Clearing out confusion about Benatar’s Asymmetry.

I have previously written an entry about Benatar’s Asymmetry, an antinatalist argument which seeks to prove that procreation is wrong based on an asymmetry between existence and non-existence. The argument is popular, so it attracts attention from detractors as well.

There is a certain level of confusion and difficulty created by Benatar’s formulation, which is why I reformulated it in a more accessible way. Nevertheless, people still get stuck on the original wording, which is:

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.

The objection is that in 3, something is declared good independently of being enjoyed by anyone, while in 4, something is declared not bad on the basis that no one is being harmed by it. How can ethics be determined both independently of any person, and also depend upon a person?

First, let me clear out one related confusion. Benatar states clearly that the Asymmetry does not compare (existing and non-existing) persons, but rather states of affair:

Comparing somebody’s existence with his non-existence is not to compare two possible conditions of the person. Rather it is to compare his existence with an alternative state of affairs in which he does not exist.
Better Never to Have Been, p22

This is the more basic premise here. When Benatar writes that “[t]he absence of pleasure is not bad unless there is somebody for whom that absence is a deprivation,” he is stating this in the context of a state of affairs; it is the result of the premise that in a state of affairs where person X does not exist, no one is being deprived of the pleasure that person X would otherwise have experienced.

My simplified argument highlights the justification for Benatar’s statements:

(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).

Or to be more specific:

(3) In a state of affairs where person X does not exist, no one is experiencing the suffering that person X would otherwise have experienced.
(4) In a state of affairs where person X does not exist, no one is being deprived of the pleasure that person X would otherwise have experienced.

However you formulate it, (3) is always better than (1), and (4) is always no worse than (2).

Julio Cabrera wrote a paper called “Quality of Human Life and Non-existence (Some criticisms of David Benatar’s formal and material positions)” (PDF here). His main objection is that by transposing the counter-factual formulation of (3) to (4), we can get the following proposition, which contradicts the Asymmetry:

Of the pleasure of an existing person, (4) says that the absence of this pleasure would have been bad even if this could only have been achieved by the absence of the person who now enjoys it.

But with my rephrasing, you can now see that Cabrera is wrong in his transposition. The absence of this pleasure cannot be bad, because no one is being deprived of it. Cabreba continues:

Claim (4) says that this absence is bad when judged in terms of the interests of the person who would otherwise have existed. We may not know who that person would have been, but we can still say that whoever that person would have been, the avoidance of his or her pleasures is bad when judged in terms of his or her potential interests”.

In the absolute, Cabrera is right, the absence of pleasure is worse than the presence of pleasure given a potential person’s interests. But we are comparing two states of affairs, not examining a state in the absolute: in the comparison, (4) cannot be worse than (2) because pleasure in fulfillment of a need is not any better than the absence of need in the first place.

To explain this, Benatar uses the concept of anti-frustrationism. Suppose we give Kate a pill that gives her the desire to see the tree closest to the Sydney Opera House be painted red. This desire is frustrated because that tree is not actually painted red. Now suppose we go to the Sydney Opera House, paint the tree closest to it in red, and show Kate the result. Now we are back to where we were before: the manufactured desire, fulfilled, now gone. The upshot of this is that an absence of need is no worse than a fulfilled need, and better than a frustrated need.

Now, what do I mean when I say that the state of affairs where person X does not exist is “better” than the state of affairs where person X does exist? What does “better” apply to in this case? Benatar bases the Asymmetry on two uncontroversial premises, that pleasure is good and that pain is bad. But we don’t even need to accept these two premises to sustain the Asymmetry: all we really need is to posit that pleasure is better than pain.

But when we say “pleasure is better than pain,” we are not claiming that it is better relative to anyone or anything. We’re simply stating that it is an objective fact that the experience of pleasure is objectively better than the experience of pain. You may reply that no evidence has been presented for that statement, and that it must be better for someone. Well, anyone who disagrees with the statement is free to disbelieve the Asymmetry, but humans are programmed to seek pleasure and avoid pain.

Besides that, there is a bigger point that is being missed. When we talk about ethics, what is good or wrong, we are not talking about what benefits a person, prudential reasons for doing something. Prudential reasons are part of our motives for action, but they cannot be an ethical judgment, because they are themselves predicated on ethical judgment.

I have a future entry explaining this in detail, so I won’t go into it extensively, but the gist of it is that a proposition such as this:

(B1) It is good for me to steal this car.

Necessarily implies the following proposition:

(B2) It is good for me to steal this car because it will give me some benefit, such as making me richer (for example).

But this is a factual claim, not an ethical claim, therefore B1 is also a factual claim, not an ethical claim. It may provide evidence for doing something (such as stealing a car), but it is not an ethical judgment.

The objection I’ve seen from many detractors that pleasure cannot be “better” than pain because it is not good “for anyone” (because of the non-identity problem, which is wrong in itself) is a confusion between ethics and prudential reasons. The good, by definition, cannot be good relative to a person. One person saying “abortion is good” and another saying “abortion is bad,” if both individuals are merely expressing a relative position which is only true insofar as they are concerned, has the same weight as one saying “chocolate ice cream is good” and another saying “chocolate ice cream is bad.” It must either collapse into nihilism or be relabeled as mere preference. Likewise, stating that “pleasure is good for person X” cannot sustain a logical argument because it is not in itself relevant to anyone else but person X. It is not a viable ethical position.

49 thoughts on “Clearing out confusion about Benatar’s Asymmetry.

  1. Mordanicus June 9, 2013 at 22:38 Reply

    During my on my BA thesis on Parfit en Benatar, I found an article by Rivka Weinberg. She also has trouble with understanding the assymmetry, and her dismissal of Benatar is, in my eyes, therefore mistaken.

    • Francois Tremblay June 9, 2013 at 22:41 Reply

      Is it similar to Cabrera’s objection?

      • Mordanicus June 9, 2013 at 22:42 Reply

        To some degree. But I will look it up, if I time for it.

        • Francois Tremblay June 9, 2013 at 22:45 Reply

          Oh okay. If you have something about it you want me to put up on this blog, I would definitely do it. Otherwise I’ll take a look at Weinberg’s materials, definitely.

  2. Michael June 12, 2013 at 08:42 Reply

    Great entry and follow up to our discussion on Cabrera. I think the assymetry is obvious to most readers who have been spared the formal conditioning imposed on graduate students in philosophy. When we explore completely uncharted territory in philosophy many philosophers seem to loose it. Or at least here Cabreras own philosophical project perhaps gets a little in the way of fully appreciating what Benatar has accomplished. This is of course just speculation on my part. Cabrera also voiced discontent about his allegedly long overlooked take on negative ethics. Why Cabrera insists on publishing articles in portugese is completely over my head.

    • Francois Tremblay June 12, 2013 at 12:26 Reply

      Oh, has he written a “debunking” of negative ethics too?

      • Michael June 14, 2013 at 18:17 Reply

        Cabrera thinks most ethics are not radical enough. Ethics must go beyond the question on “how to live”. I think Cabreras own work on antinatalism is quite complementary. I am trying to get a portugese speaking friend to take a deeper look. However, this is REALLY NOT her favorite topic.

        Cabrera has been in the game for decades while other people like Benatar gets the attention. I have sen one or two isolated cases that looked like bitternes. Not in Cabreras central pieces.

  3. SFF Madman June 14, 2013 at 15:27 Reply

    Wait…is that the purpose of his asymmetry? To “debunk” ethics? Because I thought I understood your explanation rather well until you said “debunking.”

    I’m not a philosophy student, although I have read some, mostly older work. I haven’t had a proper introduction to modern philosophy. And what I have read…well, it’s been a long time. Couple essays here and there. Little bit of Liebniz, little more of Neitzsche. Tried to read Hume and ended up putting the book down after reading just one page. :D And, of course, Aristotle and Plato. Everyone gets those two, though, to some degree.

    But procreation is wrong? Right _now_ I think people need to slow down a lot…but, hey, I love raising my obnoxious teen. I guess that makes me “wrong.”

    • Francois Tremblay June 14, 2013 at 21:27 Reply

      I don’t think the purpose of the Asymmetry is to “debunk ethics,” quite the contrary. The Asymmetry puts ethics front and center on the subject of procreation.

      • Mordanicus June 15, 2013 at 01:15 Reply

        As far as I have understood Benatar’s Asymmetry, it says there is a stronger moral obligation NOT to harm people, than to make them happy. Therefore it follows that Benatar is not about debunking ethics, since he uses the Asymmtery to make a particular moral judgement.

    • Francois Tremblay June 14, 2013 at 21:28 Reply

      “I love raising my obnoxious teen. I guess that makes me “wrong.””
      Yes, just having one child makes you a net detriment to the world by quite a large margin. There’s really nothing you can do about it from this point forward except admit your mistakes. (will you? probably not)

  4. SFF Madman June 15, 2013 at 14:00 Reply

    Of course not. Logic isn’t the only measuring stick in life.

    Yes, I understand. That’s what I was thinking as I read it, but then the comment kind of threw me off. That’s my fault for not seeing the context.

  5. […] 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 […]

  6. […] I’ve pointed out before, Benatar is actually talking about states of affair and therefore impersonal good/bad (i.e. […]

  7. M August 25, 2015 at 03:11 Reply

    It seems this guy is making some of the same mistakes

  8. […] Remember what (1) to (4) means in the context of the Asymmetry (at least, in the way I clarified it): […]

  9. Visitor March 29, 2016 at 10:55 Reply

    Hello. There was a rebuttal made on (http://www.lifestudies.org/jp/umarete01.htm) against Benatar’s asymmetry which I could not manage to refute in my capacity. I was wondering if you could please offer some of your thoughts on this rebuttal. Roughly translated, the rebuttal is saying that,

    the comparison between:

    1) “a state of affairs where X exists”
    and
    2) “a state of affairs where person X does not exist, no one is experiencing the suffering that person X would otherwise have experienced.

    is not the same comparison as:

    3) “a state of affairs where X exists”
    and
    4) “a state of affairs where X never existed”

    which Benatar falsely thinks it is.

    The rebuttal is saying that the counter-factual supposition made in 2) that “the world in which X would have otherwise been born in” is a world different from the world in 4), in which “X never existed”. So, Benatar is making a comparison (between 1) and 2)) that is not the same as the comparison (between 3) and 4)) is, and thus he does not derive that 4) is better than 3), but rather that 2) is better than 1), which is not a meaningful discovery.

    • Francois Tremblay March 29, 2016 at 15:46 Reply

      Unfortunately this article is written in Japanese, and the Google translation is very poor I’m afraid. I can’t even get a sketchy understanding of it.

      However, I’m afraid your summary is not much help either. How exactly is (2) different than (4)?

  10. ASURY June 15, 2016 at 18:32 Reply

    Hello!

    I found your page after reading Cabrera’s paper because I wanted to find possible critiques of his view. I do not find your support of the assymmetry convincing, unfortunately. You say that the more basic premise is:

    “Comparing somebody’s existence with his non-existence is not to compare two possible conditions of the person. Rather it is to compare his existence with an alternative state of affairs in which he does not exist.”

    This seems to show that what is required to determine goodness and badness of a certain situation is a comparativist analysis of the state of affairs. In a comparativist analysis, things are relatively (comparatively) good or bad, but not absolutely good or bad. Here is an example of a comparativist analysis of a state of affairs (inspired by Shelly Kagan’s own example):
    Situation A: I get 10$
    Situation B: I get 1000$
    With these possible states of affairs, and under a strictly comparativist analysis, situation A is bad and situation B is good. The moral is, under a comparativist analysis where only 2 options are present and they differ in terms of relative goodness: one is bad, the other good. For example, it can’t be the result of a comparativist analysis that one is good, the other not bad.

    You get this right when you comapare the states of affairs in (3):
    Existence with presence of pain (EPA) is worse than nonexistence (NE), therefore: EPA is bad, NE is good.

    Of course, we are assuming that nonexistence has a zero, neutral, or nonexistent welfare, such that any amount of isolated pain (which is, by definition, an instance of negative welfare) is worse than nonexistence. But, with this understanding in mind, what happens when you pit existence with presence of pleasure to nonexistence? If we apply consistent standards of comparativist analysis, we come out with:
    Existence with pleasure (EPL)is better than nonexistence (NE), so: EPL is good, NE is bad.

    Which clearly contradicts your (and Benatar’s) conviction that nonexistence in this case is merely “not bad”. It would only be “not bad” if you are stating a fact about NE in an absolute, noncomparative sense (not relative to any other state of affairs); but that is not what you are doing. If we were engaging in an absolute judgement of the states of affairs we would come out with something like this:
    EPA: bad,
    NE: Not good nor bad
    EPL: good

    (3) would actually look like this: EPA is bad, NE is not bad (or good)
    And (4) would look more like your own (4) : EPL is good, NE is not bad ( or good)

    It seems that what’s really happening is that you are making the judgement for (3) on comparativist grounds, while (4) is being made on absolute grounds. This is not consistent argumentation…

    • Francois Tremblay June 15, 2016 at 20:40 Reply

      “I found your page after reading Cabrera’s paper because I wanted to find possible critiques of his view. I do not find your support of the assymmetry convincing, unfortunately.”

      Okay. I don’t think the issue with what he’s saying is very complicated, though.

      “This seems to show that what is required to determine goodness and badness of a certain situation is a comparativist analysis of the state of affairs. In a comparativist analysis, things are relatively (comparatively) good or bad, but not absolutely good or bad. Here is an example of a comparativist analysis of a state of affairs (inspired by Shelly Kagan’s own example):
      Situation A: I get 10$
      Situation B: I get 1000$
      With these possible states of affairs, and under a strictly comparativist analysis, situation A is bad and situation B is good. The moral is, under a comparativist analysis where only 2 options are present and they differ in terms of relative goodness: one is bad, the other good. For example, it can’t be the result of a comparativist analysis that one is good, the other not bad.”

      I don’t think this is a good example, because money introduces new variables that obscure the analysis (for example, it is clearly not the case that gettingmore money always directly translates into a better quality of life). It is also not clear that situation B is a better state of affairs than situation A. Maybe you are a person who gives money to harmful, ethically evil causes (like, say, the Trump campaign). All I am saying is, you’re overcomplicating the argument, which is what people do because they can’t deal with the simplicity and directness of AN arguments.

      “Of course, we are assuming that nonexistence has a zero, neutral, or nonexistent welfare, such that any amount of isolated pain (which is, by definition, an instance of negative welfare) is worse than nonexistence.”

      Your reasoning is incoherent. Nonexistence does not have properties, including welfare. We are talking about the whole state of affairs, not just properties in isolation. The fact that a certain sum of suffering has been removed from the world is the good thing.

      “But, with this understanding in mind, what happens when you pit existence with presence of pleasure to nonexistence? If we apply consistent standards of comparativist analysis, we come out with:
      Existence with pleasure (EPL)is better than nonexistence (NE), so: EPL is good, NE is bad.”

      That cannot be the case because, again, non-existence cannot be deprived of pleasure. You seem to equate non-existence with some kind of neutral state or mathematical zero. It is not. But most importantly, what we’re comparing, again, are states of affair. Like I say in the entry, no one is being deprived of the non-existing pleasure. So how does your analysis make any sense?

      Read the anti-frustrationist argument again. Do you object to it? If you don’t, then you have no ground to stand on here. If not, I’d like to know how you disagree with it.

      “If we were engaging in an absolute judgement of the states of affairs we would come out with something like this:
      EPA: bad,
      NE: Not good nor bad
      EPL: good”

      You’re muddling the issue. The graph expresses this more clearly. Suffering is bad, and the absence of suffering is good. Pleasure is good, but the absence of pleasure is not bad.

      “It seems that what’s really happening is that you are making the judgement for (3) on comparativist grounds, while (4) is being made on absolute grounds. This is not consistent argumentation…”

      No… both evaluations are made on the same basis. To wit:
      “(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).”

      • darthbarracuda June 22, 2016 at 09:17 Reply

        I don’t think you understand ASURY’s objection very well.

        “I don’t think this is a good example, because money introduces new variables that obscure the analysis (for example, it is clearly not the case that gettingmore money always directly translates into a better quality of life). It is also not clear that situation B is a better state of affairs than situation A. Maybe you are a person who gives money to harmful, ethically evil causes (like, say, the Trump campaign). All I am saying is, you’re overcomplicating the argument, which is what people do because they can’t deal with the simplicity and directness of AN arguments.”

        This is a red herring. Switch money with dopamine hits and you’ll see how one situation is superior to the other.

        “The fact that a certain sum of suffering has been removed from the world is the good thing.”

        But you’re not removing suffering from the world by not having children. You’re preventing suffering from coming into existence. Removing suffering from the world would lead to forced pro-mortalism.

        “That cannot be the case because, again, non-existence cannot be deprived of pleasure. You seem to equate non-existence with some kind of neutral state or mathematical zero. It is not. But most importantly, what we’re comparing, again, are states of affair. Like I say in the entry, no one is being deprived of the non-existing pleasure. So how does your analysis make any sense?”

        Again, this is just pure and simple Kantian anthropocentrism. As if the blight of the human species has brought down the purity of an unconscious cosmos. There’s absolutely not reason to believe that the universe was good before life came around, because values require observers.

        If this really was the position Benatar holds, he would be advocating pro-mortalism and an immediate return the purity of an unconscious cosmos. He does not advocate this, though, because he’s not interested in the global state of affairs, he’s interested in whether or not a person was harmed by coming into existence and he clearly states that although life is not worth starting (for the individual), life might be worth continuing (for the individual).

      • darthbarracuda June 22, 2016 at 09:59 Reply

        To reiterate: if the value of a state of affairs (or possible world) is dependent upon the experiences of the individuals composing the state of affairs, then there cannot be a +/- value to a state of affairs in which there are no individuals.

        You said:

        “No… both evaluations are made on the same basis. To wit:
        “(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).””

        Let me re-phrase this so the issue is shown more clearly:

        (3) What does not exist cannot suffer (therefore this non-existing pain is a good thing)
        (4) What does not exist cannot feel pleasure (therefore this non-existing pleasure is a bad thing)

        The issue here is that you are utilizing counterfactuals in one sense but not in the other. The lack of pleasure is a not-bad thing just because there is nobody there to experience the deprivation. But then you go on to say that the lack of suffering is a good thing because there’s nobody to experience the suffering, when really it should read that the lack of suffering is a not-bad thing because nobody is there to experience this relief.

        Therefore, it stands that for pleasure you are making the value dependent upon whether or not there is a person there to experience whereas with pain you are making the value independent upon the existence of anyone there to experience. In other words, you are being inconsistent.

      • ASURY June 23, 2016 at 14:54 Reply

        Hello, again!

        Thank you for responding. I don’t think you gave a good rebuttal, but that’s not anything unexpected.

        “I don’t think this is a good example, because money introduces new variables that obscure the analysis (for example, it is clearly not the case that gettingmore money always directly translates into a better quality of life). It is also not clear that situation B is a better state of affairs than situation A. Maybe you are a person who gives money to harmful, ethically evil causes (like, say, the Trump campaign). All I am saying is, you’re overcomplicating the argument, which is what people do because they can’t deal with the simplicity and directness of AN arguments.”
        I think darthbarracuda gave you a good rebuttal– if you have issues with the fact that I used an instrumental good (and you are right, though, the value of instrumental goods are largely dependent on what ends they are being used for, I just wanted to use an example given by a professional philosopher), you can insert a final/intrinsic good, and you wouldn’t have to stress out over the complications you’ve raised.

        “Your reasoning is incoherent. Nonexistence does not have properties, including welfare. We are talking about the whole state of affairs, not just properties in isolation.”
        Yes, and that’s included in what I said. I’ll place my quote here for you to reread: “we are assuming that nonexistence has a zero, neutral, or nonexistent welfare”.

        Nonexistence does not have to have an existent welfare for suffering to be worse than nonexistence– the formal argument you defend depends on this fact anyway, so I don’t understand why you’re protesting. You quoted Benatar saying as much in your blog post above: “Comparing somebody’s existence with his non-existence is not to compare two possible conditions of the person. Rather it is to compare his existence with an alternative state of affairs in which he does not exist.”

        “The fact that a certain sum of suffering has been removed from the world is the good thing.”
        Again, I’m going to echo darthbarracuda and say that you did not remove suffering by refraining from procreation, all you have done is prevent it.

        “That cannot be the case because, again, non-existence cannot be deprived of pleasure.”
        But it can in a comparativist analysis. When you compare EPL and NE, one is a good state of affairs the other is bad, even though NE is not in and of itself good or bad or even neutral.

        “You seem to equate non-existence with some kind of neutral state or mathematical zero. It is not.”
        It does not have to be in order for comparativist accounts to make sense. I am just comparing the existence of a good/bad with its nonexistence. In fact, if you are right, this only bolsters my position. If nonexistence has no robust value (is not zero, neutral, etc.), then the only way to declare nonexistence good or bad or neutral or whatever would be to engage consistently in a comparativist analysis (which, as I’ve demonstrated would give us an account contradictory to Benatar’s).

        “Read the anti-frustrationist argument again. Do you object to it? If you don’t, then you have no ground to stand on here. If not, I’d like to know how you disagree with it.”
        The anti-frustrationist argument assumes that pleasures are negative in nature: that they cancel out a need. But this is not how pleasures in themselves function. There are plenty of instances where a person is benefited by a pleasure they didn’t have a desire for. I did not have a desire to hear my favorite song while in the store, but now that I did, I am delighted by the surprise. Had I not heard my favorite song in the store, I would not have walked out with a frustrated desire.

        Another point of critique concerning the aforementioned assumption is the underlying idea that if pleasures are by nature desire-satisfiers, their goodness is relative to the badness of the need, such that it would cancel out to a zero state of sorts. This too is highly dubitable– I may have a need to eat, and this need may be a negative state (I’m hungry, I’m yearning for food, etc.) but the pleasure I get out of my food may outweigh the negativity of my needy state such that it is an all-things-considered good.

        Frustrated desires are bad, but the goodness of pleasures does not hinge on our desire for it (if anything, the relationship is backwards, we desire pleasure because it is good.). It is an intrinsic good, in the same way suffering is an intrinsic bad. My frustrated desire to not suffer is not what makes an instance of suffering bad in itself, or else you would have to change your premise (3), where you state, ” non-existing pain is a good thing” to “non-existing pain is a good thing, but only when you have a desire to not have pain”.

        There are more than one way a thing can be bad, and I believe what you have written demonstrates a confusion on this subject. Things can be bad in that they frustrate desires (as in losing a game I wanted to win), deprive us of goods (as in death), are robustly bad (as in classic cases of suffering, like chronic pain), and in comparison to another good (as in a bit of pleasure is bad relative to a lot of pleasure).

        “No… both evaluations are made on the same basis. To wit:
        ‘(3) What does not exist cannot suffer (therefore this non-existing pain is a good thing).”
        Why is nonexistent pain a good thing? You attacked my position on the false grounds that I was assuming that nonexistence has a value, and yet you are making this same mistake. Nonexistent pain is only good in comparison to a state in which pain exists.

        • Francois Tremblay June 23, 2016 at 15:50 Reply

          “Thank you for responding. I don’t think you gave a good rebuttal, but that’s not anything unexpected.”

          Given the number of imbecilic rebuttals to the Asymmetry I’ve reviewed, I’d say you got the unexpected part backwards.

          “I think darthbarracuda gave you a good rebuttal– if you have issues with the fact that I used an instrumental good (and you are right, though, the value of instrumental goods are largely dependent on what ends they are being used for, I just wanted to use an example given by a professional philosopher), you can insert a final/intrinsic good, and you wouldn’t have to stress out over the complications you’ve raised.”

          Then why did you even bother? To waste my time?

          “Yes, and that’s included in what I said. I’ll place my quote here for you to reread: “we are assuming that nonexistence has a zero, neutral, or nonexistent welfare”.”

          Why are you repeating yourself?

          “Nonexistence does not have to have an existent welfare for suffering to be worse than nonexistence– the formal argument you defend depends on this fact anyway, so I don’t understand why you’re protesting. You quoted Benatar saying as much in your blog post above: “Comparing somebody’s existence with his non-existence is not to compare two possible conditions of the person. Rather it is to compare his existence with an alternative state of affairs in which he does not exist.””

          No one said “suffering is worse than non-existence.” Non-existence is a state and suffering is an experience, so they’re not comparable things. What the fuck are you going on about?

          “Again, I’m going to echo darthbarracuda and say that you did not remove suffering by refraining from procreation, all you have done is prevent it.”

          We are comparing states that results when a person exists and states where they do not. In that comparison, the refusal to start new lives is a removal of the suffering that would have existed otherwise.

          “But it can in a comparativist analysis. When you compare EPL and NE, one is a good state of affairs the other is bad, even though NE is not in and of itself good or bad or even neutral.”

          I don’t know why you’re just nay-saying now. This is a waste of time.

          “It does not have to be in order for comparativist accounts to make sense. I am just comparing the existence of a good/bad with its nonexistence. In fact, if you are right, this only bolsters my position. If nonexistence has no robust value (is not zero, neutral, etc.), then the only way to declare nonexistence good or bad or neutral or whatever would be to engage consistently in a comparativist analysis (which, as I’ve demonstrated would give us an account contradictory to Benatar’s).”

          No.. you have not demonstrated anything except that you’re willing to waste my time.

          “The anti-frustrationist argument assumes that pleasures are negative in nature: that they cancel out a need.”

          No… it does not. The argument does not make an analogy with pleasure. It makes an analogy to show that the absence of a need is no worse than a fulfilled need. Which I explained in the entry you’re supposedly refuting.

          “But this is not how pleasures in themselves function. There are plenty of instances where a person is benefited by a pleasure they didn’t have a desire for. I did not have a desire to hear my favorite song while in the store, but now that I did, I am delighted by the surprise. Had I not heard my favorite song in the store, I would not have walked out with a frustrated desire.”

          You’re equating “having desires” with “having desires for that specific thing.” That’s not how desires usually work. We’re always hungry, and we can desire a specific kind of food, but we rarely have a desire for one specific meal by one specific person.

          “There are more than one way a thing can be bad, and I believe what you have written demonstrates a confusion on this subject. Things can be bad in that they frustrate desires (as in losing a game I wanted to win), deprive us of goods (as in death), are robustly bad (as in classic cases of suffering, like chronic pain), and in comparison to another good (as in a bit of pleasure is bad relative to a lot of pleasure).”

          Great. Where have I been confused about this? Please post an exact quote.

          ““No… both evaluations are made on the same basis. To wit:
          ‘(3) What does not exist cannot suffer (therefore this non-existing pain is a good thing).”
          Why is nonexistent pain a good thing? You attacked my position on the false grounds that I was assuming that nonexistence has a value, and yet you are making this same mistake. Nonexistent pain is only good in comparison to a state in which pain exists.”

          I agree! Because the argument is a comparison. I am making evaluations based on pairs of evaluations, (1) with (3), and (2) with (4). The very fact that I wrote “non-existing pain” indicates this: since non-existence cannot have the property of suffering, “pain” here means the one I indicated in (1).

          Your reply was a total waste of time. Please try to make some substantive points.

          • darthbarracuda June 23, 2016 at 16:10 Reply

            “No one said “suffering is worse than non-existence.” Non-existence is a state and suffering is an experience, so they’re not comparable things. What the fuck are you going on about?”

            and

            “We are comparing states that results when a person exists and states where they do not. In that comparison, the refusal to start new lives is a removal of the suffering that would have existed otherwise.”

            Suffering is both an experience and a state. Person is in a state of suffering just if they are experiencing suffering.

            I can imagine myself stabbing my neighbor. I refuse to stab my neighbor. Did I actually remove any suffering? Prevention is not the same as treatment. We prevent something from happening because we fear the bad that will accompany it.

            “No.. you have not demonstrated anything except that you’re willing to waste my time.”

            Nobody is wasting your time if you freely chose to participate in this “discussion” or whatever you call it.

            “No… it does not. The argument does not make an analogy with pleasure. It makes an analogy to show that the absence of a need is no worse than a fulfilled need. Which I explained in the entry you’re supposedly refuting.”

            It’s worse but it’s not bad. Supererogation once again.

            “I agree! Because the argument is a comparison. I am making evaluations based on pairs of evaluations, (1) with (3), and (2) with (4). The very fact that I wrote “non-existing pain” indicates this: since non-existence cannot have the property of suffering, “pain” here means the one I indicated in (1).”

            If it’s a comparison, then non-existence cannot be good in itself, “simpliciter”. It’s neutral and only better when in comparison to a worse state.

            • Francois Tremblay June 23, 2016 at 16:19 Reply

              “Suffering is both an experience and a state. Person is in a state of suffering just if they are experiencing suffering.”

              We’re not talking about psychology here. This is not a psychological argument.

              “Nobody is wasting your time if you freely chose to participate in this “discussion” or whatever you call it.”

              Yea but this is my comments section. Not anyone else’s.

              “It’s worse but it’s not bad. Supererogation once again.”

              No.. it’s not worse. It’s NO WORSE.

              “If it’s a comparison, then non-existence cannot be good in itself, “simpliciter”. It’s neutral and only better when in comparison to a worse state.”

              Of course it only has comparative properties. Non-existence itself cannot have properties.

              • darthbarracuda June 23, 2016 at 17:13 Reply

                “We’re not talking about psychology here. This is not a psychological argument.”

                A psychological state is nevertheless a state of affairs. A state of affairs in which a person is suffering entails there is a person in the state of suffering, which means they are experiencing suffering.

                “Yea but this is my comments section. Not anyone else’s.”

                …and?

                “No.. it’s not worse. It’s NO WORSE.”

                Highly doubtful. If X is better than Y, then Y is worse than X. If X is a state of affairs that has more pleasure than Y, then Y is a worse state of affairs than X. Y does not have to be bad in order for it to be worse than X.

                “Of course it only has comparative properties. Non-existence itself cannot have properties.”

                But apparently states of affairs can? Also, you said previously (in the Harman thread):

                “To reiterate: the absence of pleasure is not a bad thing, not because there is no one there to experience it, but because non-existence entails the impossibility of experiencing deprivation. It is a consequence of what non-existence means. Likewise for the absence of suffering: it is a good thing because non-existence entails the impossibility of experiencing suffering.”

                Do you, or do you not, believe that non-existence is good in itself? If it’s not good-in-itself, then you are using counterfactuals to get the comparative properties.

                • Francois Tremblay June 23, 2016 at 17:14

                  Please quote where I said non-existence is good in itself.

          • ASURY June 23, 2016 at 20:19 Reply

            “Then why did you even bother? To waste my time?”
            No, I was writing that to clarify myself in my own writing. If anything, you’re wasting your own time by playing dumb.

            “Why are you repeating yourself?”
            You were accusing me of assuming that nonexistence had some form of welfare, I qulted myself to show you that I had taken that into account, and to show you that I am not in the wrong, you are merely a bad reader.

            “No one said ‘suffering is worse than non-existence.’ Non-existence is a state and suffering is an experience, so they’re not comparable things. What the fuck are you going on about?”

            Why do you insist on playing dumb? Existence with suffering is a state of affairs. This is how philosophers speak of potential experiences– they are states of affairs as well as experiences. It’s like saying, “A blouse isn’t a piece of clothing, it’s a top!”

            “We are comparing states that results when a person exists and states where they do not. In that comparison, the refusal to start new lives is a removal of the suffering that would have existed otherwise.”
            Yup, and vaccines cure diseases, they don’t prevent them. (How can you ve so willfully stupid?)

            “I don’t know why you’re just nay-saying now. This is a waste of time.”
            I am not. This was my position since the beginning (another example of bad reading…).

            “No.. you have not demonstrated anything except that you’re willing to waste my time.”
            You know what’s really wasting your time? You writing “you’re wasting my time” every other paragraph. If it’s really a waste of time, then you didn’t have to respond. No one’s forcing you.

            “No… it does not. The argument does not make an analogy with pleasure. It makes an analogy to show that the absence of a need is no worse than a fulfilled need. Which I explained in the entry you’re supposedly refuting.”
            This is literally what you wrote: “pleasure in fulfillment of a need is not any better than the absence of need in the first place.” It is making a claim about why (4) is true, by invoking the idea that pleasure in fulfillment of a need is not any better than absence of this need, which shows that you believe pleasure to function as a negation of need because in (4) you are speaking of pleasure in a general sense. Otherwise, your argument would be incoherent.

            “You’re equating “having desires” with “having desires for that specific thing.” That’s not how desires usually work. We’re always hungry, and we can desire a specific kind of food, but we rarely have a desire for one specific meal by one specific person.”
            Always hungry? What do you mean by this? And yes, I recognize that desires do not always function in the way my example described, but that was on purpose: the anti-frustrationist argument is modeled in the same way (person has a specific desire for a specific thing), and I was also trying to show how we can miss out on a pleasure without having frustrated desire.

            “Great. Where have I been confused about this? Please post an exact quote”
            The paragraph before the one above is one example.

            Premise (4) also bears out this confusion– you do not seem to realise that the absence of pleasure is bad in comparison to its presence in the same way the absence of suffering is good in comparison to its presence (which is basically what you say in (3)). Obviously, if no one exists, no one can be deprivation harmed by the absence of pleasure, but that’s not the only way for an absence of pleasure to be bad, in the same way benefiting from lack of suffering isn’t the only way for lack of suffering to be good (which is something you said yourself– just because there is no one to be benefitted from lack of pain, doesn’t mean that its absence can’t be good; it can still be good, in comparison to a state of affairs in which there is suffering.).

            “I agree! Because the argument is a comparison. I am making evaluations based on pairs of evaluations, (1) with (3), and (2) with (4). The very fact that I wrote “non-existing pain” indicates this: since non-existence cannot have the property of suffering, “pain” here means the one I indicated in (1).”
            So if you agree with the comparative analysis for (3), then why not for (4) as well? In other words, if absence of pain is good even of no one is there to benefit from it, why isn’t the absence of pleasure bad even of there’s no one to be deprived of it? That’s what you have yet to substantiate. I get that absence of pleasure is bad because of deprication, but as I have already brought up, you seem to be confused about the different ways something can be bad (absence of pleasure can be bad even though being harmed by absence of pleasure is too), even though you accept that things can be good in different ways (absence of pain is good even though benefitting from absence of pain is too).

            To make it reeeeally clear, here is what you accept in (3):
            – benefitting from absence of pain is good (given a persons interests)
            – but absence of pain itself is good too (given comparison between presence of pain and absence of pain)

            Here is what you accept for (4):
            – deprivation from absence of pleasure is bad (given a persons interests)
            – but absence of pain itself is not bad (given a person’s interests)

            Why are you only looking at a person’s interests in (4), but look at both interests and comparison in (3)? That’s the big question that you have yet to answer. Because if you are only looking at a person’s interests in the case of pleasure, why not extend that to pain? (In which case you get absence of pain itself is not good).

            I’ve tried to make this as easy as possible, but there is a lot of confused malarkey to sort through…

            • ASURY June 23, 2016 at 20:27 Reply

              Yikes… sorry for all the spelling mistakes, I typed this quickly on my phone as I have to go to bed soon…

            • ASURY June 23, 2016 at 20:36 Reply

              Oh, and another thing. If you hold that, “pleasure in fulfillment of a need is not any better than the absence of need in the first place.” and that absence of pleasure is not good, why do you say that pleasure is good? You do understand that that if one thing “is not any better” than another, they must be of equal worth– in this case, both “not bad”? If (2) is an uncontroversial premise, then your (4) must be false because its supporting arguments, if taken to their logical conclusions, directly contradict (2).

            • Francois Tremblay June 23, 2016 at 20:42 Reply

              “No, I was writing that to clarify myself in my own writing. If anything, you’re wasting your own time by playing dumb.”

              You’re banned for being a troll. Goodbye.

  11. darthbarracuda June 22, 2016 at 21:19 Reply

    Tremblay: I have written a blog post regarding your views on Benatar’s asymmetry. I hope we can put any past disagreements and feelings aside and have a discussion over at my blog.

    Link: http://demonsanddiscourses.blogspot.com/2016/06/back-with-some-more-thoughts-on.html

    • Francois Tremblay June 22, 2016 at 21:40 Reply

      I told you I wasn’t interested. I’m done discussing this with you. My entry will be up in a few days, and we can take it from there.

      • darthbarracuda June 22, 2016 at 22:51 Reply

        Alright, well If I’m going to participate on your blog I’d appreciate it if you would participate on mine.

        • Francois Tremblay June 22, 2016 at 22:56 Reply

          On the other hand, I could just ban you from commenting ever again.

          Ball’s in your court, champ.

          • darthbarracuda June 23, 2016 at 06:52 Reply

            Why would you want to do that?

            • Francois Tremblay June 23, 2016 at 15:20 Reply

              Why would I want to keep engaging you when you’re just repeating the same tired stuff over and over. Merry-go-rounds are only fun because of the view.

              • darthbarracuda June 23, 2016 at 15:59 Reply

                Maybe the reason I’m repeating the same things is because you’re not getting it. I’m not the person to waste my valuable time trolling other people over the internet – I wish to have a genuine discussion and you’re not making it easy.

                • Francois Tremblay June 23, 2016 at 16:14

                  Here’s the problem though: if you want to have a genuine discussion where we disagree, you can’t bring up stuff I’ve already debunked on this blog before. You need to bring, you know, new points to the table. Either new points on the same subject, or different arguments. You just haven’t done either of those things. And this is my blog, so I am the judge of whether you’ve succeeded or not.

                  But hey, at least you’re not ASURY. There are always silver linings.

              • darthbarracuda June 23, 2016 at 16:40 Reply

                “Here’s the problem though: if you want to have a genuine discussion where we disagree, you can’t bring up stuff I’ve already debunked on this blog before.”

                I wouldn’t bring them up if I felt you had “debunked” them. Clearly I am not convinced.

                So please don’t insult my intelligence when you know I’m not stupid.

                “And this is my blog, so I am the judge of whether you’ve succeeded or not.”

                This is your blog, sure, but the success of an argument depends on its contents, not the whims of a little blog owner.

                You continue to say that my (and other’s) arguments have already been “debunked”. Obviously we see no evidence of this debunking or we wouldn’t be here wasting time. So instead of just dismissing our arguments are empty and worthless, maybe you should take the time to actually explain why they you think they are and try to abide by the principle of charity.

                Otherwise you really are just wasting time on us.

                “But hey, at least you’re not ASURY. There are always silver linings.”

                Nobody is going to take you seriously if you continue to depend upon personal attacks. Maybe that’s not your goal here. maybe you like to just use this blog to vent and rage. But at least give us the courtesy to tell us this so we can move on, or start treating your guests with more respect.

                • Francois Tremblay June 23, 2016 at 16:52

                  Then we’ll simply have to agree to disagree.

              • darthbarracuda June 23, 2016 at 17:05 Reply

                Agree to disagree about what?

              • darthbarracuda June 23, 2016 at 17:14 Reply

                It’s only worthless if you make it worthless. I’m at least trying.

                • Francois Tremblay June 23, 2016 at 17:17

                  I have been writing replies to your stupid comments for days. Fuck you, darthbarracuda, you piece of shit. You are garbage.

              • darthbarracuda June 23, 2016 at 17:20 Reply

                Tremblay, you presumably are an antinatalist because you feel birth violates human rights and because you feel compassion for others.

                Given you just told me to fuck off and called me a piece of shit and garbage, I really have to question your integrity. Grow up.

                • Francois Tremblay June 23, 2016 at 17:22

                  I have no compassion for people who pull these fucking psychological tactics. You’re banned. If you ever want to discuss substance, and not how oppressed you are by me asking you to bring actual arguments to the table, you know where I am.

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