July 31st, 2008

Peaceful Garden

I was reading some of Keats' sadder poems today.

And then I was pondering a complaint I'd received for my humorous dismissal of the book, Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming into Existence.

Anyway, this little poem came to me.  It was inspired by a story someone told me:

Peaceful garden at midday
with people sitting on benches...
but perhaps one of them is in the trenches
of his mind, struggling how to say,
how to describe, the torment inside
as he watches the birds glide
branch to branch.

And for all that, maybe the birds, too, hide
secret distress, perhaps all their twittering
expresses their embittering experience
with the grim task of building nests!

It's not that life is ever, truly, a breeze,
he thinks, and finally sees
that even his is one of relative ease.

In this strange way the garden brought him peace.

A World Without Pain Or Pleasure

So... what is David Benatar's argument that being born is a bad thing? I'm relying on a short article he wrote, defending his book from a negative review.

He proceeds from utilitarian premises, which require you to evaluate ethical decisions in terms of pleasure and pain. I'm going to lay this out into separate numbered clauses so you can see it.
1a ...the presence of pain is bad
1b and the absence of pain is good,

2a but whereas the presence of pleasure is good,
2b the absence of pleasure is bad only if somebody is deprived of that pleasure.
Notice that he only adds an "only if" condition to 2b, not to 1b. He calls this an asymmetry.

Really, it seems like all evaluations of pleasure and pain and their absence are true only if someone is there to experience it.  The "only if" actually applies to all 4 of these statements.

But, I'm not actually a utilitarian, and I think life is the fundamental good, so I can't go along on this ride anyway. But if you do go along on the ride, he then argues:
3a If nobody is deprived of an absent pleasure –
3b because the person who would have experienced the pleasure never existed –
3c then the absence of that pleasure is not bad.
In other words, a world of pain and pleasure is a mixed sum of good and bad, but a world with neither is an absolute good.

How cruel is evolution, which created this unpleasant
sensation to warn us when hazard is present.