Monday, May 2, 2011

No Life Is Good

David Benatar, in The Philosopher's Magazine:
One common and instant response to [the claim that no lives are good] is indignation. How dare one claim that no lives are good when there are billions of people who say otherwise about their own lives? I dare to make such a claim partly because there is excellent empirical evidence for the conclusion that people’s judgements [sic] cannot be trusted as a reliable indicator of how good their lives really are. For example, research psychologists have shown that people are prone to optimism and to optimistic (that is, inaccurately positive) assessments of their own lives. There are many manifestations of this phenomenon. People are more prone to remember good experiences than bad ones; they have exaggerated views of how well things will go for them in the future; and most people think that the quality of their lives is above average. When it comes to assessing their own moral goodness, people also tend to be overly optimistic. Very few people think of themselves as bad. If we were to trust self-assessments, we would have to conclude that there are very few bad people and evil actions, which is patently false.
Cheery people – those who think that life is, or at least, can be good – invariably attempt to reconcile the many bad things in life with the possibility of a good life. That is to say, they offer what might be called a “secular theodicy”. But, like conventional theodicies, which attempt to reconcile the vast amount of evil in the world with God’s existence, the secular theodicy of optimists puts the conclusion before the evidence. [Bolded emphasis mine.]

Read the entire piece here.

Thanks Rob Sica!


  1. Still have trouble wrapping my mind around this point, also developed in his book:

    "...there is excellent empirical evidence for the conclusion that people’s judgements cannot be trusted as a reliable indicator of how good their lives really are."

    Can't shake off the notion that, at least for most or very many people, one's self-assessment, despite whatever debunking etiology for it might (or, rather, probably) be the case, is constitutive of, or at least substantially contributes to, the answer to the question of the quality of one's life. (It's the same notion by which I regard your account of yourself with a certain awe, since your life, as you've characterized it on the blog, appears to possess so many features typically associated, in other people, with a brighter, more procreative-friendly outlook; yet I concede the authority of the grim valence you blanket over the whole.) However, I think this reservation, if it has any validity, actually contributes to the argument for antinatalism because the answer to that question is subject to the awful contingencies Benatar invokes in his discussion of the asymmetries of goods and bads.

  2. Have you guys noticed that the comments on that article are much less visceral than usual, and some of the commenters actually attempt to engage with the subject matter? What's going on?


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