Why it is always better to cease to exist

Jiwoon Hwang

jiwoonhwang@gmail.com

Epigraph

“Sleep is good, death is better; but of course, the best thing would to have never been born at all.” – Heinrich Heine

“Death solves all problems – no man, no problem.” – Anatoly Rybakov

“Death is not an evil, because it frees us from all evils, and while it takes away good things, it takes away also the desire for them. Old age is the supreme evil, because it deprives us of all pleasures, leaving us only the appetite for them, and it brings with it all sufferings. Nevertheless, we fear death, and we desire old age.” ― Giacomo Leopardi

Abstract

I shall argue that David Benatar’s Axiological Asymmetry of harms and benefits, when combined with (exclusively) hedonistic view of harms and benefits, entails pro-mortalism. Professor Benatar’s view that the absence of pleasure of who never exists does not deprive, while the absence of pleasure of who ceased to exist does deprive, has some absurd conclusions that judges which life is a preferable one differently in present- and future-life cases. I subsequently show that Benatar’s asymmetry should be applied to post-mortem nonexistence as well, and argue so long as one’s remaining life will contain any pain, it is always preferable to cease to exist than to continue to exist.

Introduction

I shall argue that David Benatar’s Axiological Asymmetry of harms and benefits[1], when combined with (exclusively) hedonistic view[2] of harms and benefits, entails pro-mortalism[3]. Professor Benatar’s view that the absence of pleasure of who never exists does not deprive, while the absence of pleasure of who ceased to exist does deprive, has some absurd conclusions that judges which life is a preferable one differently in ‘present-‘ and ‘future-life cases’.[4] I subsequently show that Benatar’s asymmetry should be applied to post-mortem nonexistence[5] as well, and argue so long as one’s remaining life will contain any pain[6], it is always preferable to cease to exist than to continue to exist.

While Rafe McGregor and Emy-Sullivan Bisset argued that there are pro-mortalist implications of Benatar’s Asymmetry[7], it is far from clear whether they believe in pro-mortalism to be true. According to Professor Benatar, one of the authors thinks purported pro-mortalist implications of Professor Benatar’s arguments as a reductio ad absurdum of his arguments[8]. I shall argue that Benatar’s Asymmetry combined with (exclusively) hedonistic view of harms and benefits entails pro-mortalism, but I, rather than thinking the pro-mortalist implications as a reductio, believe in a soundness of pro-mortalism.

In this paper, I am in no way suggesting that Professor Benatar is a pro-mortalist. Also, I shall note that the pro-mortalism I shall be defending is a pro-mortalism on earlier death, rather than death per se. In other words, while I think (painless) earlier death is preferable to later death, I do not think there is an intrinsic positive value in death per se, thereby even might implying that being caused to ultimately die by being brought into existence could be a benefit. In my view, earlier death has an instrumental value because of the prevention of future suffering it brings. My view is not that earlier death is necessarily good for everyone, but in fact good because as a matter of empirical fact, everyone’s daily[9] life contains a morally considerable amount of suffering.

In this paper, I assume, as most contemporary professional philosophers do, that death (or cessation of existence) is an irreversible cessation of sentience (subjective experience). In this paper, I shall use death in a sense of irreversible cessation of sentient existence, and existence in a sense of sentient existence. Here, I, for sake of the argument, assume dying (the process leading to death) is always painless. Of course, it is not the cases of most death of humans or non-human animals. However, the argument I shall be defending is not that shorter lives are preferable to different lives which are longer. Obviously, very often a shorter life span in human life is a strong indicator of poor quality of life (poverty, disease, violence, mental illness, etc.) while that person[10] was living. Rather, the question I am asking is that whether for anyone and everyone, if life had painlessly ended earlier than it would otherwise have been, that earlier death is preferable to a later death. I answer affirmatively to that question.

Benatar’s Asymmetry and Absences of Harms and Benefits (pain and pleasure)[11]

David Benatar’s Asymmetry[12], although diagrammatically presenting only 4 cells in its usual forms, can be amplified to show 4 more cells, the absences of pain and pleasure in the case X exists[13] and ceased to exist[14]. (Fig 1)[15]

Scenario C

Scenario A

Scenario B

X ceased to exist

X exists

X never exists

7: Absence of pain

(Good)

5: Absence of pain

(Good)

1: Presence of pain

(Bad)

3: Absence of pain

(Good)

8: Absence of pleasure

(Bad)

6: Absence of pleasure

(Bad)

2: Presence of pleasure

(Good)

4: Absence of pleasure

(Not bad)

(Fig 1)

 

Why the harm of coming into existence is contingent upon the harm during the course of existence

However, as I shall argue, axiological assessments of cells 6 and 8 are inconsistent with the axiological assessment of cell 4. If Professor Benatar is correct that the absence of pleasure of the potential person who never becomes actual is not worse[16] than the presence of pleasure of the existent person, it should be the case that the absence of pleasure of the person who exists and who ceased to exist should not be worse than the absence of pleasure of the person who never exists, as the absence of pleasure of the person who exists or ceased to exist cannot make the person’s coming into existence any worse. (Fig 2)

Scenario C

Scenario A

Scenario B

X ceased to exist

X exists

X never exists

7: Absence of pain

(Good)

5: Absence of pain

(Good)

1: Presence of pain

(Bad)

3: Absence of pain

(Good)

8: Absence of pleasure

(Not bad)

6: Absence of pleasure

(Not bad)

2: Presence of pleasure

(Good)

4: Absence of pleasure

(Not bad)

(Fig 2)

There is nothing inconsistent with Benatar’s asymmetry in considering the harm of coming into existence as the total harm one will suffer during the course of one’s life. If (exclusively) hedonistic view of harms and benefits is correct, and Benatar’s asymmetry is correct, and I am correct that cells 6 and 8 cannot be axiologically assessed differently from cell 4, it will entail pro-mortalism, so long as the life one would experience if one hasn’t died earlier would contain any pain, including single pinprick.

 

Why Fig 2 is correct while Fig 1 is mistaken.

To see why Fig 2 is correct while Fig 1 is mistaken, let us consider what different axiological assessments between cells 6, 8 and cell 4 entail. As 2 is not an advantage over 4, while nor 4 is an advantage over 2, the harm of coming into existence is, quite independently of the amount of pleasure (cell 2), equal to the disvalue of the total amount of pain the life will contain during the course of her life. I.e. the harm of coming into existence = the total amount of pain.

However, Fig 1 suggests that the purported relative bad (i.e. relative disadvantage) of the absence of pleasure of who exists (cell 6) and ceased to exist (cell 8) are, equal to the amount of pleasure of cell 2. This implies that life is worth continuing when pleasure is greater than pain (in other words, pleasure minus pain is greater than zero), as 8 is a disadvantage to 2 as much as the value of 2, while 7 is an advantage over 1 as much as the disvalue of 1. In determining whether life is worth continuing, in Fig 1’s view, we should consider whether Scenario C (X ceased to exist) is a net advantage over Scenario A (X exists). As a net advantage of Scenario C over Scenario A is a relative advantage of 7 over 1 minus relative disadvantage of 8 over 2, while a relative advantage of 7 over 1 is 1 and relative disadvantage 8 over 2 is 2, the net advantage of Scenario C over Scenario A is 1 minus 2. That is to say, ceasing to exists becomes a benefit when 1 minus 2, i.e., pain minus pleasure is greater than zero. (In other words, when pain is greater than pleasure[17])

However, this (axiological assessments of Fig 1) entails some absurd conclusions. Fig 1 judges a life worth continuing based on the value of pleasure minus pain, while it judges a life worth starting (the benefit/harm of coming into existence) based on the sheer quantity of pain (coming into existence is not a harm if and only if there will be no pain). In other words, Fig 1 judges whether life is worth continuing in classical[18] utilitarian[19] standards while judging whether life is worth starting in negative utilitarian standards.

Professor Benatar argued a life worth starting (future-life cases) should be applied a higher standard than a life worth continuing (present-life cases).[20] However, while the view of Fig 1, which represents the view of Professor Benatar, may qualify less life as worth or indifferent starting than continuing, Fig 1 judges a life that is better than another life in future-life cases worse than the aforementioned another life in present-life cases.

Consider, for example, lives of X and Y. While the life of X contains fifteen kilounits of pleasure[21] and five kilounits of pain[22], the life of Y contains seventy kilounits of pleasure and fifty kilounits of pain. While the life of X is a less bad life to come into existence than the life of Y, as neither the 15 kilounits of pleasure of X nor the 70 kilounits of pleasure of Y are an advantage over the absence of pleasure of the counterfactual scenario which X and Y never exist (cell 4), while both the 5 kilounits of pain of X and the 20 kilounits of pain of Y are disadvantage to the absence of pain of the counterfactual scenario which X and Y never exist (cell 2). Here, X was harmed as much as 5 kilounits and Y was harmed as much as 20 kilounits. Clearly, the life of X is a better (less bad) life to come into existence than the life of Y. However, when we are judging whether life is worth continuing, suddenly the life of X becomes worse (less good) than the life of Y. While the scenario A of the life of X is has 10 kilounits of net advantage over scenario C, the scenario A of the life of Y has 20 kilounits of net advantage over scenario C. However, as Professor Benatar himself suggests (this very example is Professor Benatar’s), “Nevertheless, X’s life might reasonably be judged less bad, even if Y’s has greater net value, judged in strictly quantitative terms—ten kilo-units versus twenty kilo-units of positive value.”.[23]

While Professor Benatar claims that his view applies higher standards for future-life cases than present-life cases, his view, as represented by Fig 1, judges a preferable life in future-life cases as a less preferable life in present-life cases. Consider, the lives of C and D. While C’s life contains neither pleasure nor pain, D’s life contains 10 kilounits of pain and 100 kilounits of pleasure. While C is not harmed by coming into existence, D is harmed by coming into existence. In other words, C’s life is a life indifferent starting or not, whereas D’s life is a life worth not starting[24] (better not started at all). However, C’s life is a life indifferent continuing or ending, while D’s life is a life worth continuing (worth not ending). Here, C’s life is judged preferable to D’s in future-life cases, while D’s life is judged preferable to C’s in present-life cases. I can’t find the reason to think D’s life is better than C’s just because C and D are happened to exist now. Professor Benatar’s view, as represented by Fig 1, entails an absurd view that the answer to the question which life is a better one over another depends on what time the assessor judges – namely before or after A and B come/came into existence.

However, adopting Fig 2 removes this inconsistency in the judgments of relative preferabilities of lives of the present- and future-life cases. As the presence of pleasure is not an advantage over its absence in both present- (comparison of scenarios A and C) and future-life cases (comparison of scenarios A and B), only the amount of pain is what counts, and the life which contains less amount of pain is always preferable to the life which contains more amount of pain, quite independently of the amount of pleasure the life will contain.

Worlds S (Short) and L (Long)

Let us consider, both worlds S (short) and L (long). In S, X lives for twenty years and in L, X lives for eighty years. Xes in both worlds, on each year of her life, experience two kilohedons and one kilodolors each. Therefore, the hedonistic history of Xes both in S and L until their twentieth birthday are equal. Indeed, Xes in worlds S and L are identical twins brought into existence at the identical time and place, in the worlds which are identical at the moment they are brought into existence, identical until X in world S’s death and X in world L’s twentieth birthday and Xes in worlds S and L are even identical in all subjective experiences until X in world S’s death and X in world L’s twentieth birthday. However, for the duration of sixty years after X in world L’s twentieth birthday, X in world L experiences two kilohedons and one kilodolors each year. The total hedons and dolors of X in world S’s life is 40 kilohedons and 20 kilodolors, and the total hedons and dolors of X in world L’s life is 160 kilohedons and 80 kilodolors. X in world S’s and X in world L’s lives can be represented on Benatar’s asymmetry. (Figs 3 and 4, respectively)

Scenario A

Scenario B

X exists

X never exists

1: Presence of 20 kilodolors

(Bad as 20 kilounits)

3: Absence of dolors

(Better than 1 as 20 kilounits)

2: Presence of 40 kilohedons

(Good as 40 kilounits)

4: Absence of hedons

(Neither worse nor better than 2)

(Fig 3: World S)

Scenario A

Scenario B

X exists

X never exists

1: Presence of 80 kilodolors

(Bad as 80 kilounits)

3: Absence of dolors

(Better than 1 as 80 kilounits)

2: Presence of 160 kilohedons

(Good as 160 kilounits)

4: Absence of hedons

(Neither worse nor better than 2)

(Fig 4: World L)

Here, we can see in Figs 3 and 4, neither the presences of X in world S’s 40 kilohedons nor X in world L’s 160 kilohedons (cells 2 of each Fig) in Scenario A are any advantages over or disadvantages to the absences of X in world S’s and X in world L’s hedons in the Scenario B (cells 4 of each Fig). However, while the presence of 20 kilodolors of X in world S in Scenario A (cell 1 of Fig 3) is only 20 kilounits of disadvantage to the absence of dolor in Scenario B (cell 3 of Fig 3), the presence of 80 kilodolors of X in world L in Scenario A (cell 1 of Fig 4) is 80 kilounits of disadvantage to the absence of dolor in Scenario B (cell 3 of Fig 4), Here, we can conclude that the harm of coming into existence of X in world S is 20 kilounits, while the harm of coming into existence of X in world L is 80 kilounits. Therefore, X in world S’s life is a preferable life to come into existence (and to exist and to cease to exist), and world S is a preferable world for X to come into existence (and to exist and to cease to exist). It follows from this that killing X in world L painlessly on her twentieth birthday will convert X’s life in world L into a hedonistic and axiological equivalent of X’s life in world S, thereby reducing the harm of coming into existence of X in world L to 20 kilodolors, reducing the harm by 60 kilodolors, and benefiting her by 60 kilounits.

If there are two lives which, both twenty years long, but one contain 20 kilodolors and 40 kilohedons, another contain 80 kilodolors and 160 kilodolors, those believe in the soundness of Benatar’s asymmetry will judge, I assume, the former life as a preferable one to the latter one. If we were to judge the same duration – different suffering choices solely based on the amount of suffering lives will contain, there is no good reason not to judge different duration – different suffering choices solely based on the amount of suffering lives will contain.[25] As much as there is no reason to prefer a bigger wallet to a smaller wallet that is containing the same amount of money (if the wallets will not be used again in the future), there is no reason to prefer a life which hedonistic container is bigger (i.e. the duration of the life is longer) to a life with the same hedonistic contents (dolors and hedons) with a smaller hedonistic container (i.e. the duration of the life is shorter).

Professor Benatar’s present- and future- life distinction loses its soundness at least for the hedonistic version of Benatar’s asymmetry when we adopt Fred Feldman’s two-world comparison methodology and his ‘eternalism’.[26] When we invest some money in some company, the successfulness of our investment is determined after our investment. There is no backward causation here. Similarly, the harm of coming into existence is determined by the amount of suffering that person will experience during the course of her life. We can reduce or increase that person’s suffering and the harm of coming into existence even after that person’s coming into existence, either by same/similar-duration choices and/or different duration choices. For example, we can reduce a person’s harm of coming into existence even after her coming into existence by providing the best nurture and education we can to her, as good nurture and education will reduce her suffering and will effectively cause a conversion of her coming into existence into a coming into existence as less harmful life. There is no backward causation here. Similarly, we can reduce a person’s harm of coming into existence even after her coming into existence by painlessly ending her life, as that will reduce the total amount of suffering she will experience during the course of her life and will effectively cause a conversion of her coming into existence into a coming into existence as a less harmful life. There is no backward causation here either.

Prevention account of the goodness of (earlier) death

If my arguments so far are sound, then we can deduce something the opposite of so-called the deprivation account of the badness of death – the prevention account of the goodness of (earlier) death. My view that an earlier death is better than the later death assigns a positive value to an earlier death. However, that positive value assigned on earlier death is an instrumental value contingent on the fact that there will be some pain or suffering in the counterfactual scenario one hasn’t died earlier. An objection may be raised, that because post-mortem existence is not a state of affairs anyone can be, earlier death cannot prevent suffering or better (instrumentally good) for anyone.[27]

This requirement can be called existence requirement or two-states requirement, and there are extensive arguments rejecting existence requirement or two-states requirement. One of notable such argument is Fred Feldman’s[28]. Professor Feldman argues that we can compare two worlds which someone exists for longer and shorter periods of time, and judge which world is preferable for someone. Professor Feldman thinks death is good or bad for the dead ‘eternally’[29]. While I deny that anyone’s earlier death can be bad, I think earlier death is (instrumentally) good eternally. That is to say, borrowing from Professor Feldman’s two-world comparison, the world A, which X’s life is shorter than X’s life in the world B, is better for X, provided that in the world B, the hedonistic history of X before X’s death in the world A is the same as the hedonistic history of X in the world A, and after X’s death in the world A, X in the world B’s life contains any amount of pain.

Some readers might ask whether earlier death can be described as preventing suffering, as that person’s suffering was already started. My answer is this. Although the earlier death of the person who was already brought into existence obviously do not and can not prevent the suffering that person already experienced during the course of her life so far, the earlier death prevents the future possible suffering the person will experience if she would have died later. Needless to say, as Heinrich Heine suggests[30], in my view, never coming into existence is preferable to (earlier) death.

Although the term prevention of suffering may be misleading as it could mean (1) prevention of future possible suffering of potential (future) people by ensuring they never become actual; (2) prevention of future possible suffering of an actual (present) people by ensuring they ceased to exist before that future possible suffering; and (3) prevention of future possible suffering by preventing particular causes of suffering (such as disease), without (much) changing number and/or identity of the future actual people, the usage of the term alleviation may also be misleading. Alleviation usually means that one’s suffering was reduced, but imperfectly, thereby one is continuing to (exist and) suffer. The term alleviation usually implies (1) one’s suffering was reduced imperfectly; and (2) the reduction of one’s suffering was not achieved by not coming into existence or ceasing to exist, but by amelioration of one’s condition of existence. For prevention of one’s future possible suffering by ceasing to exist, neither of the implied meaning of alleviation is the case, for obviously (1) it prevents future possible suffering perfectly and entirely; and (2) its prevention of one’s suffering was achieved by ceasing to exist.

The whether-when distinction of death per se and earlier death.

However, assigning a positive value to earlier death does not entail assigning a positive value to death per se. Quite contrary, my view that earlier death is preferable to later death is compatible with the view death per se has a neutral or negative intrinsic value. In this paper, death per se is a death that is imposed on the (mortal) person who was brought into existence by procreation, while earlier death is a timing change of death that a person who ceased to exist earlier than otherwise could have been had been subjected to. In other words, death per se pertains to whether death happens or not, while earlier death pertains to when (the timing) death happen.[31] I assign a positive value only to earlier death, but not death per se. In other words, my pro-mortalism applies only to earlier death, but not to death per se. Neutro-mortalism on the death per se or anti-mortalism on the death per se are entirely compatible with pro-mortalism on earlier death. Pro-mortalism on earlier death (which may be called temporal pro-mortalism) is a preferable kind of pro-mortalism to pro-mortalism on the death per se (which may be called per se pro-mortalism). If a positive value should be assigned to death per se, as per se pro-mortalism suggests, it may imply being caused to die by coming into existence is a benefit. It is highly implausible.

On David Benatar’s annihilation account of the badness of death

As I noted on the above paragraph, my view that earlier death is preferable to later death because earlier death prevents future possible suffering is compatible with the view death per se has a neutral or negative value. One of the argument that assigns a negative value to death per se is David Benatar’s the annihilation account[32]. According to Professor Benatar, death is bad because of the annihilation (of the self) it brings about. Professor Benatar’s annihilation account, so long as it only pertains to the death per se, rather than its timing, is entirely compatible with the view that earlier death is always better than the later death.

However, it will be difficult to derive the badness of earlier death from the purported badness of annihilation. While one might claim that earlier annihilation deprives more pleasure, therefore bad, even if I grant that earlier death do deprive pleasure and worse than the more time of presence of pleasure by later death (the soundness of the deprivation account), how can earlier annihilation per se can be bad in the respect of annihilation merely by virtue of its (earlier) timing? For example, can an earlier death be bad, granted the soundness of deprivation account, when there are neither pain nor pleasure (or neither harm nor benefit) there will potentially be (between the timings of earlier and later death)?

Why most people delay death

One of the explanations of nearly universal preference for continued existence is a time preference. Because death per se or annihilation per se is what most of us disprefer, we assign (whether or not correctly or rationally) a negative value to death. As most of us also have a positive time preference, most of us discount future bad with some positive discount rate. However, as Derek Parfit suggested, this ‘discount rate’ is ‘indefensible’.[33] Reasons people delay death may include duties one has voluntarily undertaken (for example, contractual obligations or parental obligations),

On suicide, assisted suicide and voluntary euthanasia

While I think it is better for any person to die as early as possible, so long as that person’s earlier death would mean less suffering[34], there may be reasons to desist from ending one’s life (either by commission or omission). For example, one may think one’s suicide may cause one’s family and friends an immense amount of suffering. Also, one may think one’s existence otherwise serves (potential or actual) interests of (potential or actual) others. For example, effective altruists, suffering-focused altruists, philanthropists, animal advocates/activists, children’s advocates/activists, wild-animal suffering researchers and advocates, suffering risk researchers and advocates, anti-natalist and/or pro-mortalist philosopher/advocates/activists, educators, entrepreneurs, et al., may think that even if one’s earlier death serves one’s interests, but may nonetheless altruistically desist from ending one’s life to reduce suffering of (potential or actual) others.

Suicide may be morally impermissible due to one’s voluntarily undertaken duty toward others. For example, a voluntary parent of a young child, biological or adopted, can be said not to have a moral right to ‘carry out’[35] suicide.[36]

However, I think if my arguments so far are sound, it will mean that suicides are permissible and rational (much) more often than that are, if ever, currently judged permissible or rational by most people.

Indeed, although a successful and completed suicide cannot be (pre-mortemly) punished[37], failed suicide attempts are very often de facto punished with de facto imprisonment (involuntary commitment) in the psychiatric hospital.[38] For example, aiding or abetting suicide of another is a crime in almost[39] all jurisdictions. The access to commonly preferred (painless, reliable, dignified, etc.) methods of suicide, such as barbiturate overdose, is very difficult to access in almost[40] all jurisdictions, as barbiturates are controlled substances in almost all jurisdictions. Although there may still be some reasons to regulate people’s access to commonly preferred methods of suicide (perhaps it can also be used for homicide, etc.) and assisted suicide, if my arguments so far are sound, such regulations will be less often justifiable than currently thought of. For example, even in jurisdictions which assisted suicide and/or euthanasia is legal, very often it is required that (1) it should be the last resort after exhausting all treatment options, (2) the suffering must be severe, (3) the suffering should be diagnosable conditions[41].

On involuntary euthanasia

My pro-mortalism does not imply that it is obligatory or even permissible to kill other people without their consent, even painlessly and with good intent. There may be many reasons for this, such as autonomy[42] and the right to life.

On late-term abortion and infanticide

However, if we were to consider that late-term abortion and infanticide are permissible, or even obligatory in conditions which the continued existence of that person would be a harm if my arguments so far are sound, we should consider that late-term abortion and infanticide are permissible, or even obligatory in all cases.[43]

Negative Utilitarianism

It has been suggested by the opponents of negative utilitarianism (NU) that negative utilitarianism implies (temporal) pro-mortalism. Critics of NU consider purported pro-mortalist implications of NU as a reductio ad absurdum of NU.[44] While a negative utilitarian may try to argue that NU does not imply pro-mortalism by appealing to the possibility of negative indirect (“flow-through”) effects on others of an earlier death of a person, the axiology behind NU implies at least earlier death is a benefit for any person herself. It is also possible to imagine, at least for sake of argument, the cases of applications of pro-mortalism that does not involve flow-through effects, as suggested by a ‘red button’ thought experiment. (“If there is a giant red button that if pushed, would kill all sentient beings instantly and painlessly, would you push it?”) Not many negative utilitarians I am aware of tried to defend pro-mortalism. Rather, it seems that most NUs tried to avoid this controversial and inconvenient question. My defence of pro-mortalism can be used by negative utilitarians against a pro-mortalism reductio raised by the opponents of negative utilitarianism.

A piecemeal approach to pro-mortalism

There are other approaches to pro-mortalism. For example, one can think each moment one wakes up from sleep or every second of her life as an axiological equivalent of cases of coming into existence. Why should we treat the cases in which a person wakes up from unconsciousness differently from coming into existence? Moreover, is the intervening period of unconsciousness even needed? If not, we can construe each second[45] of a person’s life as a new life, as a coming into existence. This might not be a very absurd view if we were to deny that one exists as a distinct metaphysical self (personal identity) that does not change over time. One can prevent one’s future self from coming into existence by death. This argument, I believe, would have some intuitive appeal to some anti-natalists.

Notes

[1] While I believe in the soundness of (a hedonistic version of) the Benatar’s asymmetry, I shall not argue for it here. See, e.g., Benatar, David. Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming into Existence. Clarendon Press: Oxford. 2006. Chapter 2.

[2] Here, I shall use Derek Parfit’s taxonomy of views on quality of life, which he distinguishes (1) hedonistic view, (2) desire fulfillment view, and (3) objective list view. (Reasons and Persons. Clarendon Press: Oxford. 1984. 493-502) However, my argument will work in any case which the total harm of life will increase with the length of one’s life, as my argument is that the life with lesser amount of total harm is, quite independently of the amount of the total benefit of that life, is always a preferable life (to exist, to come into exist and to cease to exist) to the life with more amount of total harms, even if that life contains much more benefits. Presumably this will be the case in the desire fulfillment (or antifrustration) view if (but perhaps not only if) one think (1) desire frustration is only bad when one is aware of its frustration; or (2) desire ceases to matter when the desire no longer exists (whether or not the cessation of existence of desire was achieved by the cessation of existence of the desirer). Presumably, this will be the case in the objective list view if (but perhaps not only if) the list of harms in the objective list view does not include shorter life or consequences that may arise from a shorter life (for example, one’s inability to see her children’s high school graduation). I shall not argue for the soundness of the hedonistic view or any other view on the quality of life or harms or benefits here. Here, I just assume a hedonistic view.

The very term hedonism has a bias, as it is, at least etymologically, referring to only pleasure. We might have to say hedondolorism or for suffering-focused or negative utilitarian context (anti)dolorism, but in the interests of brevity and familiarity, I used hedonism and its derivative forms, instead of hedondolorism. A similar point can be raised for the names of a lift or an elevator. Needless to say, we can use a lift to not just ascend, but to descend as well. However, it will be verbose and unfamiliar to call a lift ascend-descendor.

[3] The first use of the term ‘pro-mortalism’ in the English language I could find was by David Benatar in 2006. Benatar, David. op. cit.. 196

[4] Benatar, David. op. cit.. Especially 22-28

[5] The term ’post-mortem nonexistence’ was coined by Frederik Kaufmann. (Kaufman, Frederik. “Pre-vital and post-mortem non-existence.” American Philosophical Quarterly 36.1 (1999): 1-19.)

[6] I shall use the term pain and suffering both mean any kind of unpleasant subjective experience, physical, mental, etc.. Although very often pain and suffering are used in different senses, typically the former meaning physical pain and the latter meaning mental suffering, I shall use two terms interchangeably. However, Professor Benatar’s usage of the term person seems not intended to exclude non-human animals from his anti-natalist arguments. (see, e.g., Better Never to Have Been. 2-3)

[7] McGregor, Rafe, and Ema Sullivan-Bissett. “Better no longer to be.” South African Journal of Philosophy= Suid-Afrikaanse Tydskrif vir Wysbegeerte 31.1 (2012): 55-68.

[8] Benatar, David. “Every conceivable harm: a further defence of anti-natalism.” South African Journal of Philosophy= Suid-Afrikaanse Tydskrif vir Wysbegeerte 31.1 (2012): 158.

[9] Professor Benatar mentions “hunger, thirst, bowel and bladder distension (as these organs become filled), tiredness, stress, thermal discomfort (that is, feeling either too hot or too cold), and itch” as “conditions causing negative mental states daily or more often”. (Benatar, David. Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming into Existence. Clarendon Press, Oxford. 2006. 71)

[10] In this paper, I shall use the term person or people completely interchangeably with sentient being or sentient beings, respectively, although in the context of bioethics, very often personhood is meant something different from sentience. My choice to use person or people instead of sentient being(s) is partly in the interest of brevity, but it is also because Professor Benatar speaks of persons in his anti-natalist arguments.

[11] Professor Benatar thinks there can be non-hedonistic harms. Although his asymmetries in his earlier publications use ‘pain’ and ‘pleasure’, his book in 2015 instead used harms and benefits. Here, I shall use pain and pleasure.

[12] Benatar, David. “Why it is better never to come into existence.” American Philosophical Quarterly 34.3 (1997): 347.

[13] Benatar, David. “Still better never to have been: a reply to (more of) my critics.” The Journal of Ethics 17.1-2 (2013): 136.

[14] Benatar, David. Better never to have been: the harm of coming into existence. Clarendon Press, Oxford. 2006. 45 n. 33.

[15] Cells 7 and 8 are added by me from Ibid.

[16] From what Professor Benatar said in his writings (see, e.g., pp. 41-2, ibid. or Benatar, David. “Every conceivable harm: a further defence of anti-natalism.” South African Journal of Philosophy= Suid-Afrikaanse Tydskrif vir Wysbegeerte 31.1 (2012): 142), it is clear that the axiological assessments of cells 3 and 4, and presumably of cells 5 to 8 are relative assessments relative to cells 1 and 2.

[17] While there may be cases such as which pains of life are concentrated in earlier parts of life, and pleasures of life are concentrated in later parts of life, and when considering whether life is worth continuing, one’s pains are over and one’s pleasure is about to start, for sake of simplicity, I shall presume pains and pleasures are temporally equally distributed during the course of one’s life.

[18] While classical (hedonistic) utilitarianism (the axiological position that value is pleasure minus pain) can also be called positive (hedonistic) utilitarianism, as the term positive utilitarianism is presumably antonym of negative (hedonistic) utilitarianism (the axiological position that value is minus pain, or disvalue is pain, while pleasure does not count), the very term positive utilitarianism can be ambiguous or misleading, as it can refer to either (1) the axiological position that value is pleasure minus pain (classical utilitarianism) or (2) the axiological position that value is pleasure, while pain does not count. Although apparently, most people who are using the term classical utilitarianism is using the term as a synonym of classical utilitarianism, there is a danger that the term classical utilitarianism, used by the author in the (1) sense, misunderstood by readers as (2) sense. Therefore, the term classical utilitarianism is the term I prefer over the term positive utilitarianism.

[19] While (hedonistic) utilitarianism also means a hedonistic consequentialist view of normative ethics or axiology, especially in cases of there being or will be two or more actual or potential sentient beings, I am using the term utilitarianism here that is applied to one-person isolated cases. Here, I am using the term utilitarianism as referring to its axiological position, rather than as a normative ethical position.

[20] Benatar, David. Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming into Existence. Clarendon Press: Oxford. 2006. Especially 22-28

[21] A unit of pleasure can also be simply called hedon.

[22] A unit of pain can also be simply called dolor.

[23] Benatar, David. op. cit.. pp. 63-4

[24] ‘life not worth starting’ is ambiguous whether life indifferent starting is included.

[25] The terms same duration choices, different duration choices, different suffering choices were inspired by Derek Parfit’s terms same person choices, different people choices, same number choices, different number choices. Reasons and Persons. 135-137.

[26] Two-world comparison method for the comparison of earlier and later death was borrowed from Fred Feldman. (Feldman, F. (1991). Some puzzles about the evil of death. The Philosophical Review100(2), 205-227.)

[27] Kevin Caruso claims “And if you die by suicide, you will not feel relief from the pain, because relief is only felt by the living.” (Caruso, Kevin. Suicide Does Not Stop the Pain. http://www.suicide.org/suicide-does-not-stop-the-pain.html. Retrieved on Oct 14, 2017). Although it is clear that a (successful) suicide will not feel a relief in post-mortem existence, it is far from clear whether most prospective suicides who do not believe in an afterlife really believe that they will feel relief after death. Rather, I suspect, most prospective suicides who do not believe in afterlife desire to die because of their dispreference for the existence and suffering therein, rather than because of their preference for a felt sense of relief from suffering.

[28] Feldman, F. op. cit.

[29] Ibid.

[30] His quote is already on the epigraph of this paper. Although he did not stipulate he is only referring to earlier death, as he is an anti-natalist, it is clear that he is referring to earlier death, as one cannot die if one hasn’t been brought into existence.

[31] Julio Cabrera makes a similar whether-when distinction of death, which he calls the former as ‘structural death’ and the latter as ‘punctual death’. (Cabrera, Julio. Negative Ethics. May 2011. http://philosopherjuliocabrera.blogspot.com.es/2011/05/negative-ethics.html. Retrieved on Oct 14, 2017)

Also, Quentin S Crisp articulates this distinction by suggesting procreation is worse than murder: “I began to harbour a growing belief, which set me apart to the extent (I sensed) it was not to be spoken aloud, that having children was a thing worse than murder. Murder is the curtailing of a life that would have ended anyway; having a child creates a death that would never have been.” (Antinatalism: A Thought Experiment, http://www.litfmag.net/issue-2/antinatalism-a-thought-experiment/, Retrieved on Oct 14, 2017)

[32] Benatar, David. The Human Predicament: A Candid Guide to Life’s Biggest Questions. Clarendon Press: Oxford. 2017. 102-110.

[33] Parfit, Derek. Reasons and Persons. 357.

[34] While deaths at older ages are protracted and painful in many cases, some deaths at earlier ages are extremely painful. Consider, death by a sadistic murder which involves days of extreme torture. It might be said that days of extreme torture is worse than decades of so-called ordinary sufferings of life. Although I am not sure we can say extremely intense but shorter sufferings are worse than less intense but longer suffering, I assume that death in earlier death is equally painful as death in later death, or both deaths are painless.

[35] The term ‘carry out’ was suggested by David Benatar as a replacement of ‘commit’, to remove the bias of the usage of the word ‘commit’ will have.

[36] Sarah Perry raises a similar point: “I think parents lose their moral right to commit suicide when they take on the responsibility for a child”. (Every Cradle Is a Grave: Rethinking the Ethics of Birth and Suicide, Nine-Banded Books, Charleston, WV, 2014. 27)

[37] It will be still possible to “punish” post-mortemly by, for example, denying funeral or confiscation of property (I.e. the property is not transferred in a way the suicide desired, but confiscated by the state).

[38] For defences of suicide rights, see, e.g., Szasz, Thomas Stephen. Fatal freedom: The ethics and politics of suicide. Syracuse University Press, 2002. And Szasz, Thomas. Suicide prohibition: The shame of medicine. Syracuse University Press, 2011. And also, Sarah Perry, Every Cradle Is a Grave.

[39] One notable exception of the prohibition of suicide assistance are in jurisdictions which assisted suicide is permitted. However, even in cases which assisted suicide is permitted, very often only physicians are allowed to assist a suicide, under strict criteria.  Switzerland is a notable exception. Article 115 of the Swiss Criminal Code criminalizes assistance of suicide only if ‘for selfish motives’. In practice, it is non-physicians who attend assisted suicide procedure by Dignitas (Switzerland), although all patients must get a prescription of sodium pentobarbital from a Swiss physician who is willing to write a prescription.

[40] In some jurisdictions, barbiturates are sold OTC for veterinary purposes. See, e.g., Lacey, Marc. In Tijuana, a Market for Death in a Bottle. The New York Times. Jul 21, 2008. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/21/world/americas/21tijuana.html Retrieved on Oct 15, 2017.

[41] Additional requirement may include one is suffering physical pain from terminal conditions, such as metastatic cancer.

[42] See also, Benatar, David. Better never to have been: the harm of coming into existence. pp. 218-9.

[43] I shall not argue for the permissibility of abortion, late-term abortion and infanticide here. There is extensive literature on this topic. See, e.g., Tooley, Michael. “Abortion and infanticide.” Philosophy & Public Affairs (1972): 37-65.

[44] SMART, Roderick Ninian. “Negative utilitarianism.” Mind 67.268 (1958): 542-543. See also Ord, Toby. “Why I’m Not a Negative Utilitarian.” University of Oxford, published online at URL http://www.amirrorclear.net/academic/ideas/negativeutilitarianism/index.html. Date of retrieval 20.2 (2013): 2014.

[45] Obviously the second, as 1000 milliseconds, is irrelevant here. We can understand each moment of a person’s life as a coming into existence. It can be a minute, an hour, a day, a millisecond, a centisecond, a decisecond, etc..

If you are affected by this article, you can seek help by contacting crisis hotlines. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_suicide_crisis_lines)

This article and all articles in my blog are in the public domain.

Why it is always better to cease to exist (pro-mortalism, promortalism)