darthbarracuda’s attempt at debunking the Asymmetry.

Rebuttals to the Asymmetry seem to pop out with some regularity, mainly because it is the most well-known antinatalist argument. I think this is too bad, as there are many much stronger, and more intuitive, arguments (e.g. the duty argument, or the “Russian Roulette” argument). Still, here we are again.

darthbarracuda’s argument is not much different from the other more sophisticated rebuttals: there cannot be an asymmetry between pain and pleasure because you can reframe them in a symmetrical manner. But this is a linguistic game, the same game that Christians play when they ask “why is there anything instead of nothing?”: framing existence as being symmetrical to non-existence because of the way we formulate concepts does not mean they actually are symmetrical in reality (or to take a more ignorant example, when they say evolution and Creationism are both “just theories”). In this regard, I think the following passage from darthbarracuda is key:

Second, if we are to use counterfactuals for pain, then we really ought (and need) to use counterfactuals for pleasure. For I can imagine myself experiencing pleasure – in fact, this imagery is often the cause of desire (which causes suffering in some sense). Regardless of the fact that this imagery causes suffering, since pleasure is good then a possible me experiencing the pleasure is better off than the actual me who is not. This does not mean that the actual me is in a bad state, though, just as the lack of a headache does not mean that I am in a better state.

But the Asymmetry does not compare a person X who experiences pleasure and a person X who does not. It compares a state of affairs where person X exists (and therefore experiences pleasure) with a state of affairs where person X does no exist. In darthbarracuda’s objection, both sides of the comparisons are about people who exist. Yes, obviously a person who experiences a certain pleasure is better off than the person who does not. So what? The fact that you can reframe the argument in a manner you prefer does not demonstrate the falsity of the original argument. All it shows is that suffering and pleasure are symmetrical in the context you’ve chosen, but the context, in this case, has nothing to do with what the Asymmetry sets out to prove (that existence is less desirable than non-existence).

Now that I’ve made my point, let me now backtrack to the first objection:

First, I do not usually proclaim that it is a good thing that I am not experiencing a headache. It’s only apparent that this is a good thing when I compare myself with counterfactual, possible me’s. In which case, the real me who is not experiencing a headache is not in a good state just because I’m not experiencing a headache – I’m merely in a better state than if I were.

I agree with this point, but it’s not relevant to the Asymmetry. We don’t say the absence of pain is good because there is a person that is in a better state; we say the absence of pain is good because the state of affairs is better. A world where there is no person X is more desirable, all other things being equal, than a world where there is a person X that will suffer.

And the third point:

Third, counterfactual, possible if-me’s do not hold the same good-ness or bad-ness that actual me’s do. This was already explained above. For example, we typically don’t throw a party because someone avoided a really, really bad situation – we throw a party because a person is experiencing or is about to experience a lot of pleasure. And we typically don’t mourn the loss of pleasure – we mourn the subsequent gain of pain.

This point is very badly written. From what I understand, it’s just a repeat of a previous point, but I have no idea how this disproves the Asymmetry. The fact that we don’t throw a party for something, or mourn its loss, or otherwise find it noteworthy, doesn’t mean it wasn’t a good thing. The fact that a person avoided a really bad situation may not be a good party occasion (although why not celebrate it, if one dodged a bad enough bullet, like not going to jail or not losing one’s house?), but it is still a good thing nevertheless. But again, it has no relation to the Asymmetry, because the Asymmetry is not about a “possible if-me.”

There is also a final point to analyze. It is lengthier, so I will cut it up.

Furthermore, like I said before, Benatar conflates the “good” of the lack of pain with the GOOD of pleasure. His entire argument hinges upon his equivocation of the two. He specifically states that it is difficult to calculate how much pleasure or pain someone experiences (and yet he goes on later to explain why our lives are really bad which is calculating pain but whatever). Because of this avoidance of calculation, Benatar avoids the issue that would break his argument apart: that we often do plan things to do based upon how much pleasure or pain will be experienced.

I know I’m repeating myself, but this point, like most of his points, has no relevance to anything. We do plan things based on how much pleasure or pain we expect from them. So what? In any such decision, we’re comparing two future states of ourselves. In either state, we still exist.

The general point, I think, is that darthbarracuda is trying to argue against the principle that we can’t decide how much a life is worth by directly comparing the pleasure and suffering in it. But his argument fails because it does not address this at all: talking about how we plan things is an entirely different sort of procedure than judging an entire life. In the “how we plan things” process, we’re making a straightforward comparison of two hypothetical situations at the same point in time (e.g. a state where I buy the car versus a state where I don’t), so it makes sense to compare benefits, compare losses, and their evolution over time. On the other hand, the “how to judge a life” process is not straightforward at all, because we have no direct comparison to make. Is winning a million dollars better than becoming paraplegic? Is stubbing your toe worse than eating a piece of spaghetti? If these questions seem difficult to answer for ourselves, then how much more difficult they must be to answer for someone else. And yet this is what “judging a life” would imply.

Benatar openly embraces the idea that a pinprick disqualifies all pleasure by making the “good” of the lack of a pinprick equal to the GOOD of a million orgasms.

I have no idea what it would mean to “disqualify” a pleasure. The pinprick argument is a consequence of negative utilitarianism (which Benatar adopts): if our ethical goal is to minimize suffering, then the event of a single pinprick is enough suffering to make human life undesirable. I am not a negative utilitarian, so I am not going to defend that position. But whatever you think about negative utilitarianism, it’s not about equating a pinprick with a million orgasms, or indeed making a pinprick equal anything. The point is not that the pinprick is equal to anything, but that the pinprick is part of that category of things (suffering) that the negative utilitarian seeks to minimize.

Basically, darthbarracuda’s point is something like saying that feminism is wrong because a woman’s experience of rape is not as important as the murder of millions of male soldiers in war. Feminists want to minimize women getting raped (amongst other things), and the comparison simply has no relevance. The amount of pleasure or suffering that men experience is beyond the scope of the ideology. Likewise, to negative utilitarians, orgasms are not relevant: their standard is the minimization of suffering, and does not involve pleasure at all.

He’s appealing to states of affairs without considering the composition of these states of affairs – I liken it to saying there is flour in the cookie mix without actually stating how much flour is in the cookie mix. All Benatar is concerned with (at least with his formal argument) is that there is pain in existence and no-pain in non-existence without actually considering how much pain is in existence and how much pain is avoided in virtue of non-existence.

But how would the quantity of pain change the fact that people who exist experience pain and that non-existence does not? Or, for that matter, how would the quantity of pleasure change the fact that people who exist experience pleasure and that non-existence does not? This is not at all like saying there’s flour in cookies without stating how much flour is in the cookie mix. This is like being asked how you mixed the ingredients and answering that there’s flour in cookies. The nature of the ingredients in the cookies is not relevant to the question of how these ingredients are mixed together.

I think I’ve made my point. Most of this response is made of complete red herrings, and this betrays a lack of understanding of the argument. This lack of understanding is also shown by darthbarracuda’s comments on this blog, which similarly miss the point.

14 thoughts on “darthbarracuda’s attempt at debunking the Asymmetry.

  1. darthbarracuda July 5, 2016 at 04:32 Reply

    I’ll post my reply later. I have already made another post addressing many of your concerns but I’ll make another.

    • Francois Tremblay July 5, 2016 at 04:43 Reply

      How did you make a comment? I thought I banned you.

      • darthbarracuda July 5, 2016 at 06:34 Reply

        You did, but I thought I’d try commenting in case you un-banned me. So I’m not sure how I managed to comment if you indeed left be unable to express my opinion.

        Either way, it’s difficult to have a discussion when you won’t let me post.

      • darthbarracuda July 5, 2016 at 13:03 Reply

        I managed to find some time to write a response to your attempt to refute my original post. You will find it here:

        http://demonsanddiscourses.blogspot.com/2016/07/response-to-francois-tremblays.html

        • Francois Tremblay July 5, 2016 at 15:00 Reply

          What a completely, absolutely useless response.

          You’re banned again.

          • darthbarracuda July 14, 2016 at 20:05 Reply

            Looks like it’s just you and me. I brought popcorn, you got any butter?

            • Francois Tremblay July 14, 2016 at 20:19 Reply

              I don’t know how you’re getting around the bans, but you’re a pathetic little troll. Die in a fire.

          • darthbarracuda July 14, 2016 at 20:07 Reply

            Also try harder to actually have a discussion, cause you’re utterly failing at it.

  2. zapffetheincredible July 30, 2016 at 15:17 Reply

    “But the Asymmetry does not compare a person X who experiences pleasure and a person X who does not. It compares a state of affairs where person X exists (and therefore experiences pleasure) with a state of affairs where person X does no exist. ”

    This is contentious (non-existence is concerning a person, not a state of affairs), but I’ll let the specifics of Benatar’s own beliefs pass and focus on your own interpretation of his position.

    It’s not clear as to what you mean by “state of affairs”, which I think is making it difficult for other people to understand what you’re trying to say. If you mean the world, then it’s obvious that the world already has people who feel pain, thus the mere addition of another person would not be a big deal, since you later dismissed arguments about quantity of experience that darthbarracuda provided. According to you, all that matters is whether or not pain exists as a universal, whether that be a pinprick or a Holocaust.

    I’ll be charitable though and assume you actually meant a state of affairs that is empty of any feeling people, and a state of affairs in which a person exists. In which case, the empty state of affairs is impersonally better than the state of affairs in which a person feels pain.

    But I see no reason not to apply this same reasoning to the absence of pleasure, as darthbarracuda said. In fact, it’s quite obvious that we can indeed feel regret that nobody experiences pleasure – I think it’s a shame that we can’t feel great pleasure without great pain. The empty universe, albeit “good” in the sense that nobody is suffering, is also “bad” in the sense that nobody is experiencing great pleasures.

    Benatar’s assumption of anti-frustrationism is also inadequate, despite it being a necessary component of his formal argument. Pleasure is a distinct experience from the satisfaction of a desire. The satisfaction of a desire results in pleasure, but the reason we wished to satisfy the desire was because the object of desire made us feel good, not just neutral in the relief-sense.

    And it’s not a linguistic game at all, contrary to what you claim. To show this, we can reverse the argument a bit:

    “The lack of pleasure in non-existence is a bad thing.”

    “The lack of pain in non-existence is not a good thing since nobody is there to be deprived of pain.”

    (This example came from Julio Cabrera’s book on negative ethics, and his section covering Benatar’s formal argument)

    This is directly opposite of what Benatar claims, and what you claim as well. But in order to reject this aforementioned view, you would have to reject your original Benatarian view, unless you wish to beg the question.

    You need a reason why the lack of pain is an impersonal value whereas the lack of pleasure is not, and I see no such reason apparent. Whatever it is that makes the lack of pleasure neutral, why not apply this to the lack of pain? Both are experiences dependent upon the existence of a person.

    “But how would the quantity of pain change the fact that people who exist experience pain and that non-existence does not? Or, for that matter, how would the quantity of pleasure change the fact that people who exist experience pleasure and that non-existence does not? This is not at all like saying there’s flour in cookies without stating how much flour is in the cookie mix. This is like being asked how you mixed the ingredients and answering that there’s flour in cookies. The nature of the ingredients in the cookies is not relevant to the question of how these ingredients are mixed together.”

    Because, like McMahan argued, the existence of a certain amount of pleasure (theoretically, not practically speaking) would outweigh the amount of pain, thus making the birth “permissible”. According to McMahan, potential pain acts as a reason not to procreate, whereas potential pleasure acts only as permissibility. We permit things all the time based upon the expected pleasure and pain, and it seems ad hoc to not apply this reasoning to birth (even if it ends up at the same antinatalist conclusion, as I think it does, as Zapffe so mesmorizingly argued for).

    In regards to the first two questions of the above quoted passage – this is exactly what makes it a symmetry, not an asymmetry. I can say that it is a good thing that nobody is experiencing pain; that is to say, is is an impersonal good that nobody is experiencing pain (which is what I believe you mean when you say states of affairs). Similarly, I can also say that it is a bad thing that nobody is experiencing pleasure in the impersonal sense. Why only apply a value to the lack of pain? Why is the reason that the lack of pleasure being neutral not applied to the lack of pain? It’s suspiciously ad hoc and begs the question.

    We can, however, say that the presence of pain in existence is a reason not to procreate whereas the presence of pleasure is not a reason to. This is based simply in basic phenomenology – pain is overarching and pressing. To exist inevitably harms someone, whereas non-existence never harmed anyone. But this goes into duties (which Benatar is not interested in) and the interests of possible people (which you “claim” Benatar is not interested in).

    Benatar’s asymmetry (his formal argument) is dependent upon his material argument, despite him claiming otherwise. It requires that life has a negative structural integrity.

    • Francois Tremblay July 30, 2016 at 15:26 Reply

      “But I see no reason not to apply this same reasoning to the absence of pleasure, as darthbarracuda said. In fact, it’s quite obvious that we can indeed feel regret that nobody experiences pleasure – I think it’s a shame that we can’t feel great pleasure without great pain. The empty universe, albeit “good” in the sense that nobody is suffering, is also “bad” in the sense that nobody is experiencing great pleasures.”

      No, because there is no one being deprived of these pleasures. How many times do I have to repeat this?

      “And it’s not a linguistic game at all, contrary to what you claim. To show this, we can reverse the argument a bit:

      “The lack of pleasure in non-existence is a bad thing.””

      No, the lack of pleasure in non-existence is not a bad thing, because what does not exist cannot be deprived of pleasure.

      ““The lack of pain in non-existence is not a good thing since nobody is there to be deprived of pain.”””

      “deprived of pain”? What does that even mean?

      Your argument has already been debunked, so you’re just making stuff up. Idiotic.

      • zapffetheincredible July 30, 2016 at 16:55 Reply

        Why are you being so hostile to everyone?

        You didn’t even reply to all of what I said, and the part that you did reply doesn’t make any sense because I already explained why it doesn’t above (as did darthbarracuda).

        ““deprived of pain”? What does that even mean?”

        If you don’t like the word “deprived”, then the word “relieved” or “avoided” should suffice.

        The part that you never seem to wrap your mind around is that you are being inconsistent with how you apply counterfactuals. You yourself even said that it’s not about a possible person’s interests but with the value of a state of affairs – so pick one and stick with it.

        You argue that the absence of pleasure is not bad because there is nobody there to experience the deprivation. This is appealing to the lack of a possible person, not to the state of affairs.

        But then you argue that the absence of pain is good, full stop. It’s just good independent of anyone as an impersonal value. This is appealing to the state of affairs, and not a possible person, since the impersonal good value does not depend on there being a person (whereas the bad value for the lack of pleasure apparently does…?)

        So there must be a person present for the lack of pleasure to be bad, but there doesn’t have to be a person for the lack of pain to be good? Hopefully you see how this is begging the question.

        “No, the lack of pleasure in non-existence is not a bad thing, because what does not exist cannot be deprived of pleasure.”

        If this is true, then the lack of pain in non-existence is not a good thing, because what does not exist cannot know that it is avoiding pain (just like what does not exist cannot know that it is being deprived of pleasure). So once again for the millionth time you fail to realize that you are begging the question by applying an impersonal value to the lack of pain but failing to do so for the lack of pleasure.

        I’d say you’re being idiotic but that would be rude.

        • Francois Tremblay July 30, 2016 at 18:06 Reply

          “Why are you being so hostile to everyone?”

          How am I being hostile? You are making stuff up, and it is ridiculous. If you’re gonna try to debunk what I said, then debunk what I said.

          “You didn’t even reply to all of what I said”

          Because it all came down to the parts I quoted. The rest was extraneous.

          “and the part that you did reply doesn’t make any sense because I already explained why it doesn’t above (as did darthbarracuda).”

          No, you are engaged in a word game. I have clearly explained many times to both of you why that is. That you refuse obstinately to acknowledge it, is not my problem.

          “If you don’t like the word “deprived”, then the word “relieved” or “avoided” should suffice.”

          Again, this has nothing to do with what I wrote.

          “You argue that the absence of pleasure is not bad because there is nobody there to experience the deprivation. This is appealing to the lack of a possible person, not to the state of affairs.”

          It is appealing to the state of affairs: the state of affairs where there is no person X to experience the pleasure. I don’t understand why you’re confused about that.

          “So there must be a person present for the lack of pleasure to be bad”

          What? That doesn’t even make any sense. The scenario where there is a lack of pleasure is the scenario where there is no person X. You’re addressing a completely different argument, not the Asymmetry.

          “If this is true, then the lack of pain in non-existence is not a good thing”

          This is just fucking circles. The lack of pain is a good thing because non-existence cannot suffer. Read the fucking argument. You apparently have read something entirely different and are saying that’s what I said. It clearly is not. I have never said any of this shit you’re arguing against. You are a knave and a buffoon.

          “I’d say you’re being idiotic but that would be rude.”

          You are a fucking straw lord. Not even a straw man, a straw lord. Nothing you are arguing against is my position. You are just MAKING STUFF UP and wasting my time on a bunch of nonsense I never said. Get the fuck off my blog.

          • zapffetheincredible July 30, 2016 at 18:34 Reply

            ““So there must be a person present for the lack of pleasure to be bad”

            What? That doesn’t even make any sense. The scenario where there is a lack of pleasure is the scenario where there is no person X. You’re addressing a completely different argument, not the Asymmetry.”

            LOL what? Didn’t you just say that the lack of pleasure is not bad because THERE’S NOBODY THERE TO EXPERIENCE THE DEPRIVATION?! In other words, there needs to be a person present for the lack of pleasure to be a deprivation? Wow…it’s almost as if I just said that…

            “The lack of pain is a good thing because non-existence cannot suffer. Read the fucking argument. ”

            You must be doing some serious mental gymnastics if you can’t grasp the idea that the lack of pleasure is a bad thing because non-existence cannot feel pleasure, just like you said that the lack of pain is a good thing because non-existence cannot feel pain.

            “You are a fucking straw lord. Not even a straw man, a straw lord. Nothing you are arguing against is my position. You are just MAKING STUFF UP and wasting my time on a bunch of nonsense I never said. Get the fuck off my blog.”

            If I’m wasting your time you wouldn’t be getting your panties in a twist. And everything I said is in reaction to what you said (since I quoted you). Looks like you’re just trying to compensate for a poor argument on your part. At least Benatar didn’t call other people knaves and buffoons. You’re a poor excuse for an antinatalist.

            • Francois Tremblay July 30, 2016 at 18:44 Reply

              “LOL what? Didn’t you just say that the lack of pleasure is not bad because THERE’S NOBODY THERE TO EXPERIENCE THE DEPRIVATION?!”

              No. I did not say that at all. I never, ever said that. Again, straw man.

              “You must be doing some serious mental gymnastics if you can’t grasp the idea that the lack of pleasure is a bad thing because non-existence cannot feel pleasure,”

              That makes no sense! How does that make the lack of pleasure a bad thing? Are you even reading what you write?

              “You’re a poor excuse for an antinatalist.”

              And you are fucking insane. You’re banned. Goodbye.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: