Sunday, January 27, 2008


To my way of thinking, there have been three schools of thought which, throughout history, have been held out-of-bounds to honest inquiry and criticism. The first is religion; at least, when it comes to questioning the efficacy of the idea itself, since certainly the supporters of the various creeds have spent no little energy in lambasting all metaphysical belief systems other than their own. The second is the concept of free-will, a belief that even many a dyed-in-the-wool atheist and/or scientific naturalist seems disinclined to let go of, mostly based on a rather ill-contrived 'intuition'; which, in my opinion, flies in the face of the modern scientific schema i.e. cause-and-effect, or "somebody get that ghost out of our deterministic paradigm!"

The third, and probably hardest, notion to stomach is the conviction that something is fundamentally wrong with life itself, and that we should therefore stop breeding, and let the race die out under one of two scenarios (with perhaps some minor variants, which I plan to discuss sometime later on this blog). This idea is so radical, and supposedly counter-intuitive, that the discussion is considered by most to be beyond the pale of serious conversation. I disagree.

There've been some pretty tricky philosophical arguments on both sides of this issue, and I'll do my best to sidestep a lot of the technical aspects. Suffice it to say for now that a lot of this hinges on what people conceive of as being 'good', and I believe the arguments often get sidetracked in attempting to quantify 'good' in a rationalistic sort of way; which, as I hope to show, is impossible to do. Ultimately, I think our sense of rightness and wrongness flows from an emotional response base, which we then tend to rationally justify only in retrospect. I suppose there are exceptions-at least, ostensible exceptions- and certainly there's a kind of feedback loop oscillating between our thinking and emotional modes of being. Still, I think I can demonstrate that there is a universal pool of emotional experience from which we draw our personal values, and cultural mores. Just an overly-wordy way of saying that, at base, we have more in common than we think we do. And that, furthermore, and just as we do with the religion and free-will issues, we tend to often draw faulty conclusions when it comes to our personal experiences and thought processes, which we then isolate and sanctify under the misguided misnomer 'intuition'.

Concerning religious experience, this allows a person like famed scientist Francis Collins to see a frozen waterfall, emotionally discover beauty in it, then erroneously translate that experience into the realization that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior of the universe. It also grants permission to many otherwise well-trained, objective observers of nature to believe in free will, completely by-passing the principle of causation which is at the very heart of authentic scientific methodology (this includes the recent quantum indeterminism end-around plays, as if spontaneous micro-jumps in the quantum world have anything at all to do with autonomous agency).

And, of course, it helps us to foster the belief that life is good and ultimately worthwhile- when, in reality, it isn't.


TGGP said...

Nice blog. I'll agree with you on religion and free-will (the best thing I've read on that is Greene & Cohen's For the Law, Neuroscience Changes Nothing and Everything). But I have to say, I like living and I don't think my experience is unusual. We are primed by evolution to like living enough that we try to avoid death.

A said...

Interesting blog idea. You might want to check out David Benatar's book "Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming Into Existence", if you haven't already. It's available here, and you can read it via Amazon's "Look Inside" feature.

I'm an anti-natalist*, so I agree Benatar's conclusion, but I found some parts of his book unpersuasive. Nevertheless, he introduces some good ideas, such as: the distinction between 'a life worth starting' (his thought: no life is worth starting [except perhaps for the perfectly pleasurable and satisfied life of an angel or a god]) and 'a life worth continuing' (his thought: some lives -- especially the lives of the healthy, wealthy, and wise -- are worth continuing, but not most) and his insight that there is a relevant asymmetry between bad and good (we *do* look at some groups of people and say that it would have been better had they not been [e.g. people who are born with extreme disability, infants who die from SIDS, etc.], but we *don't* look at Mars, Venus, empty space, etc. and feel bad for all the life that doesn't exist, but could).

The first distinction can allow us anti-natalists to duck a pretty common objection (which is ad hominem, but not totally irrelevant, given we are talking about matters of life and death, hehe): "If you're so opposed to life, why don't you commit suicide?" If an anti-natalist is fairly healthy, wealthy, etc., then it might be the case that she has a life worth continuing -- yet we can still point out that we would have rather never have been at all. Or it could be the case that committing suicide imposes such a great pre-suicide psychological harm that it wouldn't be rational to do it (which doesn't mean one mightn't still hope that one would die in one's sleep, or some such).

*I don't think I have a knock-down argument for anti-natalism right now (in fact, I'm not sure it's completely coherent, given some things I think about the concept of 'the good'), but that's certainly where my pre-philosophical intuition points, so I'm still developing some thoughts.

And, for what it's worth: I'm with you re: religion (against it) but not re: free will (I think we have it, but I don't think it's incompatible with physical determinism).

I look forward to some interesting discussion!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for stopping by! I haven't read Benatar's book, though stumbling upon several references to it on the net indirectly motivated me to start this blog.

Speaking of motivations, you've just motivated me to start another blog to discuss collateral issues which come up during the discussions here; subjects such as religion and free will, for instance. The addy is . Maybe I'll do a piece on free will soon, as time and energy allow.

Compoverde said...

Hey Jim, I am going to start a Meetup group online. What would you say if you wrote the groups description. The people want me to explain

Who should join the group and the purpose of the group. If you started one of these (which I admit will probably not get any members) how would you phrase that?

Anonymous said...

I would join that group! I feel very lonely/isolated/alienated in my antinatalism.

susan 28 said...

Hello, i couldn't find a contact link but wanted to let you know i just created an anti-natalism community page on facebook that i linked to my profile but you're welcome to make use of it. I didn't see a page so made one, but am not a prolific blogger. it's at:!/pages/Anti-Natalism/187510281265353?v=info

susan 28