Source: Benatar, David. Better Never to Have Been (2008 1 edn).

[p. 2 Top:]  Creating new people, by having babies, is so much a part of human life that it is rarely thought even to require a justification. Indeed, most people do not even think about whether they should or should not make a baby. They just make one. In other words, procreation is usually the consequence of sex rather than the result of a decision to bring people into existence. Those who do indeed decide to have a child might do so for any number of reasons, but among these reasons cannot be the interests of the potential child. 1. One can never have a child for that child’s sake. [mine] That much should be apparent to everybody, even those who reject the stronger view for which I argue in this book—that not only does one not benefit people by bringing them into existence, but one always harms them.

I know that no child exists before insemination. Instead, why can't a human reproduce for a potential child's sake? To wit, why can't 1 and 2 be true for potential children?

  There is a second support for my claim about the asymmetry between (3) and (4). Whereas it is strange (if not incoherent) to give as a reason for having a child that the child one has will thereby be benefited,²⁷ it is not strange to cite a potential child’s interests as a basis for avoiding bringing a child into existence. If having children were done for the purpose of thereby benefiting those children, then there would be greater moral reason for at least many people to have more children. In contrast to this, our concern for the welfare of potential children who would suffer is a sound basis for deciding not to have the child. If absent pleasures were bad irrespective of whether they were bad for anybody, then having children for their own sakes would not be odd. And if it were not the case that absent pains are good even where they are not good for anybody, then we could not say that it would be good to avoid bringing suffering children into existence.
  Thirdly, support for the asymmetry between (3) and (4) can be drawn from a related asymmetry, this time in our retrospective judgements. Bringing people into existence as well as failing to bring people into existence can be regretted. However, only bringing people into existence can be regretted for the sake of the person whose existence was contingent on our decision. This is not because those who are not brought into existence are indeterminate. Instead it is because they never exist. We can regret, for the sake of an indeterminate but existent person that a benefit was not bestowed on him or her, but [2.] we cannot regret, for the sake of somebody who never exists and thus cannot thereby be deprived, a good that this never existent person never experiences. One might grieve about not having had children, but not because the children that one could have had have been deprived of existence. Remorse about not having children is remorse for

 ²⁷ In other words, it is odd to suggest that one can have a child for that child’s sake.

ourselves—sorrow about having missed childbearing and child-rearing experiences. However, we do regret having brought into existence a child with an unhappy life, and we regret it for the child’s sake, even if also for our own sakes. The reason why we do not lament our failure to bring somebody into existence is because absent pleasures are not bad

  • Isn't it obvious from the next sentence? Since anyone can only be harmed by being brought into existence (according to the author) said bringing can never be for their sake. Potential experience of life is not worth much in the author's opinion, indeed it is potentially harmful, as the book title plainly states.
    – Conifold
    May 19 '18 at 6:33
  • @Conifold Thanks. You're correct. I intended to ask this for potential children.
    – NNOX Apps
    May 19 '18 at 6:47
  • 1
    I won't hide my distaste for this argument. I think that it is no more sensible to say that parents harm by bringing children into existence than to say that they benefit them. May 26 '18 at 13:16
  • Because they do not exist prior to conception. And decision to create them happens before conception. And if child does not exist, then his/her thoughts, intentions, wished, desires, ambitions, etc. do not exist as well. As criteria for well-being. But I disagree on harm part.
    – rus9384
    May 26 '18 at 14:04
  • I retracted my close vote because I understand point 2 now. May 27 '18 at 1:31

Because people who do not exist do not have any needs or wants. It is impossible for them to need or want anything. Therefore non-existent people have no need or desire to exist.

To create a child is to create the problem of their needs and wants having to be satisfied.

Consider this analogy:

There is this person, let's call them Lee, who loves to clean. They clean their home a lot, and so their home is never really dirty. However, Lee is very upset that their home is always clean, because there is nothing to clean. Because there is nothing for Lee to clean, they do not get the satisfaction of cleaning. So Lee's solution to this is to make messes in their house, just so they can satisfy their urge to clean.

Now compare this to having children. The house never needs to be cleaned, because it is already clean. Imagine this is the state of nonexistence. Lee has an overwhelming urge to clean, and this urge comes from biological and societal pressures (granted, a clean living environment is essential for good health, but that isn't the point). This is like to the urge to procreate, because both urges come from pressures that are unwillingly thrust upon people. And now consider Lee making messes because they want something to clean; this is exactly what people do when they become parents. They create the problem of their children's needs and wants just so they can have the satisfaction of solving those problems. (Of course this doesn't apply to parents who were forced to have children).

What Lee and parents have in common is that they have useful qualities (cleanliness/nurturing) that they have strong urges to satisfy, but they chose very poor solutions to their problems of not being able to express those qualities.

Does that make any sense?

  • no that does not make sense. "Creating houses creates the problem of houses getting damaged, so don't create houses" does not make sense. Dec 4 '19 at 17:44

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