ask why you believe pain to be a net-gain of disadvantage, since the lack of pain is not-bad. To summarize, no-good is not-bad, and no-bad is not-good. The lack of pain is not a goodness in itself.

                Also I apologize for accusing you previously for being a jerk. I don’t really have an excuse for doing so and after all this is your blog.

                • Francois Tremblay June 20, 2016 at 15:39

                  No worries, but I am not going to discuss this any more. I recommend we start a new conversation on my entry response once it’s up.

  24. Kiera October 14, 2016 at 09:04 Reply

    It seems to me the reason that argument doesn’t work is Premise 3. If there is no-one appreciating the absence of pain then it is not a good. Therefore there is no asymmetry.

    • Francois Tremblay October 14, 2016 at 15:11 Reply

      Who said it was being appreciated by anyone? The argument does not compare the states of an individual, it compares two states of the world. I’ve already explained this numerous times.

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