How Best to Prevent Future Persons From Suffering: A Reply to Benatar

South African Journal of Philosophy 31 (1):79-93 (2012)
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David Benatar claims that everyone was seriously harmed by coming into existence. To spare future persons from this suffering, we should cease having children, Benatar argues, with the result that humanity would gradually go extinct. Benatar’s claim of universal serious harm is baseless. Each year, an estimated 94% of children born throughout the world do not have a serious birth defect. Furthermore, studies show that most people do not experience chronic pain. Although nearly everyone experiences acute pain and discomforts, such as thirst, these experiences have instrumental value. For example, when a person picks up a hot object, in response to the pain, the person releases the object, thereby preventing serious harm. The standard that Benatar uses to evaluate the quality of our lives is arbitrary, as I will demonstrate. His proposal that we phase humanity out of existence by ceasing to have children is misguided and an overreaction to the problem of human suffering. The ‘threshold conception of harm’, which is a targeted approach for preventing future persons from suffering, is a more sensible approach.

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