Where Our Philosophical Debates are Going

Samuel Kimbriel at Wisdom of Crowds: This week, I’ve been re-reading Better Never to Have Been, a book by the South African Philosopher, David Benatar.The book begins with the following absolutely unequivocal passage (useful to imagine in Werner Herzog’s voice1):

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. Creating new people is thus morally problematic.

Writing 15 years before the issues of population deflation would become a major public policy issue, Benatar offers a thoroughgoing anti-natalist case, including chapters entitled “Why Coming into Existence is Always a Harm”; “How Bad is Coming into Existence?” and “Abortion: The ‘Pro-Death’ View.”

One of my current preoccupations in writing is the sense that the only way to relate to our time well is with real philosophical ambition.  I return to Benatar’s book frequently because it is such a useful acid test for the dominant philosophies of our time.

All of us on the Wisdom of Crowds masthead have significant disagreements with each other about most topics, but I do think we share a common diagnosis of our time. The liberal confidence of the post-war period created our world—from the UN Declaration of Human Rights, to the European Economic Community. These were always, from the start, philosophical projects. They had common theories of what is good (human dignity) and of what had to be done to protect it (international coordination, economic freedom).

I think nearly everyone knows that that world is in crisis, but many people are madly trying to correct it at the technical level (we just need to get the systems right). What I think unites Wisdom of Crowds is our shared sense that this is a philosophical crisis, before it is a practical one.

More here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.