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Grim news for an unoriginal position: a reply to Seth Baum
  1. D Benatar
  1. D Benatar, Philosophy Department, University of Cape Town, Private Bag X3, Rondebosch 7701, South Africa; David.Benatar{at}


Seth Baum suggests that my claim that it is better never to come into existence “can readily be rejected not just out of reflexive distaste for the claim but also out of sound ethical reasoning”. In my reply, I argue that Mr Baum fails to state accurately what my arguments are, and then attempts to refute them by association with other views that he dismisses perfunctorily. Where he does actually engage in my views, his response is effectively merely to assert the opposite.

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  • Competing interests: None.

  • Provenance and peer review: Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • i Mr Baum refers to them as ethical frameworks, but it is more accurate to designate them as principles.

  • ii Nor is Baum’s case helped by his later claim that maximin “recommends … ‘euthanasing’ all existing people”. Maximin does not imply this, at least as long as one thinks that killing all existing people fails to improve their situation. (The claim that killing all people does not benefit them is distinct from the claim, implied by Baum’s odd notion of harm, that killing all people fails to harm them.) I do not argue that it is better for everybody that they cease to be, but only that it would have been better if people never came into existence.

  • iii More specifically, he says that negative utilitarianism is “decidedly unreasonable” because “our willingness to accept some harm in order to enjoy the benefits of another day seems praiseworthy, not mistaken” (my emphasis).

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