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David Benatar Better Never to Have Been .pdf

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The Harm of Coming into Existence



Great Clarendon Street, Oxford ox2 6dp
Oxford University Press is a department of the University of Oxford.
It furthers the University’s objective of excellence in research, scholarship,
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Oxford is a registered trademark of Oxford University Press
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Published in the United States
by Oxford University Press Inc., New York
 David Benatar 2006
The moral rights of the authors have been asserted
Database right Oxford University Press (maker)
First published 2006
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced,
stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means,
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or as expressly permitted by law, or under terms agreed with the appropriate
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Oxford University Press, at the address above
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ISBN 0–19–929642–1


1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2

To my parents,
even though they brought me into existence;
and to my brothers,
each of whose existence, although a harm to him,
is a great benefit to the rest of us.

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Each one of us was harmed by being brought into existence. That
harm is not negligible, because the quality of even the best lives is
very bad—and considerably worse than most people recognize it
to be. Although it is obviously too late to prevent our own existence, it is not too late to prevent the existence of future possible
people. Creating new people is thus morally problematic. In this
book I argue for these claims and show why the usual responses to
them—incredulity, if not indignation—are defective.
Given the deep resistance to the views I shall be defending, I have
no expectation that this book or its arguments will have any impact
on baby-making. Procreation will continue undeterred, causing a
vast amount of harm. I have written this book, then, not under
the illusion that it will make (much) difference to the number of
people there will be but rather from the opinion that what I have
to say needs to be said whether or not it is accepted.
Many readers will be inclined to dismiss my arguments and
will do so too hastily. When rejecting an unpopular view, it is
extraordinarily easy to be overly confident in the force of one’s
responses. This is partly because there is less felt need to justify
one’s views when one is defending an orthodoxy. It is also partly
because counter-responses from those critical of this orthodoxy,
given their rarity, are harder to anticipate.
The argument I advance in this book has been enhanced as a
result of a number of engaging critical responses to earlier versions. Anonymous reviewers for the American Philosophical Quarterly
offered worthy challenges, forcing me to improve the earliest versions. The two papers I published in that journal provided the basis
for Chapter  of this book and I am grateful for permission to use
that earlier material. Those papers were considerably reworked

and developed partly as a result of many comments received in the
intervening years and especially while I was writing this book. I am
grateful to the University of Cape Town for a sabbatical semester
in , during which four of the book’s chapters were written.
I presented material from various chapters in a number of fora,
including the Philosophy Department at the University of Cape
Town, Rhodes University in Grahamstown, South Africa, the Seventh World Congress of Bioethics in Sydney, Australia, and in the
United States at the Jean Beer Blumenfeld Center for Ethics at Georgia State University, the Center for Bioethics at the University of
Minnesota, and the Philosophy Department at the University of
Alabama at Birmingham. I am grateful for the lively discussion
on these occasions. For their helpful comments and suggestions, I
should like to thank, among others, Andy Altman, Dan Brock, Bengt
Br¨ulde, Nick Fotion, Stephen Nathanson, Marty Perlmutter, Robert
Segall, David Weberman, Bernhard Weiss, and Kit Wellman.
I am most grateful to the two reviewers for Oxford University
Press, David Wasserman and David Boonin. They gave extensive
comments that helped me anticipate the kinds of responses critical
readers of the published work could have. I have attempted to raise
and reply to these in revising the manuscript. I am sure that the
book is much better for having considered their objections, even
if they are not convinced by my replies. I am acutely aware, however, that there is always room for improvement and I only wish
that I knew now, rather than later (or never), what improvements
could be made.
Finally, I should like to thank my parents and brothers for all
they do and for all they are. This book is dedicated to them.
Cape Town
8 December 2005

 ∼ Preface

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