Each one of us was harmed by being brought into existence. That harm is not negligible, because the quality of even the best lives is very bad""and considerably worse than most people recognize it to be. Although it is obviously too late to prevent our own existence, it is not too late to prevent the existence of future possible people.
Fulfilled desires, like pleasures (even of the intrinsic kind), are states of achievement rather than default states. For instance, one has to work at satiating oneself, while hunger comes naturally. After one has eaten or taken liquid, bowel and bladder discomfort ensues quite naturally and we have to seek relief. One has to seek out pleasurable sensations, in the absence of which blandness comes naturally. The upshot of this is that we must continually work at keeping suffering (including tedium) at bay, and we can do so only imperfectly. Dissatisfaction does and must pervade life. There are moments, perhaps even periods, of satisfaction, but they occur against a background of dissatisfied striving. Pollyannaism may cause most people to blur out this background, but it remains there.
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Only an unsatisfied preference is bad. In other words, he argues that although it is good to have fulfilled whatever desires one might have, one is not better off having a fulfilled desire than having no desire at all. By way of example, consider the case in which we 'paint the tree nearest to Sydney Opera house red and give Kate a pill that makes her wish that the tree nearest to Sydney Opera House were red'. Professor Fehige plausibly denies that we do Kate any favour in doing this. She is no better off than had we done nothing. What matters is not that people have satisfied desires but that they do not have unsatisfied ones. It is the avoidance of frustration that is important. Fehige, Christoph, 'A Pareto Principle for Possible People', 513-14.
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Those who take their own lives, especially when the quality of those lives is much less bad than those of the cancer patient or the concentration camp prisoner, fly in the face of the normal will to live. They are seen as abnormal, not merely in the statistical sense of being unusual, but of being defective, either morally or psychologically.
Discussions about the ethics of suicide are immediately biased by the verb that customarily attaches to it in English. One "commits" suicide. Because this presupposes the wrongfulness of the suicide, I avoid that verb, opting instead for "carry out" suicide. This is evaluatively neutral, avoiding both the usual bias against suicide and the unusual bias in favor of it that the verb "achieve" would effect. "Carry out" is preferable to "practice", which implies something ongoing. Finally, "carry out" also implies a suicide that is completed rather than merely attempted.
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Although they will miss his presence if he dies, his condition is too burdensome to require his continued presence. In such circumstances, what is selfish is the insistence that the prospective suicide remain alive, not that he seek his own demise. The argument about selfishness can backfire in another way. Just as it is sometimes the case that those who kill themselves have accorded insufficient weight to the interests of others, so it is sometimes the case that those who do not kill themselves make this error. Consistent with what I have already said, I do not think that the interests of others are decisive. Nevertheless, there are situations in which a person's interest in continued life is negligible, because he will die soon anyway, and the quality of his life is appalling. If seeing out his days, rather than taking his own life earlier, would spell financial ruin for his family (because of the costs of his medical care), then it may well be unduly selfish not to take one's own life.
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I shall not assess arguments and evidence for competing views about when human extinction will occur. We know it will occur, and this fact has a curious effect on my argument. In a strange way it makes my argument an optimistic one. Although things are now not the way they should be-there are people when there should be none-things will someday be the way they should be-there will be no people. In other words, although things are now bad, they will be better, even if they first get worse with the creation of new people. Some may wish to be spared this kind of optimism, but some optimists may take a measure of comfort in this observation.
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We infrequently contemplate the harms that await any new-born child""pain, disappointment, anxiety, grief, and death. For any given child we cannot predict what form these harms will take or how severe they will be, but we can be sure that at least some of them will occur. None of this befalls the nonexistent. Only existers suffer harm.
Creating new people, by having babies, is so much a part of human life that it is rarely thought even to require a justification. Indeed, most people do not even think about whether they should or should not make a baby. They just make one. In other words, procreation is usually the consequence of sex rather than the result of a decision to bring people into existence. Those who do indeed decide to have a child might do so for any number of reasons, but among these reasons cannot be the interests of the potential child. One can never have a child for that child's sake.
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It is unlikely that many people will take to heart the conclusion that coming into existence is always a harm. It is even less likely that many people will stop having children. By contrast, it is quite likely that my views either will be ignored or will be dismissed. As this response will account for a great deal of suffering between now and the demise of humanity, it cannot plausibly be thought of as philanthropic. That is not to say that it is motivated by any malice towards humans, but it does result from a self-deceptive indifference to the harm of coming into existence.
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