In part one, I looked at Benatar’s argument for why coming into existence is always bad.
In part two, I looked at Benatar’s argument on how bad coming into existence really is.
In part three, I looked at Benatar’s anti-natalist position where he argues that having children is always unethical and any sort of coitus that leads to procreation is unethical.
In this post, I will be looking at Benatar’s argument on abortion. As you can imagine, he’s for it, but up to a certain point. And this is where he talks about the pro-death position. Typically, the burden of proof has been on the defender of abortion on the justification of abortion. Benatar flips this: abortion should be the standard; those who don’t have an abortion must give justification on why they don’t. The failure to abort may almost never be justified.
In short, here is his argument:
1. Procreation is wrong. (This is argued in part three.)
2. If procreation is wrong, then one must prevent oneself for another to come into being.
3. Among other things, abortion is a way to prevent another to come into being.
4. If abortion is a way to prevent another to come into being, then abortion is permissible.
So we’ve covered the “why” and the “how”, now we can talk about the “when.” Exactly when does one morally come into existence? Benatar argues that a being comes into existence biologically at conception, but one morally comes into existence much later. A moral being has interests. Here, Benatar looks at the philosophy surrounding “interest.”
Four Kinds of Interests:
1) Functional: “Those things that facilitate an artefact’s functioning are said to be good for the artifact, or to be in its interests, and those things that compromise its functioning are said to be bad for it, or against it’s interests. Thus, rust is bad for a car and having wheels is good” (p. 135).
2) Biotic: Much like functional interests except these beings are alive. Plants are a good example.
3) Conscious: These are interests that only conscious beings can have. Examples would include an interest of avoiding pain.
4) Reflective: These are higher-order cognitive capacities such as self-awareness, language, symbolization, abstract reasoning.
These interests are incremental. So what type of beings have interests? After looking at four philosophers’ view of interests, Benatar concludes that having an interest in something is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for moral standing.
Another question: what type of interests are morally relevant? Benatar argues that “conscious interests are the minimum kind of morally relevant interest” (p. 139). His argument is as follows (from p. 141, I also change the numbers to letters to avoid confusion with the numbered argument above and the continued argument below):
(A) To say that an interest is morally relevant is to say that it matters (morally).
(B) If an interest is to matter morally, it must matter to the entity whose interest it is.
(C) For an entity’s interest to matter to it, there must be something that it is (that is, feels) like to be that entity.
(D) There can only be something that it feels like to be a particular entity if that entity is conscious.
(E) Therefore, only conscious beings can have morally relevant interests.
Benatar argues that fetuses only become conscious late in the gestational period, meaning that fetuses gradually gain moral interests.
Objection 1: It seems that pro-lifers would object. Their complaint is that biotic interests should count. Thus, abortion is wrong in all stages.
Benatar’s Reply to Objection 1: If we’re going to be consistent, then the interests of plants, bacteria, viruses should also count. Pro-lifers will not embrace this view.
Objection 1.2: Biotic interests should count only for humans.
Possible Reply to Objection 1.2: This seems arbitrary. Why is it that only human life has biotic interests and that has bigger prominence?
Next, Benatar gets at the heart of the problem by answering when consciousness begins.
To test this, we must look at this empirically and Benatar offers evidence from an EEG. In short, an EEG records electrical activity of the brain and it provides the main element that I think Benatar finds the essence of consciousness: wakefulness. However, he stresses that they are not equivalent: “While consciousness is supervenient on the function of the [cerebral] cortex, it is only possible in the wakeful state. In this sense, the brainstem and thalamus only support consciousness indirectly. Since arousal states–wakefulness and sleep–are states of the brain stem and thalamus (even though they usually have cortical consequences), and consciousness is a function of the cortex, wakefulness and consciousness are separable” (p. 144-145).
One can obviously be conscious but not awake, but can one be awake but not conscious? Yes. They are people in persistent vegetative states. Thus, being awake isn’t a sufficient condition for consciousness, which again shows that they are separate things. It seems that Benatar gives his definition: “a being that lacks the capacity for wakefulness will also lack the capacity for consciousness” (p. 145). Benatar also uses evidence of studies where researchers induces pain to fetuses. Those beings which were older than 28 weeks had certain facial characteristics that exhibited pain behavior. It’s much too complex to be a simple reflex. Benatar, along with the scientific studies he has looked at suggests that neonates become conscious around 28-30 weeks of the gestation period. Therefore, one exists morally around that time. Prior to that, abortion is not only permissible, but obligatory. Continuing the argument, then:
5. If abortion is permissible, then one is allowed to have an abortion.
6. Coming into existence is a harm. (This is argued in part one.)
7. Doing an unnecessary harmful thing is wrong.
8. If coming into existence is a harm, then coming into existence is wrong.
9. Therefore, coming into existence is wrong.
10. One has an obligation to prevent an unnecessary harm if it is within one’s power.
11. If coming into existence is wrong, and abortion is a way to prevent another to come into being, and one has an obligation to prevent an unnecessary harm if it is within one’s power, then one is not only permitted to have an abortion, but one is obligated to have an abortion.
12. Therefore, one is obligated to have an abortion.
After that time period, it gets tricky but Benatar suggests killing the fetus after that time period is only prima facie wrong. Moreover, Benatar is a gradualist, it seems, when it comes to the abortion debate but after 28-30 weeks of the gestation period. As one becomes more interested in existing, the harming that interest becomes more severe. Late-term abortions and perhaps even infanticide may be permissible if it prevents a continuation of an unpleasant future existence.
R.M. Hare’s Argument Against Abortion and Benatar’s Replies
Benatar looks at two possible arguments against abortion. I’ll look at them separately and see how Benatar answers them.
The first is from R.M. Hare with his “Golden Rule” argument. Basically, Hare’s argument is that we should do to others as we are glad was done to us. Because we are glad that no one aborted us, we have a duty not to terminate a pregnancy which will result in the birth of a person having a life like ours.
Benatar’s Objection 1: Not everyone is glad not to have been aborted. Even if there are those who are glad to have been born, this still assumes that this preference is the standard which Benatar has challenged. Those who are glad to have been born are mistaken, as was shown in part two. Being ignorant on an issue doesn’t make the action justified. Benatar brings in a nice analogy: “Imagine, for example, a widespread preference for having been introduced to cigarettes, which was based on ignorance of the risks of smoking. Employing Professor Hare’s rule, people with such a desire could reason: ‘I am glad that I was encouraged to smoke, and thus I should encourage others to smoke'” (p. 154). Thus, just because one is glad to have come into existence isn’t a good reason for bringing others into existence.
Benatar’s Objection 2: Even if we are mistaken that the potential person was glad to have been born, we must err on the side of caution. If the person is born and that person was not glad to have been born, then that person will suffer their whole life. If the person was aborted and it turns out that the person would’ve been glad to have been born, there would have been nobody who suffers. Either way, it’s better not have existed.
Don Marquis’s “A Future Like Ours” Argument and Benatar’s Replies
Marquis states that abortion is wrong because it destroys a future like ours. Generally, Marquis allows abortion up to fourteen days after conception. Anytime after that is to take away a future like ours.
Benatar’s Objection 1: Benatar agrees with Marquis on that account except he extends the permissible time period up to 28-30 weeks. However, Marquis notes that this is because of the value of those future experiences that are going to be had by the person. But of course, Benatar finds the value of future experiences not valuable overall. Thus, “for killing to be wrong, the future must be a valuable one, but it must also be the future of a being that already counts morally” (p. 157), which fetuses don’t count as moral beings until 28-30 weeks in the gestation period.
Benatar’s Objection 2: If we follow Marquis’ thoughts, it leads to an odd conclusion: killing a fetus is worse than a thirty-year old because the fetus would have a longer future and would be deprived more. This is an absurd conclusion. Typically, we consider the death of a thirty year old much worse than the death of a fetus and the typical reason is because the thirty year old has a vested, deeper interest in existing than the fetus does.
Possible Response from Marquis 2: I think Marquis does have a reply to this. There is more than one reason why killing is wrong. It is worse to kill an admirable person than one who has never done anything for anyone. The very young have not done anything admirable. By this standard, it is usually worse to kill the elderly than the young. Also, even if it’s true that killing some people is worse than killing others, it is just too complicated to figure out each person’s likely future. So legal prohibitions against killing should treat all killings as more or less the same. Now this is an odd response. Frankly, I think Benatar has a good point.
Overall, Benatar wants to show that even though one is obligated to have an abortion, this does not entail that women should be forced to have an abortion since that would go against their right to reproductive freedom that was shown in part three. Instead, Benatar recommends that women abort and if she doesn’t, she needs an excellent reason not to, which Benatar thinks there aren’t any reasons.
Hello, I think that a life is a life. It is not legal to kill me when I am 8 years old even though I have not gone through the main developmental stages yet. A seed planted in a woman’s body is a human seed. As soon as it germinates it is a person. It is just in the earliest stages of development.
The person should have rights. Since that person inside the womb needs food and water it should not be prohibited from them, they are basic necessities. It is neglect if you do not feed your kids. Well those kids were once in the womb. We all spent time in the womb.
Hi Mitchell, there seem to be a lot of strawmans here. I’ll break it down. You say:
Sure, no one will disagree with that, but that seems more like a tautology, so I’m not sure what you’re point is behind that claim.
Again, no one is denying this claim as well. Benatar says that no one has the right to kill an 8 year old.
Again, Benatar will not disagree with that point, but notice how you framed it. You said that a seed in a woman’s body is a human seed. This is a human biologically. Next, you say it then germinates into a person. Person’s have moral standing and so based on what you’re saying, it seems like you agree with Benatar.
Again, this is true, no one is denying this.
. There’s a lot to unpack from this. If this is what you’re claiming, then you’re embracing positive rights. And if this is so, then everyone should have the right to food and water. But this just seems to much. Explain everyone has a positive right to food and water.
But you’re missing the point of what Benatar is saying. This is Marquis’ argument and Benatar has shown the flaws of Marquis. Can you show me where Benatar got it wrong with his argument?
I would like a serious philosophical conversation with you, but if it’s going to be rhetoric, I can tell you right now that you’ll be wasting your time. To see why, look at my comment policy up top.
Hello, well I never read the complete argument. I was not making an argument against the guy in your post but just one against most forms of abortion. I honestly don’t see why there is even a debate on this still.
I had a hard time understanding how your post was set up. I will look at it again and respond. Are there more than one posts on this or are they all in one?
Yes. This is part four of the argument. If you look within the post, you can see the previous three arguments.
Okay, I figured it out. Honestly, it seems that that Benatar is lost in his mind. Seems he is trying to be so “intellectual” that common sense (and maybe decency) are thrown out.
By aborting a child you do not fix the situation the child may have been born into. You just kill the baby. The parents are still gonna be poor, on drugs, etc. Eliminating the baby is the cheap and easy way out of the problem. The better way to fix the problem would be to help the mothers situation, not kill the child who had nothing to do with her being there.
Seems this is just over analyzing for the sake of appearing smart. There are plenty of people willing to take care of unwanted babies. There are also plenty of people willing to help a mother in need.
I am not sure if it is profitable for either of us to discuss this. But it may be.
This is just an ad hominem along with a red herring. If you’re going to attack the argument, make sure you attack the argument and not the person making the argument. To get the whole picture, you must look at all of the previous posts in order to make sense. Benatar’s view of abortion depends on the first premise. Thus, it would be to your benefit if you attacked that premise. In order to do that, you must look at part three and attack that argument. Also, premise six is the major premise for Benatar, so you need to attack that premise, but to do that, you need to look at the part one and attack that argument. Philosophy is all about looking at arguments and seeing if the conclusions follow from the premises, otherwise, you’re grasping at straws.
The rest of your argument is merely a red herring. Please look at the argument and attack the argument itself and not to divert the attention away from the argument. Thus, if you want to keep the argument going, I’d be more than happy to, but then I ask: which premise are you attacking and why?
Would I be accurate or close to it by saying that a child who might be raised in poverty, a crack house, abusive family, would be better off not being born at all? Because THEN the child would not have to experience pain?
Again, that child does not get to make the decision, it is made for him/her.
So I am clear, are we discussing the argument or abortion. If you are looking for a critique of the arguments I misunderstood. I thought you were wanting to discuss the abortion issue.
Not only that, but Benatar argues that any sort of coming into existence is a harm, as was shown in premise six. However, you’re claiming that the child doesn’t make the decision, the choice was made for the child. Yet, Benatar argues that it’s not a being with rights because it doesn’t have moral interests. Sure it has biological interests, but having biological interests isn’t a sufficient condition to have moral interests.
We are discussing the argument on abortion from Benatar, since this is what the post is about. To talk about abortion as a whole is too much for this post. I only want to focus on Benatar’s argument about it.
What exactly are moral interests?
That’s a good philosophical question. Benatar has given four different views above and looks at them from all angles. He also gives an argument from (A)-(F). What do you think?
This being is alive, it is a human being. It does not need to express itself or vote to be of value. This guy seems to think that there should be no procreation period. I am not seeing the value in his arguments. I will do some background work on him and see who he is.
Yes, it is alive and it’s a human being, but is it a person? That’s what the whole debate is about. Objects don’t have absolute value, only persons do. We get this from Kant.
Yes, Benatar believes that we shouldn’t procreate because it’s immoral as stated in the first premise. If you don’t see value in his arguments, please find which premise you disagree with and explain why. Remember, he’s proposing and argument and to be rational, one must accept the conclusion if one accepts the premises. That’s how arguments work. If you don’t find the conclusion acceptable, then you must find a fault with one of the premises, or you must show that the premises don’t lead to the conclusion. He’s a philosopher at the University of South Africa.
But it will only lead to a discussion about God. I believe it is wrong to kill a child (in womb).
Let me ask you this, why do you feel it profitable to discuss his arguments?
He seems to come from an atheistic view. So my arguments against his would be moot since he would not consider them relevant as they come from a Christian view.
I find it profitable to discuss his argument because I find it fascinating. The argument seems to hold; in other words, I can’t find a flaw with his argument because the premises seem to be true.
He may come from an atheistic point of view, but perhaps not. After all, there are many Christians out there who do believe that abortion is morally permissible. Benatar believes that it’s not a child until it gains moral interests.
Not a child till it gains moral interests?
What is it before it gains them?
If you plant a pumpkin seed you get a pumpkin. Once a human seed is planted it creates the human.
One could argue that a person in a coma doesn’t have moral interests too. But it is wrong (in my opinion) to kill them.
So what does he say regarding a right to life by our constitution?
Or are his arguments meant to be in a vacuum?
I don’t understand what you mean. He’s making a metaphysical argument based on the pleasures and pains of beings as was shown in part one.
Well, at best, it’s a biological entity.
This is the fallacy of equivocation. Seeds are neither pumpkins nor humans in the same way that acorns are not trees.
Killing a person in a coma is tricky; it may depend on when or if the person wakes up or not. Benatar doesn’t address that issue.
There are many problems with that. First, Benatar is South African so he doesn’t need to address an issue by American standards. Second, you’re assuming that the law comes before metaphysics. I would like to see that argument. For example, suppose that the constitution said that abortion is permissible, I’m sure you wouldn’t agree with it, would you? Third, there is no mention of the right to life in the Constitution. Indeed, Roe v. Wade argued that abortion is permissible because they extracted what a person is through the 14th Amendment based on the due process clause. At that time, the word “person” was meant to someone after birth. Of course, technology has changed and so the court has changed it so that a person means one who is viable.
You said: This is the fallacy of equivocation….
But once that human seed germinates at conception it is a human. Just in its earliest stages of development.
One of my biggest problems with what he is saying is that he thinks life is bad. It is better to not be born. Since Benatar does not know what kind of person that baby will be, how is he so sure that that person might enjoy pain, hurt, sadness? I know that sounds ridiculous but there are masochists out there. Why should we adults get to decide what is best for a child that hasn’t even given a choice between good or bad?
You might argue that we DON’T abort that baby BECAUSE it hasn’t any moral interests yet. That baby might like this world, since it is all relative.
Yes, it’s human. But that’s not the issue. Bioloigcally it’s human, but is it a person? Biological things don’t have moral intersts; only persons do. So to say that it’s human doesn’t do anything.
As for your second claim, Benatar states that above Don Marquis’ argument. I’ll just repost it for you:
Even if we are mistaken that the potential person was glad to have been born, we must err on the side of caution. If the person is born and that person was not glad to have been born, then that person will suffer their whole life. If the person was aborted and it turns out that the person would’ve been glad to have been born, there would have been nobody who suffers. Either way, it’s better not have existed.
Finally, you say that it’s all relative. If you really believe that it’s all relative, then everything is permissible. I suggest looking up relativism and it’s flaws unless you can tell me why one should embrace relativism.
As a side note, I’m glad you’re engaging in this dialogue with me, but to be honest, I think you’re more driven by your emotions, faith, and ideology and it’s getting rather frustrating. I don’t see you tackling the main arguments, or when you do, Benatar has already mentioned it up above. Please look at his arguments and argue against them rather than starting to disagree with them and then justify your ideology.
He seems to think that the “personality” makes the person and that personality gets added by some external force after so many weeks in the womb. But that is not true. The brain along with the nervous system is what gives the person the ability to reason and act/react which helps shape the personality. The personality is just a part of the body not some independent entity. You might say that the personality belongs to the person. I am a person whether I am in the womb or in a vegetative state.
Benatar is seemingly playing God. It is just an assumption, though some assumptions may be safe, to think that a child will have a bad life. And who is he to decide what is good and what is bad? Without a transcendent source for good and evil there can only be some sort of ethical relativism.
I am trying to keep my ideology out of it. Most of my arguments could be considered secular.
To me, Benatar is just making way to many assumptions. He doesn’t know the future of that childs life. If it were up to him there would be many dead Oprah’s walking the earth.
We can quit discussing this if you like. Perhaps you will have another blog on something I can engage more wholeheartedly.
I’m confused here because you switch between “personality” and “person.” They are completely different things. Which one are you talking about?
What does Benatar assume? He made this argument in part one. Click on part one and tell me where he gets it wrong. In part two, he argues that everyone has a bad life.
I disagree entirely and I believe Benatar does also. There are many problems with Divine Command Theory. We can discuss the problems of that if you wish, but overall, I believe (and so does Benatar) that one can have ethics without resorting to God.
Again, he shows this in part two. I’m not even sure what the last sentence means.
I think we are just wasting time here. It was too confusing to read all his arguments.
I said that he thinks the personality is the person and I said that the person HAS a personality. The personality (with moral interests) is not an independent entity but a byproduct of the person.
I am gonna duck out for now. Sorry if I wasted your time.
I don’t consider this a waste of time. Any dialogue is always good. You said:
Actually, Benatar doesn’t say that at all. I think you’re confusing personality with personhood. Benatar argues that a necessary condition to become a person is consciousness, which, he argues, fetuses don’t get until 28-30 weeks during the gestation period. Personality isn’t a component for Benatar. It was good talking to you.
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Hey Shaun, don’t you think this argument is kind of silly for lack of a better word? I mean it is based on the assumption that there is no God and that life is basically meaningless.
It is not like people are gonna stop having children. I just don’t see the point.
Perhaps you could help me with it.
I often get this a lot, and I’m sure Benatar does too. I don’t find this argument silly because the argument seems valid. After all, which premise do you find false? That’s what arguments are all about: reason should take you where the argument takes you, even if you don’t like the conclusion. Reason, however, should show you what you’re supposed to believe. Think of all the beliefs that you have now. At some point in history, all of those beliefs were considered silly. However, they are now considered true, or even self-evident. This belief may be considered silly right now. Will it come to the point where it’s a respectable argument that one must reckon with? Only time will tell.
I don’t think this is based on God not existing. You can read religious section point 4 in Benatar Part Six.. Job, Jeremiah, and the author of Ecclesiastes all believed in God, but they rued being born. The author of Ecclesiastes thought that it was all meaningless (“vanity of vanities”).
As for people still having children, I think this is true. But Benatar states that he doesn’t think that many people will be convinced by this and stop having children. He’s writing not to convince people, but to argue for something that he thinks is true. And he wants to display his argument out there to put it under scrutiny. To say that the argument is kind of silly is a red herring.
Im not sure what you mean when you say that a lot of the things I believed were perceived as silly. I don’t think so.
I guess what I meant instead of saying “silly” is I think the whole reasoning is pointless.
From a Christian point of view this is meaningless. It has no relevance whatsoever. He made an argument but there is no point to it.
Shaun, you must not have much understanding of the scriptures. Job was in a pit and everything he loved had been taken from him. Not to mention he was covered in boils. He said he wished he had never been born because he was speaking from a place of torment. If you read later how the Lord blessed him, I would assume he would have a change of heart.
Im sure you have said similar things when you were in a real low spot. I know I have. And if you Benatar is gonna use biblical examples, how about ALL the other ones who praised God for giving them life? And Solomon (Ecclesiastes) was messed up because he had so much wealth and power and it got to him.
So he is making an argument just for the sake of making an argument? In my opinion, that is pointless. If you make an argument it should be backed by some sort of agenda. But that is just my opinion.
Why isn’t there a point to it? Simply because you don’t agree with it? But look at the argument, particularly in part one. Surely if you disagree with it, you must show which of the premises you disagree with. For example:
1. All men are mortal.
2. Socrates is a man.
3. Therefore, Socrates is mortal.
That is an argument, and it’s a valid argument. Now, is it logical? Yes, because the conclusion follows from the premises. The premises are true and so, the conclusion has to be true.
What about this next one?
1. If I eat bananas, then I will never get sick.
2. I eat bananas.
3. Therefore, I will never get sick.
Now this is also an argument and it’s also valid because the premises follow from the conclusion. This is known as modes ponens where the format is:
1. If P, then Q.
3. Therefore Q.
Ah, but now is it logical? No. Why not? Because premise 1 is false. That’s how arguments work. In order to show the flaw of an argument, you must show where the argument is wrong by showing which premise you disagree with and why it’s wrong. Benatar has given an argument and now the ball is in the opponent’s court to show where you got it wrong.
I find it hard to believe that all of your beliefs have been considered true throughout history. Think of your Christian beliefs. At some point in history, it was considered simply ridiculous and silly. Now, it’s the dominant religion of the world.
I do understand Job’s problem. But you missed the point. Earlier, you said that this was based on the assumption that there was no God and the reply that Benatar gives is that it’s not because he quotes people in the scriptures. For you to explain the scriptures is still a red herring because the reply was to your specific reply that this was a godless assumption. If, however, you wanted to get into the theological aspects of scripture, we can do that. But please, we must stay on topic before we go to the next one. I (and many biblical scholars) actually disagree with your interpretation of Ecclesiastes.
In short, he’s not making an argument simply for the sake of the argument. As I said in my last reply, he’s making an argument because he thinks it’s true. And with all philosophical arguments, he has premises. Again, if you want to show why he’s wrong, you cannot simply say that the argument is pointless. The burden of proof is now on you to show why his argument is wrong. I recommend clicking on part one because that’s where the argument is.
The problem is, I think his argument is false because the bible says differently. Life is precious and God gives life. Surely if God is real, then He knows more than Benatar. If life is so bad, then why would God allow more? Like I said, seems fruitless for me to discuss it because I believe the bible.
So, my argument would be that he is wrong because the bible says so. ;p
Ahh, but look closely. Benatar isn’t saying life is bad. He’s saying coming into existence is a harm.
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