Jun 122011

There’s an old saw that states (in annoyingly sexist language, but put that aside here) that the child is father to the man.  On at least one plausible metaphysical view about the nature of persons, I am the parent to all my future selves.  If there is a sound argument for philanthropic antinatalism and if it is also the case that people have temporal parts, then is a pro tanto reason for committing suicide right now.

Consider:  David Benatar’s argument that coming into existence is always a harm is driven by an asymmetry between pleasure and pain.  It always bad for pain to be present and good for pain to be absent, but while it is always good for pleasure to be present, the absence of pleasure only if it there is someone for whom that absence would be a deprivation.  All lives contain some pain, so coming into existence is always a harm.

I am writing on a pleasant Sunday afternoon.  On Monday morning, if events take their natural course, I will have a future self that will suffer a little.  He will have to get up to early, stuff himself onto a commuter train, and do a day’s work at a stressy, tedious job. Some things might go well for him, but these are not an advantage over never having had to suffer in the first place.  Better never to get to Monday, perhaps.  Further along in life, future desires will emerge in future selves.  Many of these desires will be thwarted, leading to frustration.  Better never to have those desires arise.

Thus we would seem to always have a pro tanto reason to commit suicide.  Either that, or we have a reductio either of Benatar’s argument or the view that people have temporal parts.

 Posted by at 13:51

  12 Responses to “A possible implication of Benatar’s asymmetry”

  1. Seems to me that, like the critics, you are missing the point that living persons have a vested interest in staying alive. But I could be wrong. I do agree with you that, if you consider only those two facts taken together, there is an argument there for suicide, but that’s abstract.

    • All fair enough, but kindly note that I think that the conjunction of philanthropic antinatalism and the metaphysics of persons having temporal parts entails only a pro tanto reason for suicide: whatever reason people have for remaining alive could still override that.

  2. Yes, fair enough. I just don’t like the emphasis on suicide, because it’s used against us, although I support suicide 100%.

    BTW, I am going through your blog right now, and so far it’s great. You have a lot of material on here, and there seems to be few comments. You deserve a big readership.

  3. Fascinating. It does seem intuitive that we should treat “possible people” similarly – whether possible future offspring or possible future self. I guess the idea of overlap of interest makes us think a possible future self is more the “same person” as oneself than a future child is, but I don’t pretend to understand the philosophy of identity.

    Frances, people have argued in the past that this is a reason suicide is wrong – “murder of a future self.” It’s interesting to see the other side. (I just went with “it’s not a future self but only a possible future self” – I didn’t make the “possible future person –> right not to exist” connection, which I do think is solid. But yeah, fuck, that’s rough.)

  4. Exactly. Suicide cannot be wrong for the same reason that abortion cannot be wrong- there will exist no human being that will have suffered as a result. So that’s bullshit.

  5. By the way, there should be a way to get email notifications when someone else comments after us.

    • I shall look into this — if you happen to know of a plug-in or some such that works with a WordPress blog to make this happen, I’ll be happy to hear about it.

  6. Really? On my WordPress blog, it does it automatically. Maybe I adjusted some settings beforehand, I don’t remember… You might want to muck about in that.

  7. By commiting suicide, you are benefiting your far future selves, at the expense of harming your immediate future selves (the selves that will exist between the decision to commit suicide and the moment of death), by exacerbating their mortality salience and death fear..

  8. So while this is not a pro tanto reason to commit suicide, it is a pro tanto reason to kill people painlessly in their sleep (ignoring the effects on witnesses and surviving friends and relatives), as the intermediate selves do not exist.

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