Antinatalism vs. The Non-Identity Problem

The non-identity problem backfires against opponents of antinatalism

Non-Identity and the Consent Argument

One of the most commonly cited philosophical grounds for rejecting antinatalism is the so-called “non-identity problem”, which posits that procreation cannot be an unethical violation of consent due to the fact that a person does not exist in order to be imposed upon prior to the act of creation, and therefore no ethical trespass has been committed. If you were to read or listen to any rebuttal of antinatalism, the chances are that this is one of the first arguments that you will encounter. The normally excellent Philosophy Tube did a disappointingly cursory video about antinatalism and summarily concluded that the non-identity problem is fatal to antinatalism; as there was no person suspended in the abyss who had any desire not to come into existence, and to find that state of affairs preferable to being born.

This rebuttal misses the point that antinatalism is about preventing a harm, rather than bestowing a benefit. It also seems to be something of a straw-man argument. As an antinatalist, I am not concerned with preserving the non-existent in some blissful ethereal antechamber where they will enjoy their perpetual state of protection from suffering. My ethical concern does not relate to the void that precedes the existence of the person. It pertains to the person who will come into existence in the future. As Youtube philosopher inmendham analogised it best, procreation forces a person onto a tightrope strung out over the pits of hell, and one misstep or gust of wind can send you hurtling down to be impaled on the daggers below. If procreation is prevented, then this prevents an individual from coming into existence who may find that existence to be burdensome, and may resent the imposition. They won’t enjoy a benefit from that prevention; however prevention need not confer the experience of relief in order to be valuable. The value of the prevention is in the fact that we do not create suffering. As the person never comes into existence, the “benefit” of relief from suffering, is never needed.

The Principle of Maximin Reasoning

I believe that most people would agree that consent is often an important pre-requisite to permit you to make decisions on behalf of others. However, as opponents of antinatalism have correctly pointed out, there are numerous scenarios in which the ethically appropriate course of action may involve violating the consent of another. Such examples could include decisions being made on behalf of a dependent child, such as deciding to take them to the dentist, or having them vaccinated. As young children have insufficient life experience to know what is in their best interests all of the time, it is incumbent upon a responsible adult (usually a parent) to make decisions on their behalf which may not coincide with what the child wants at the time, but which are likely to be in the child’s long term interest. Thus, we have compelling ethical grounds to allow us to violate the child’s consent in the expectation of having served their long term interests to avoid suffering. As an antinatalist, I would not dispute that this is often the case, and would not aver that one can never act without the consent of a living person regarding decisions that can have profound ramifications on their future wellbeing.

However, this counterargument ignores a key distinction between examples such as the one above, and decisions taken on behalf of a person yet to exist. Namely, the person who already exists already has a present welfare state that must be protected, and because they exist in the present, they will have a future welfare state which is going to be determined by the decisions made today. Consequently, when you are making a decision on behalf of a young child, or an elderly adult, you must perform a cost-benefit analysis in order to determine whether the short term detriment (i.e. acting against the person’s will, or without their knowledge) is going to be more harmful or less harmful in the long term than abstaining from making that choice.

Because you can prevent your as yet in-existent child from coming into existence, and from having any future wellbeing state at all, you cannot appeal to the same line of reasoning that would enable you to make decisions on behalf of an already born child. That’s because, unlike in any of these scenarios in which the person has already been born, you have an option available to you that would avoid any risk of future harm to the child. Namely, you can abstain from bringing the child into existence in the first place. An entity which never comes into existence, can never be harmed, and it can never want for the pleasures that existence could afford them. In other words, you must invoke maximin reasoning here; which means that; rather than take into account the full spectrum of probability regarding the outcome of that child’s life, you may only consider the worst possible outcomes. If those worst possible outcomes result in serious harm, then you cannot ethically justify the act of procreation. Abstaining from procreation would result in a perfectly harmless outcome for the hypothetical person who would have come into existence (i.e. they will never exist, and will thus never form an identity or a set of interests that can be benefitted); thus in order to justify your imposition, you must restore symmetry by explaining how procreation will also be perfectly harmless. This must be true not only for the child you create, but for all of their descendants as well. And arguably also for any sentient beings whose welfare state they will affect.

Unlike the child who may get sick because they weren’t vaccinated, the child who was never born cannot be identified, and thus no meaningful comparison can be made which would allow one to assert that the child was worse off for never coming into existence. Therefore, the non-identity problem not only fails as a refutation of antinatalism; it actually backfires against the pro-natalist side of the argument and becomes, in my opinion, one of the most robust and devastating weapons in the antinatalist arsenal.

The Asymmetry Between Pleasure and Pain

The only way that natalists can salvage the non-identity problem would be to radically subvert civilisation’s normally agreed-upon rules of ethics and instead of consent being required; an explicit refusal of consent would be required in order to prevent the 3rd party from acting, as opposed to the normal situation in which the absence of verbalised consent would mean that consent has not been obtained. Otherwise, special pleading would be needed to justify why the rules of consent could be violated in this particular instance, despite the fact that a non-existent entity could not be at any danger of being harmed.

Baked into this exercise in ethical subversion is the assumption that life itself is a profitable endeavour, and that the existence of pleasure constitutes a just reason to introduce the risk of suffering. This would therefore constitute the grounds for special pleading being presented in defence of procreation.

Under the normal ethical rules of civilisation, there is first an obligation to do no harm; and no obligation at all to give someone pleasure. If you can give someone pleasure without foreseeably causing them serious harm, then it is optional to give someone pleasure without asking for their consent first. You could illustrate this with the example of an unsolicited birthday gift. The gift would be anticipated to satisfy existing desires or needs, and therefore enhance the quality of life of the recipient, in some way. When shopping for a gift for a friend, one would normally be expected to take pains to ensure that they are not going to be burdening their friend with the burden of maintenance that they may not be prepared to accept (hence a live animal such as a dog would not usually be considered an appropriate choice of gift, unless this had been discussed with the recipient previously, or unless you were already aware that the recipient wanted a dog, and what type of dog they wanted). A considerate gift giver would also take into account the needs and desires of their friends, and tailor their choice accordingly. The recipient must always retain the right to refuse the gift at the point of receipt, or to dispose of it.

In praise of life, you will undoubtedly have often heard it said that life is a precious gift that is bestowed upon us by our parents. But the problem with this claim, is that the “gift of life” seems to fall foul of each one of the criteria listed above.

And the problem is compounded by the fact that the opponents of antinatalism cannot even seem to keep their story straight. No sooner have they invoked the non-identity problem to wave away the ethical concerns of antinatalists, than they have started to impute needs and desires onto an as-yet inexistent individual (or even the universe itself) in order to justify the creation of that individual. The natalist is proposing to create a problem that needn’t exist in order to allow for the chance for the problem to be solved to a satisfactory degree. That is to say, they want desires to be satisfied, even though those desires can only be satisfied up to the extent that a yawning cavern of desire was opened up within that individual’s psychology to begin with, constantly demanding to be filled in; never satisfied for long. Whilst desire is not an intrinsically negative experience itself, it is always a liability. For as long as you have a desire, you run the risk of failing to satisfy that desire, which will result into falling into a state of deprivation. And as is observed from the psychological phenomenon of the hedonic treadmill effect, you can’t just satisfy a desire once, and then remain permanently satisfied with what you have gained. As soon as that one desire is satisfied, then another one arises to take its place.

In order to further illustrate the problem of desire; I would liken desire to the poles of a magnet. There is a negative pole of suffering, and a positive pole of pleasure. Only the negative pole exerts a magnetic pull on the individual, which reflects the fact that striving is usually required to secure pleasure; whereas if you exert no effort at all, then you will inexorably be drawn into an ever deepening pit of suffering. This needn’t even require a lapse on your part in actively attempting to maintain forward movement towards the pole of pleasure. It may be that a barrier outside of your control gets in your way and trips you up, and you hurtle backwards towards the pole of suffering until you are able to gain your footing once again and resume your forward motion. These barriers which may impede your progress may be so manifold that you could never possibly anticipate every one of them. Even if you consider the human body itself; your comfort and pleasure depends on maintaining a minimum standard of health, with every organ functioning as it should be, no significant damage to any muscles or bones, and so on. If you develop a significant injury or malady in even one of the vast number of constituent parts of your body, then the pain or discomfort from that is likely to be sufficient to vitiate any pleasure that you might have been experiencing, as you will become focused on relief from the suffering. This suffering must be ameliorated as a precondition before you can even start to attain pleasure.

As I hope to have illustrated; by following the line of reasoning opened up by the non-identity problem, we find profound weaknesses in the pro-natalist position, and in an honest debate, it would be difficult to assess that the natalist argument has gained any traction in the debate whatsoever. The only reason that it is still winning, is because people were already disposed towards favouring life to begin with, and in the example of suicide prevention for example, are willing to use state sanctioned coercion to silence opposition and ensure that life-affirming philosophy carries the day. Unfortunately, as is the case with suicide, this debate has not been a fair one, to date, and much like the Philosophy Tube video linked at the start of the post, opponents of antinatalism are quick to shuck off challenges to their worldview with superficial arguments, seeming to uphold the virtue of life, but which collapse upon further scrutiny.

Please feel free to add your comments below, or discuss on Reddit at r/DebateAntinatalism or r/BirthandDeathEthics for uncensored debate. As always, all perspectives are welcome. More posts exploring different rebuttals of antinatalism and efilism (and perhaps expanding upon some of the topics touched upon here) will follow in due course. Please also subscribe using the form below, and visit the homepage for an index of all the blog’s published content.

existentialgoof – 19th September 2021


  1. Interesting post man, I’m not familiar with the debate, so I have a few questions I want to ask you, and see your opinion on them, since you are more into the discussion.

    1. Why not taking into account probability and only focus on the worst possible outcomes? There’s the possibility that I may get into a car crash, every single time that I drive off the road, however I believe that very few people actually do get into them in contrast to the people that drive safe to their destination. Now from the antinatalist perspective, (if I got this straight) Why even bother to make the choice? if you could just, work at home for example. Maybe because the destination is worth the risk, since I’m going against favorable odd’s (in the case of a flat road for example). Now while even with a good background you are still gambling against all sorts of risks both physical and emotional, you won’t get every bad outcome possible, leave alone, the worst of them all. So you can prepare yourself to face one terrible fate, like for example: physical disability, while it is awful to suffer such fate, people still have found a happy outcome in the end or joy in it. Now I’m not gonna talk for everyone here, you can still apply my own logic and put into probability how many people with an awful event have actually got a good outcome in the end. But then again, that’s even on the case that you are gonna get a terrible condition at all, and humans certainly do not live forever, so you are not gambling forever.

    2. I dont agree with your magnet analogy, I do believe that a lack of pleasure can create suffering, more specific boredom, or the pain of loss. But I also think that in order for that to be, you have to introduce pleasure first, it doesn’t happen on its own. Thats the reason why animals dont get bored as often as humans do, since they lack the reasoning and experience to desire something more than the pleasure they get from food, sleep or sex. Same thing goes with humans, you cant be dependant on a drug if you haven’t taken it first. Now I also dont believe that pleasure is only desirable on the face of pain. You need food in order to overcome hungriness, but even if someone’s not hungry, he still gets the desire to eat a pizza, now even if said person doesn’t get to eat pizza tonight, for whatever reason, he won’t fail into crippling depression, or even slight annoyance. I believe this is relative for each individual, my point being that pleasure is not merely an answer to suffering, it can be, which is fine, but desire’s create themselves alone, if they ever get experienced, and the need to renovate said pleasure, if it fails to do so, won’t necessarily create pain.

    3. The risk of losing a desire or pleasure, or not meeting a goal, is not that high to begin with. This again is subjective for the individual, probably the most subjective point I’m going to make, but so is the general human experience. If a person’s sources of happiness are not hard to meet, then the risk of losing them won’t be high in the first place, thus it can maintain itself for a long period of time. As this is relative to a person’s interests, personality and past, I cannot talk for everyone, but me for example, my only conditions for happiness are limited to taking a walk and seeing the beautiful enviroment where I live, sharing time with my wife, and enjoying my usual pleasures like food, entertaiment and water, etc. I have bigger desires, yes, but wether they get realized or not, really won’t change my state of being, since I’m honestly happy with what I got, and dont need much else. All of this still runs the risk of loss, which can create great pain, but is on the account of minimal probability, so I dont get fear of any bad outcome. Despite all of this, if I suffer the fate of losing permanently any of these, I have the hope of eventually overcoming said outcomes, since I believe that people get stronger with pain, as I have done the past. So yeah, there would be great suffering, but worth taking as I’ll get through it, and get better. This again is entirely subjective, even then, I cant be 100% sure that each negative scenario will be solved as I plan to, but with probability on my side, I have not much to fear, and lots to enjoy.

    However I do believe, that a palinless death can come handy to an individual thats suffering a great deal of pain, and cant get out of it, despite his efforts, thats why I support the right to die, and humanity should create more method’s for accomplishing that goal, since while its more likely to get a good outcome, it’s not a certainty.


    1. An apology if any part of my comment suffers from bad grammar or poor redaction, english is not my main languague


    2. 1. The reason for making any decision whilst you’re alive is that the benefits seem to outweigh the risks and the drawbacks for not deciding. As long as you are alive, you can be disappointed with your choice, and may suffer. But that isn’t the case for the unborn. Since non-existence is perfectly harmless, then you have to guarantee existence will be perfectly harmless, as the only ethical grounds for imposing risk of harm would be if you were saving them from a harm that would probably be greater.

      2. Humans have a more complex psychology, and I think that’s why we have more complex desires and needs than other animals. As well as the basic needs, we have higher level needs for entertainment, we have more complicated relationships and so on. I think that the extent to which you’re going to suffer deprivation of a pleasure is going to be proportional to the extent to which you coveted the desideratum in the first place. So if it was just the case that you wanted a takeaway pizza, but all the shops were closed so you had to do without, then that isn’t going to lead to a crippling depression, because the desire for pizza was a passing whim. I don’t think that you can really say that you have to introduce pleasure first, because the need for pleasure is inextricable from the liability that you’ll suffer if you don’t receive enough of it. And of course, the same goes for things like live, relationships and so on. And I believe that the degree to which you can suffer deprivation of these things is actually more intense than the amount of pleasure you’re actually going to get from them; at least in most cases.

      3. If you’ve managed to keep your needs minimal, then that’s probably the best way to live. It seems like you have a high hedonic set-point, which is always beneficial. But that doesn’t represent the situation of everyone, and many people are unable to obtain in life even the relatively modest requirements that you have for a good life. Even if you’re happy with the odds for yourself, that doesn’t really mean that you can ethically impose life on someone else, as their psychology may not be calibrated to be satisfied as easily as you are, and you may not be able to protect them from the ravages of harm that you can barely imagine. It’s true that suffering makes one more resilient, but then that still doesn’t mean that the suffering itself is good, but merely necessary in order to be able to withstand suffering. And also, if your kids are never born, they won’t need to become resilient for anything.

      Your grammar and everything for the most part are fine.


  2. An excellent post. Loved the ending!
    > The only reason that it is still winning, is because people were already disposed towards favouring life to begin with, and in the example of suicide prevention for example, are willing to use state sanctioned coercion to silence opposition and ensure that life-affirming philosophy carries the day.


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  4. Good evening there,
    The issue is with imposing life on those who cannot consent and who may not share the same value system and might not find life to be worth the cost. That’s what has to be prevented.
    ….and that it wasn’t an extremely harmful imposition.
    There should be no more impositions of life…

    You seem to argue that not producing a child is somehow a safer, more warranted choice. That’s simply false:

    1. You can’t ask an egg if it wants to be fertilised, so it can neither consent to being fertilised nor to not being fertilised. If anything, not producing a particular human being is a decision you can never undo. Producing a human being is something that person can easily undo at their own leisure. Just don’t throw yourself in front of a train because that’s a dick’s way to go.
    Efilism is a contradiction in terms, an oxymoron: they are promoting life ending but they are still around and finding excuses for keep leaving their lives and keep threatening the whole world blowing it up when opportunity arise out of resentment and selfishness.
    2. You are predicating an action: “to impose” over a non existing predicate/subject: a personhood.When parents procreate there isn’t any personhood grew up to ask about.
    3. we can introspect the child or adult about if it was a good thing they come alive and guess what is mostly the answer coming around: “they enjoy the life”, “they manage the suffering”, “they want to leave and share the gratitude”, “life is a gift” etc
    Once you get it from schopenhauer that poeple do what they want and what they want is to procreate you get the answer to your philosophy(you can not change want you want)

    in the other post you are affirming “”It pertains to the person who will come into existence in the future””.

    But you are in no logical ground to represent a priori the interests/right of something non existing, even more the future person most likely will not need your consent or careness about his/her suffering
    The efilists have problems with ontology because they are cryptoplatonist materialists, because they believe that good exists outside of human communication, that eudemonia or anti-eudemonia, suffering, good, evil, can crystallize in the universe itself that this can be a characteristic of the universe outside of communicating sentient beings.

    Re:”all of the evidence of my senses leads me to believe that I am not the only entity in existence that experiences suffering”.
    That’s where you are actually imposing your believes system a posteriori, see your comment
    The whole premise is wrong that suffering is the only game in town is to prevent it:

    No one cares about life just because of the feeling of pleasure and pain. Those aren’t the only things that matter. We appreciate life because of the opportunities to learn, the reaches of sensations and nature beauty, to create, and to experience new things. People are fighting in live to conquer new technologies, to shine and share their love with their descendants.
    If life is terminated, all those goods go away. True, no one would be around to miss them, but neither would anyone be around to appreciate the lack of pain.
    With nano and biotechnology around the corner the suffering will be terminated and even the brain state which leads you to suicidal mental states will never be an available option to start with.

    Re: I’m not sure what you’re saying is a logical fallacy. I don’t want to end the existence of sentient life because I’m suicidal personally. I want to do it in order to prevent the problem from being perpetuated onto others who didn’t have a say in being dragged into it.

    Producing a human being is something that person can easily undo at their own leisure. Just don’t throw yourself in front of a train because that’s a dick’s way to go.

    There’s something hyperfeminine and decadent about this antinatalist line of argument. We’re more pampered than ever in our developed societies, thanks to technoscientific and political progress, and antinatalists are still saying there’s too much pain—and indeed so much pain that our species should be shut down. This is like the woke progressive who says someone should be cancelled for committing a mere microaggression. This is unmanly.

    And I don’t credit the utilitarian conceit that the antinatalist is a moral purist. Far from being so moral in wanting to end every trace of pain, the antinatalist feels burdened by troubles, and wants to drag everyone down to his or her level out of resentment and selfishness. He/She feels like he’s nothing and she wants everyone else to be just as negligible (as in extinct). This is a contradictory, deranged argument that gets by on Orwellian doubletalk.


    1. Sorry for the delay in responding to you. I’ve been without Internet for a couple of days. You cannot get consent for procreation, but that doesn’t mean that, by default, it must therefore be perfectly ethically acceptable to impose dreadful risks (harms which you would find unacceptable if you had to face them yourselves) without getting consent from the person who is going to be experiencing the consequences of your imposition. Your argument about imposing on a person yet to come into existence is mere semantics, and is a way to deflect from the real ethical question, which is whether it is ethical for you to undertake an action that is going to originate all of the harm that befalls a person who will have to suffer those consequences. And not only do you open the door to those consequences for your own children, but all successive generations which branch off from your children. And you’ve failed to address that. Even if the majority report that they are happy with their lives, that does not justify creating the bad lives that will never be enjoyed by their victim. People wanting to procreate does not justify allowing them to create a slave to their desires, who will have to bear untold consequences.

      Nobody needs the “goods” of life when they don’t exist, and the only way to assign value to life is based on the way that one feels. Therefore, there is no inherent value to life. There isn’t anything good in life other than satisfying a desire or a need that didn’t have to exist, or obtaining relief from avoiding a harm. There is no way of describing a “good” without reference to feelings, and then once you’ve referred to the goodness of those feelings, you’ll invariably come back to the fact that the “good” was mere fulfilment of a desire, and the cost of failing to fulfil it would have been to suffer a deprivation.

      Regarding your point about “undoing” the harms of life via suicide; this is where I can tell that you aren’t interested in discussing this with a shred of intellectual honesty, and frankly on that basis alone, I should not be allowing your comment to stand at all. It doesn’t take much imagination at all to understand how badly wrong a suicide attempt can go. You even mention suicide by train. Why do you think that people do end up resorting to dying by jumping in front of a train? Because that’s the most reliable method available to them, and due to the legal status of suicide, only the methods that are fraught with risk are available to a suicidal person. If you’d taken 10 seconds to perform an Internet search on the lethality of suicide methods, you would understand that failed suicides outnumber successful ones typically by a ratio of around 20 to 1 (and that’s from the US, where they have access to guns), and there are some terrible consequences to be paid by some of those who have failed at using one of the more violent suicide attempts that have a higher lethality rate. And that’s not even getting started on the fact that we have a powerful instinct towards self-preservation, for which intellect and philosophy alone are no match. It’s also absolutely disgusting that you would think that you’d done nothing wrong if you put someone in a situation where they’d need to kill themselves to get out of the harm that you’d landed them in, and that you would trivialise not only the act of harming them, but also the difficulties that they would face in trying to extricate themselves from that peril.

      The reason that people are more likely to be antinatalists now as opposed to the past when there was more raw suffering involved in day to day life, is that back then, people were basically narrowly focused on survival, and they were uneducated and had religion to provide a handy rationale for why they must toil so, and to put their struggles in the context of a greater meaning. People living comfortable 1st world lifestyles are still on the same treadmill of trying to keep up with need and desire, but they are equipped with an education that enables them to see the religious narratives as being lies and fantasies, and capable of understanding that there is no destination in sight.


  5. Hello existentialgoof and appolgyse if my commment on suicide was not very much thought through. As I mentioned elsewhere, there are safe and non painful method and at least in Switzerland that is supported by state .
    So again, apologies for the train analogy passed through so misfortune . I am fully with your reasoning there

    Nobody needs the “goods” of life when they don’t exist, and the only way to assign value to life is based on the way that one feels. Therefore, there is no inherent value to life. There isn’t anything good in life other than satisfying a desire or a need that didn’t have to exist, or obtaining relief from avoiding a harm.

    from your first arguments has two joins premises
    “Nobody needs the “goods” of life when they don’t exist – tautological true, needs but also pleasure are in life, outside life there are no personhoods, no requesters…TRUE(tautologicaly)
    you can not assign or derive any value actually outside of life. It is a moot point, it says nothing so far as an a priori proposition.

    If you want to validate a posteriori if people think that their life is valuable as it is, go and ask them, as I mentioned elsewhere most do not regret their lives, even some enduring pains and suffering

    “and the only way to assign value to life is based on the way that one feels.” –
    I repeat here “the way that one feels” – You must exist, to leave(LIFE), that is a prerequisite to any value based/philosophical system and self assesment
    (to talk about the personal value system, feelings and pursuits – life timeframe. and needs are important prerequisites here) I will not name only suffering since certain needs release dopamine in the brain and give different sensation then the pain you are interested in.

    Your Conclusion
    Therefore , there is no intrinsic value of life. –
    – That translates to there is no feeling as value of life(since the first proposition is tautologically true you can not derive anything logicaly , any conclusion from a definition of non existence, otherwise you will say that because NON existence is TRUE , LIFE is False),
    – But in your second proposition you defined VALUE as “and the only way to assign value to life is based on the way that one feels”(2nd part of the premises) you raised a contradiction.
    So from your premise you did not reach to a sound or valid conclusion but to a logical falacy: False diachotomy

    “There isn’t anything good in life other than satisfying a desire or a need that didn’t have to exist, or obtaining relief from avoiding a harm.”
    scientists are the ones who tell us what’s intrinsic in our sensations, and neurologists don’t posit the rightness or the wrongness of the firing of our neurons that equals our sensations of pleasure and pain; so it looks like the normative evaluation of our factual sensations is optional; and how could it be otherwise? Just list the facts and see for yourself whether they have any normative implication.

    No one cares about life just because of the feeling of pleasure and pain/needs. Those aren’t the only things that matter. We appreciate life because of the opportunities to learn, to create, and to experience new things. people argue that talk of pain and pleasure misses the point: even if life isn’t good, it’s meaningful.
    If life is terminated, all those goods go away. True, no one would be around to miss them, but neither would anyone be around to appreciate the lack of pain.

    So if the you or antinatalist truly cares about people who are in pain, she’d have to care about the existence of personhood in general and all that the anomaly of life represents in the lifeless universe. Obviously, that means she’d have to be vehemently opposed to life’s extinction.
    There’s honour and heroic courage in carrying the torch from one generation to the next, despite all the hardships. Of course, we want to minimize those hardships, and many people are overwhelmed by them. But we also want to learn to get over them, to man up, to face dangers heroically like our ancient ancestors did who had hardly any of our luxuries. That is what most people life value

    “and the cost of failing to fulfil it/desires would have been to suffer a deprivation.”
    It’s true that desire/motivation indicates an unsatisfactory condition. That’s how the emotional mechanism generates action: by creating emotional problems that can be solved by action to produce satisfaction. But desire/motivation is not pain. The same desire will generate experiences of both pain and pleasure.
    Motivation causes both pain and pleasure, and to explain: Basically, an increase in motivation is experienced as pain, and a decrease is experienced as pleasure. You are calling motivation “suffering” (pain), but motivation is not the same as the subjective experience of pain.
    It is not always true that pleasure comes from a pain or a need, it can be an increased value of fa ealing of pleasure too, a gradient transition
    For example, I can be taken by surprise by a phone call from a relative or a visit or a gift or whatever event that brings my feeling to a higher pleasure state compared with the previous

    I will come back with more comments, I really hope I found you well and try an enduring life and see above logical fallacy you raised above.
    Very late here, come back next time if you allow me to extend this conversation .


    1. Thanks for your apology regarding the suicide issue. Even in Switzerland, as far as I’m aware, you can’t just choose to die for any reason (I was chatting with someone who was denied due to their age) and there is still a hefty fee payable to whichever organisation whose services you are using. But Switzerland is in no way representative of the rest of the planet, in any case. Here in the UK, we haven’t yet even attained the stage at which we’ll allow the mercy of death even to the terminally ill in the final months of their lives, who are in constant agony.

      I found the rest of your comment rather difficult to understand, so you’ll have to correct me if I’ve misconstrued anything, or failed to understand anything. We don’t need to assess what proportion of people are enjoying their lives “a posteriori”. If we accept physicalism as being true, then we know that we haven’t deprived any of those people of their enjoyable existences by failing to bring them into existence. Therefore, if we imagine that antinatalism has prevented 1 million people from coming into existence (at the moment, this would seem to be a lofty aspiration to be sure), and we can assume based on the surveyed responses from those currently alive that 900,000 of those people would have probably been happy to be alive, but 100,000 were struggling with their existence and were finding it difficult to find much joy in it, then you would still have to take the side of the 100,000 simply on the basis that you would be preventing that suffering, and not paying any cost for that prevention (in terms of harming people who could have come into existence, rather than the ones who already existed) because not one of the counterfactual 900,000 who hypothetically could have come into existence would be suffering any kind of deprivation from the fact that they were prevented from coming into existence. Moreover, you cannot demonstrate why those 100,000 could have done anything that would warrant such unfair distribution of the goods and bads of life. You would fail to justify why you’re going to run a lottery and force a minority to pay a heavy price for the pleasure of the majority. The only way you could rationalise such a deal would be if the 900,000 were going to suffer in some way if you failed to incarnate them into a body, because that would mean that you were reducing the amount of harm that you would be causing.

      I don’t see where I have presented a contradiction, although perhaps I wasn’t quite as clear as I could have been. There is no actual value to life itself. Whilst we are alive and sentient, we are capable of perceiving value. But what we would call “good” value (good because it elicits pleasurable emotions) is only really good because it satisfies a hunger that came into existence when our sentience was formed. If you take away that hunger (by ceasing to create it), then the concept of “good” ceases to exist. And that isn’t a problem, because the universe itself does not seem to be crying out for these goods. Drinking water is good for a human, because human beings need hydration, and being thirsty is bad. That doesn’t mean that you have a rationale for creating more humans in need of hydration, because you’d create more of the “good” of people being hydrated. You’ve created a problem (the need to hydrate all of these humans) and actually hydrating them just solves the problem that you’ve needlessly created. As an antinatalist, I’m saying don’t create the problem, and then nobody is being deprived of the solution. Nobody would be around to appreciate the fact that nobody is going thirsty, but the simple fact is that the most efficient, rational and humane thing to do is to cut our losses, not to continue chasing after a gain which is illusory (due to its apparent value being predicated on having to create a problem to be solved in the first place).

      I’m not following quite why you think that an antinatalist would have to be opposed to life’s extinction. I see “personhood” as a tragedy and a liability. And that’s what life is and what value is. A liability that should be eliminated. Your argument for it being heroic to carry on the torch seems as though it has come from a Jordan Peterson book or lecture. Would I be correct on that? As an atheist, I cannot see how the existence of sentient life is accomplishing ANYTHING productive, and therefore I cannot endorse the price that is being paid for it. Especially when the cost is being levied so inequitably, based on no principle of fairness.

      Regarding your point on scientists not being able to quantify the goodness or badness of sensations, I think that you’re missing the point. Suffering is an intrinsic bad which is subjective, because bad is a concept that can only arise out of subjective experience. So if the subject experiences a sensation as bad, then it IS bad. The subjective badness isn’t counterbalanced by any objective good which is being accomplished by it, and the fact that the universe isn’t feeling the pain, and the pain isn’t quantifiable by a third party observer does not cancel out the subjective experience of that pain, which is decidedly negative. Why would I need an external authority to classify my pain as bad, when the proof of its badness arises from the fact that it is repulsive and I crave relief from it? Does this mean that you would endorse the creation of torture chambers (with yourself as one of the victims) based on the premise that it’s impossible to quantify the badness of the experiences that would be generated?

      I agree that desire is not intrinsically bad, because anticipation can be pleasurable in itself. Desire is a liability, because it sets you up either for the pleasure of having your desire satisfied, or the deprivation that would arise from having it thwarted.

      The element of surprise can heighten the positive valency of a pleasure, I would agree with that, but the only way that can happen is for you to have a hunger that exists, even if you’re not consciously focused on that hunger immediately prior to receiving the pleasure. The only way for you to value that surprise phone call is if the social bonds that you have in your life are insufficient to meet your needs. Just like a surprise meal is only going to have value if you’re actually hungry. If you’ve just eaten and you’re absolutely stuffed full, then you’re probably going to struggle to appreciate the additional meal, even if it happens to be your favourite food.


  6. Hi existentialgoof

    almost sick here, are you willing and motivated to move the conversation on ?

    I feel very tired and almost empty to continue the debate, my last 2 cents left, lets move to redit or use the above link for continuity:
    Regarding your epistemology of pain and pleasure:
    ” what we would call “good” value (good because it elicits pleasurable emotions) is only really good because it satisfies a hunger that came into existence when our sentience was formed,
    ….if the social bonds that you have in your life are insufficient to meet your needs.””

    is not at all as obvious and general.
    I can anticipate the sensation of hunger, thirst or cold and take an informed decision to drink or feed myself before the sensation kicks in.
    But you aren’t always hungry for food. Yet, eating something good, when you’re not hungry, leads to pleasure.
    The claim that those neurotransmitters lead to pleasure because they reduce some discomfort can be falsified by introducing to the organism this chemical, when the animal (human or not) is not in discomfort. The pleasure will be felt strongly, even though no discernible negative had been felt by the subject before.
    Is pain the only thing related to the increase of desire? Can’t pleasure motivate desire too? Particularly, the anticipation of a pleasurable experience can motivate action. Also, the anticipation of a painful experience could also take away motivation to do something. These last points break away from your assertion that “good” or pleasure is a compesantion or a fix of pain.

    Another way this claim does not seem to be justified is by looking at the strength of the feelings. I may not feel hunger now, but if I ate something really tasty, I would feel very good. It’s not clear why a lack of hunger would, after eating something good, transform into pleasure. And same goes to the thirsty , I can drink something now by anticipating a sensation of discomfort and I can drink something tasty that brings me more pleasure. I still think memories can play a part in motivation (this includes anticipation, as anticipating an experience ultimately depends on one’s memories of past experiences), culture and family inheritance and not last the science to back up motivations and assessments.

    As you agree above, the value and experience of life is subjective, it is how we see the world in this life and it is linked to motivations, we are driven by those since we are born.
    Viewing anything from an “objective” standpoint makes value disappear, because value is subjective.

    Last but not least, this all approach that pleasure is fixing a pain or need is missing the point about human behaviour:
    No one cares about life just because of the feeling of pleasure and pain. Those aren’t the only things that matter. We appreciate life because of the opportunities to learn, to create, and to experience new things, to strive and cherish and flourish. If life is terminated, all those goods go away. True, no one would be around to miss them, but neither would anyone be around to appreciate the lack of pain with the prospect of nanotechnology and biotechnology, AI and intelligence.


    1. Hi there, thank you for your further response. I’ve already read that guy’s blog, and wasn’t impressed with what I saw. I’ll have a more detailed look at that later on, and consider responding. As a point in fact, I’m certain that I have interacted with that guy before. Perhaps it was on his blog, or perhaps it was on Reddit or Youtube. Anyway, back on to your ‘points’…

      I too have eaten when I wasn’t hungry, and it has been my experience (perhaps this isn’t true of yourself) that I can only enjoy food to the greatest extent when I’m hungry, and sometimes it has actually been quite frustrating when I’ve wanted to go to a fast food outlet that I like when travelling, only to find that I can never seem to generate the hunger that would make eating the food satisfying. I can eat things like sweets and snack foods and get gratification for them when I’m not actually hungry, but even in these instances, I have observed that there is some kind of need for stimulation. And those types of food aren’t really to be eaten in order to satisfy hunger anyway, but to satisfy that craving for gustatory stimulation. But in my experience, if I lacked even the craving itself, then I wouldn’t even enjoy eating sweets, crisps or chocolate, or drinking tea. I do need to have either a hunger or a craving. Nonetheless, the more important part of my point is that there isn’t some disembodied soul floating around the ether who is worse off for not enjoying the goods of life. You cannot say ‘this person is in a sub-optimal state because we haven’t given them the gift of life’, because as I discuss in my blog, there is no person that you can identify. So that would render your arguments about neurotransmitters moot, because all you’re doing in any case is creating an addiction and all of the ‘good’ is still just derived from satiating the addiction. But it is not good to impose ruinous addictions on to people. It’s not good to force someone to need something, or force them to want something. It is only good to satisfy needs and wants. It’s virtuous to “make people happy” but criminal to create the person under the belief that you are “making happy people”.

      Also, if you’re anticipating a pleasure, the simple fact is that if you don’t obtain the pleasure that you desire, then that’s going to cause an experience of deprivation that you’re going to want to avoid. Regardless of your framing of the issue, the goodness of pleasure is inextricable from the badness of suffering. One step towards the pole of greatest pleasure is always one step away from the deepest suffering. The question of whether there is some kind of middle ground where you’re not really enjoying pleasure, but you aren’t really suffering either is kind of an interesting one philosophically. But it probably isn’t a very common state in the most part, because if you sit and do absolute nothing, you’re going to get hungry, you’re going to need to go to the toilet, you’re going to need to stretch your legs. That’s just inherent to life itself. And if you actually need to overcome an obstacle in order to experience happiness, then you risk the threat of tripping up on the obstacle and harming yourself, or that the obstacle will be an impassable barrier.

      Value IS subjective and cannot be anything but, because it’s impossible to imagine what “objective value” could even mean. The only way that anything can be important is in its effect on the wellbeing of a feeling organism. So that’s why I advocate for eliminating the liability of sentient experience. The chair in which I’m sitting is most likely not mired in some kind of sub-optimal state that could be improved with pleasure (due to the fact that pleasure isn’t even a concept that exists outside of the realm of sentient experience). So if the entire universe was just as impervious to harm, then that would seem to be the least bad possible outcome, in that we have eliminated all bad. You certainly haven’t demonstrated how the chair somehow needs to experience pleasure, and therefore this would apply to a universe without a single sentient being in it or observing it. The chair doesn’t need any of the goods that you list, and the universe cannot be quantifiably measured to be in any way deficient for the lack of them (referring back to your point about how value cannot be measured objectively). And this is why I argue that the non-identity problem is an issue for people who advocate in favour of procreation, not an issue for antinatalists.

      I think that if you tried to apply your point about nobody being able to appreciate the absence of pain to any real world scenario that involved real people, then people would think that you were a monster. The onus isn’t on the person who wants to prevent the torture to demonstrate that the would-be victim is positively enjoying not being tortured. The onus is on YOU to explain why your goals are so important that you’re going to cause torture. That’s because you’re the one trying to fix something that isn’t broken, with a solution that could prove disastrous and whose effects will be experienced by an entirely different sentient entity who had no say in being put in a position of peril.


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