Lately I have been fascinated by a philosophy that I newly discovered: anti- natalism which maintains that “not existing is better than ever existing” as a way to tackle the problem of why pain and suffering and ‘evil’ prevail in the world. ‘Evil’ is a concept that has been around for centuries from ancient Greek writings until today. ‘Evil’ here represents all natural and moral evils.
In archaic civilizations, the concept of ‘evil’ was two separate deities. In Greek mythology (2000 BCE), ‘good’ and ‘evil’ were produced by two separate souls. Plato (348 BCE), Greek philosopher, introduced an idea that is still an object for discussion today, that ‘evil’ is not a product of God but rather a completely human value and responsibility. Epicurus (341 BCE), Hellenist Greek philosopher, approached this concept by blaming its existence on the carelessness of the Gods. His argument assures that Gods remain Gods because if Gods wanted to destroy world’s evil but they can’t; they wouldn’t be omnipotent. Nevertheless, if Gods wanted evil to stay in the world, that would make them not ‘all-good’.
Roman Emperor Augustus (63 BCE) thought that ‘evil’ merely has a negative connotation but it also contributes to the complex perfection of the world in the same way meaningless fragments of music contribute to the general harmony of a song. Christianity, born at the time we today consider beginning of common era dating, introduced a new word ‘sin’ attributing a ‘moral’ value to ‘evil’. Sin is thought to be the pain -or better evil- introduced by humans themselves as guilt caused by voluntary actions. The Old Testament (representing theology for both Judaism and Christianity) introduced sin at the very beginning, with the Original Sin, seeing evil as God’s affirmation of morality and virtue in the world. In 3rd century ACE, following Christian teachings, Neoplatonism represented ‘evil’ as non-existence, binding it to material entities. The existence of creatures that are intrinsically imperfect causes the ‘evil deficiency’. In 1630s, a new argument on ‘evil’, combined the existence of good and evil in a one and only God and it is justified with the perfection of God. According to Nicolas Malebranche, a rationalist philosopher, born in 1638, ‘evil’ is neither the negation of existence, nor an appearance due to humanity’s limitations but rather a reality in relation to God, who has to tolerate its presence in the work of God’s own creation. A breaking point from all above mentioned similar theories was Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, German philosopher of the 17th century, arguing that ‘our world’ was ‘the best of all possible worlds.’ After this he started asking how can there be suffering in a world supposedly watched over be an all-powerful and benevolent God (the question we today call theodicy). Leibniz was questioning the powers of nature and whether it should be worked with or against.
Schopenhauer’s stand on the subject represents a disruption from previous thinkers under certain aspects. His philosophy restores some elements generating an original philosophical view, characterized by severe pessimism that had great influence on thinkers that followed. This view makes Arthur Schopenhauer, one of the fundamental advocates for anti-natalist philosophy. Schopenhauer first disclosed the basis of his thoughts in 1818 in what is considered his main work, The World as Will and Representation, which initially did not have the success he expected. In this book, the philosopher held that the world was governed by the ‘Will’ to live, a blind impulse absolutely free and entirely self-determining, characterizing the world and utterly disregarding any view of the end, knowledge and laws. This irrational force manifested in unfulfilled emotional, physical and sexual desires, causing the pain and evil in the world. Schopenhauer subsequently continued his existential research on the origins of ‘evil’. In 1851, he wrote On the Suffering of the World, where he sustained that there is more pain in the world than pleasure and even happiness and pleasure of thousands cannot compensate for the anguish and agony of a single person because evil triumphs over good. The only remedy to ‘evil’, he pertains, is the eradication of human desire; a theory easily related to Buddhist philosophy.
Schopenhauer’s world-view does not allow for a coherent God but rather for a meaningless world. Anthropomorphically, the world is in timeless dissatisfaction going fundamentally nowhere, overlooking good or evil. Good and evil can only be experienced by establishing materialization of ‘will’ into principles of sufficient reason. Schopenhauer views ‘evil’ as a byproduct of human nature insisting that its existence is elucidated within the free-will infected human consciousness. He blames rationality on sensory data but believes in the possibility that everything, even space and time are merely experiential and synthetically fabricate daily life. Reality would exist even without the existence of humans as is it probably spaceless and timeless. So, considering how we experience the world, suffering (evil) stands out as an artifact, solely spatial and temporal reflective of human activity.
The mind, apprehends encompassing universal ‘will’, fracturing it into innumerable objects distributed into space and time, mindspace and infinity. Therefore, the presence of rational human consciousness gives birth to evil; constructing images of terror, pain, suffering, harm, violence etc… The essence of ethical conduct is compassion and the denial of the will to live, consisting in overcoming one’s own desires. Once one denies the will to live, their placement in the world is superfluous, senseless, and morally very questionable. Hence, Schopenhauer claims that “it would have been better if life had never occurred.”
One of the newest thinkers to approach Schopenhauer’s anti-natalism is David Benatar (born 1966), the head of the Department of Philosophy at University of Cape Town in Cape Town, South Africa. Benatar advocates the pains that are caused by human existence. His initial premise is that pain, in itself, is a bad thing as he criticizes humanity for inflicting evil onto each other no matter how young or defenceless.
We can assume that anything done with consent, it is not expected not to exist. Rationality, humans and hence procreation is what causes pain. Theoretically, if babies could be born consensually, there would be no reason to think that the lack of their existence would be better for them since they have chosen to exist. Procreation would only be morally justifiable if there was a way to acquire consent from a non-existent person, which is impossible, hence procreation is immoral. No baby has ever asked to be born, rather babies are thrown into the cruelty of the world by parents who consider birth, their choice. Since there is no way of asking unborn child whether they want to be born or not; their delivery into the cosmic brutality makes birth a crime. It is also important to consider that the non-existence of humans does not eliminate the existence of anything else in the world. Benatar’s reasoning in problematic procreation problematic is that; while it is impossible to escape current conditions without high costs (i.e. suicide) and the hypothetical consent procedure is not based on features of the individual who will bear the imposed condition; no harm is at stake if no action is taken and if action is taken.
Even though, any good or evil can only exist as long as humans exist, there is a crucial asymmetry between pain and pleasure. The absence of evil, is good even if there is nobody to enjoy that good, whereas the absence of good things, is evil only if there is somebody for whom that absence is a deprivation. Hence. if no humans existed, there would be no pain.