Thursday, July 29, 2010

Why I'm Sold On Antinatalism: Benatar's Cost-Benefit Approach

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CM said...

I think the principle of non-aggression is either arbitrary or impossible to follow. Why should we eschew violence but not inflicting mental suffering on people? The latter is sometimes much worse than the former. But it's impossible to avoid inflicting mental harm on people without complete self-denial (which would also render self-ownership irrelevant) - plus you would be harming yourself in the process. We could avoid self-denial by appealing to intentions, but why should intentions matter more than consequences?

If the principle of non-aggression is understood as allowing self-defense, then it is, again, arbitrary. Why can't self A make a contract with self B that self B will defend self A? Or if self A is unable to make a contract, why can't self B volunteer to defend self A from obvious harm (such as the harm of being brought into existence)?

Finally, if non-aggression is understood as extreme pacifism, it would call for doing nothing to prevent or stop atrocities from occurring, including genocide. And that would be a real ethical blindspot, IMO.

filrabat said...

Perhaps you caught me during a re-editing..or maybe not. Regardless, I apologize if I did not make clear your disagreement with duty-based rights, even after I finished my re-editing.

As it presently stands, I edited this post so that you do not find deontology (or even the concept of "rights" in general). To the extent that I do associate you with deontological ethics and the axiom of non-aggression, I try to portray you as presenting it only for the sake of argument - in particularly demonstrating that Benatar's Hedonistic Utilitarian calculus isn't the only game in town.

As an aside and a tangent, I think I have plenty to say about your position on "rights" :), in particular my admittedly still-forming notion that "rights" (or rather lack of enjoyment thereof) and "suffering" are inseparable to a considerable degree. But that's best left for another essay.

Chip said...

In Rothbardspeak, the "non-aggression axiom" is presented as an ethical injunction against the "initiation" of force, which leaves open the option of using force in self-defense, punitively, or even in retaliation. It is thus preemptive force that is identified as violative, and in this sense, my point is that antinatalism fits the bill. The same logic works pretty well within the Nozickian formulation where negative rights are posited as "side-contraints" against conduct that is invasive of personal or propertarian autonomy.

It goes without saying (for me) that "natural law" is a fiction when invoked in support of any ethical proposition, but I think that libertarian ethics, stripped of its metaphysical pretense, provides a fairly consistent model for determining the types of conduct that may resonably be proscribed if we assign value to individual autonomy.

I think the concept of "self-ownership" is a red herring. If you "own" something, you can sell it. But to sell oneself would be to alienate one's will, rendering libertarian ethical precepts practicably meaningless. The more promising (however yet limited) approach is to begin with the a clear-cut rule against aggression (the initiation of force), start with the clear-cut cases, and leave the remaining questions for the jury.