I stumbled upon this paper written by Jiwoon Hwang. It's about why it is better to cease existing. He uses David Benatar's assymetry to come to a pro-mortalist conclusion; but unlike Harman, he actually believed it.

Now of course this has scared the shit out of me. I love life, but I also have this “appeal to authority”, which is a huge weakness of mine.

Is the argument valid? What is it saying? What would counterarguments be?


  • 2
    I haven't read the paper, but most anti-life arguments can be systematically dismantled by just asking "better or worse for whom?" Taking a nonexistent person to be a person with 0 utility - or to be any kind of anything else, for that matter - is nonsense from the start. Non-beings be-not.
    – g s
    Feb 11 at 15:58
  • Criticisms of Benatar;s assymetry can do this. Even if asymmetry holds as stated, it does not invalidate the pleasures no matter how many they are..
    – Nikos M.
    Mar 13 at 10:20
  • Perhaps the world would be a better place without such negativity?
    – Scott Rowe
    Mar 14 at 23:34
  • Jiwoon’s magazine: d1wqtxts1xzle7.cloudfront.net/54479118/… Apr 12 at 1:26
  • He did advocate anti-natalism and died by suicide. youtu.be/W_BnlIberiU?si=L6VlyVwRLb_VZjvf Apr 12 at 1:35

3 Answers 3


If you enjoy life, keep living it. If you're not enjoying your life, change it so you can. The paper is puerile. Nobody knows what happens when you're dead- you might end-up living another existence worse than this one. And who says it's possible to quantify pleasure or pain in a mathematically watertight way so that you can meaningfully trade so much pleasure against so much pain? I wouldn't waste a nanosecond's thought on it.

  • 1
    Studies of ghosts in this world suggest that yes, we very much COULD end up living another existence which is worse.
    – Dcleve
    Feb 11 at 17:06
  • @Dcleve a very helpful contribution +1. Feb 11 at 20:07

Utilitarian calculus has always been known to produce morally indefensible outcomes.

We use our moral sense to evaluate moral theories that match it, and Utilitarianism does pretty well in a lot of cases. But in some circumstances it is -- awful. The hospital example, where a patient walks in for a minor procedure, and the utilitarian doctors realize he just happens to be a perfect donor for 12 different critical patients who need organs ASAP, and they cut the unwitting donor up for a 12:1 improvement in lives saved that day! But ask even the families of the saved patients, and they would tell the docs not to kill another patient to save their loved one!

In other cases, the unpredictability of the future can be mismanaged/rationalized to justify all present evils. This was done in Soviet theology. The certainty of perpetual working-class misery without a Soviet revolution, and the benefits in perpetuity of a Workers Paradise, summed to infinity in a utilitarian calculus, and justified all the tortures, murders, and Gulags of the Soviet state. The efforts to run the calculus withOUT future humans, to avoid these sorts of rationalized evils, lead to a government policy that utterly fails to benefit subsequent generations.

So, the basic calculus methodology is suspect.

Additionally, your chosen value system -- a "hedonistic view of harms and benefits", is likewise well known to be seriously flawed. Under hedonism, one avoids any physical or mental stressors. But humans raised under hedonism, become useless. All skills we learn, are acquired by challenging ourselves, and overcoming those challenges. Hedonistically raised children become whiny and ineffective in all of life.

For actual humans, pleasure is a very transient "value", and "pain" likewise. What we actually need to optimize is harms and welfares. Teaching a child to love exercise, to love mental exploration and the development of new skills, while celebrating the overcoming of pains and frustrations in the process, is an essential task in raising them. Harms and welfares are much harder to "quantify" than pleasures and pains -- yet for utilitarianism to be at all useful in raising children, OR in planning one's own course thru life, this is the alternative calculus that one must make.

Many people have also argued that a calculation that is impossible in practice, as utilitarian calculus's are, is not an actually viable theory of moral decision making. This has led in recent years to a revival in Virtue Ethic thinking, primarily due to Virtue Ethic's focus on character development being so much more compatible with the welfare feature of harm/welfare.

Virtue ethics have their own failings, primarily around the "harm" side of that dichotomy, so switching to a purely virtue ethic model would not eliminate cases where "moral theory X prescribes clearly immoral situations".

We also know that rationalism cannot justify itself, and it is intrinsically flawed per Godel's incompleteness theorems. We also know from the psychological studies of those humans who can reason, but have no valid judgement, that it leads to absurdly inappropriate behavior.

So that a purely rationalist argument, using a suspect methodology, and suspect value system, ends up arguing for what you already think to be an invalid conclusion, is not actually a surprise, and there may not BE anything wrong with the authors' reasoning.

The philosophic involves learning to question the walls of the boxes one thinks within, and realizing that those walls are not certain. All mental boxes can limit one's ability to arrive at a better judgement about the world. The author's self-declared mental boxes in this paper are assumptions one must learn when to opt out from.

  • An objection may be raised, that because post-mortem existence is not a state of affairs anyone can be, earlier death cannot prevent suffering or better (instrumentally good) for anyone.[27] This requirement can be called existence requirement or two-states requirement, and there are extensive arguments rejecting existence requirement or two-states requirement. One of notable such argument is Fred Feldman’s[28]. Are there really any rational arguments for rejecting the existence requirement? That seems rather unlikely but I'd like to hear your take, Thanks. Feb 12 at 10:46
  • Also you said that the author has self declared mental boxes that one should rather opt out from, I would really like to do such but can you give me an example of such a self declared mental box? Feb 12 at 10:49
  • @Rayyankhan -- As an empiricist, I disagree absolutely with a premise your first comment: "post-mortem existence is not a state of affairs anyone can be". That is an empirical question, and asserting absolutes is always going to be invalid. Meanwhile, ghost investigations and spontaneous past life memories are fairly strong evidence for non corporeal existence.
    – Dcleve
    Feb 12 at 22:49
  • For the second comment -- thinking pragmatically and empirically, rather than rationally is a key alternative "box". So is treating moral theories as engineering approximations rather than as absolutes. See this answer for how to apply 5 different moral approximations to a moral question: philosophy.stackexchange.com/a/78826/29339
    – Dcleve
    Feb 12 at 22:52
  • Sadly, we all seem to have no choice but to think things through for ourselves. Off the shelf answers never quite fit.
    – Scott Rowe
    Mar 14 at 23:38

What others offer is just their opinions. And some of them might resonate with you for one reason or another. Still, they are other people's opinions. What you should be after is your own understanding, one that you piece together from things you have learned. And it is this understating that will become your truth -- not what-you-think-might-be-true-because-it-came-from-some-authority.

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