Saturday, September 10, 2016

What did I do to deserve this [life]?: a tentative justice-based argument

Rewards should be bestowed for commendable action. Punishment should be bestowed for malignant action.

In pre-natal conditions, nobody exists apart from those who have already been born.

Therefore, no action could have been done by those who do not exist, because action requires existence.

Therefore, there are no actions that are worthy of praise or punishment from possible people.

Therefore, the answer to the question: "What did I do to deserve this [life]?" is quite simply nothing.

You did nothing to deserve the initial pleasures of existence, and you did nothing to deserve the initial pains of existence. You cannot take credit for any accomplishments before you were born, and you cannot take blame for any disasters. You did nothing to deserve to be born, for in fact you did not exist previously to have been responsible for anything. And yet here you are with your various benefits (rewards) and harms (punishments).

From this it can be argued that all births are a violation of the concept of justice and fairness. An innocent person should not be punished, and an inactive person should not be rewarded. Possible people are both innocent and inactive and therefore should neither be punished nor rewarded. Therefore they should not be birthed, for there is no reason to.

If we are to be consistent with our application of justice and fairness then we shouldn't exclude the very initial act of creating people who will be susceptible to these concepts from their domain.

Buddhism and Hinduism teach the concept of karma and the various re-birth/reincarnation doctrines, and even though I do not accept these metaphysical doctrines (apart from Buddhist non-reincarnation re-birth), I see it as a useful example of my argument. The past lives dictate the future lives. What was done in the past dictates what will happen in the future, based on the cosmic justice principle of karma. You quite literally deserve the caste you are in, according to Hinduism (a useful method of controlling the masses - a guilt-trip involving un-falsifiable historic events).

In the end, I don't know if this argument holds water or is even an argument that we ought to use to argue antinatalism, even if it is valid. It seems to kind of miss the point, or the underlying motivation of antinatalism - that of the material observation of the human condition. But it caught my attention as a potential alternative route to arrive to the same conclusion.


  1. "Possible people are both innocent and inactive and therefore should neither be punished nor rewarded"

    This shouldn't be one of those oft-neglected arguments against Natalism, it should be front and center. In my experience, issues of justice/injustice continue to have more currency among the folk than pure welfare does.

    1. I suppose the concept of justice and fairness sits better with people than existential issues. It's less pathos-filled as generally justice and fairness are supposed to be objective and rational.

  2. darthb,

    Would you consider doing a separate blogpost on the following topic?

    “We suffer from a hallucination, from a false and distorted sensation of our own existence as living organisms,” Alan Watts wrote in contemplating how our ego keeps us separate from the universe. “It is almost banal to say so,” Henry Miller observed, “yet it needs to be stressed continually: all is creation, all is change, all is flux, all is metamorphosis.” But banal as it may be, it is also intolerably discomfiting to accept, which is why we retreat into our hallucination — we resist change, we long for immortality, and we cling to the notion of the self, despite its ever-changing essence, as anxious assurance of our own permanence in an impermanent universe.

    >"I don’t know why we long so for permanence, why the fleeting nature of things so disturbs. With futility, we cling to the old wallet long after it has fallen apart. We visit and revisit the old neighborhood where we grew up, searching for the remembered grove of trees and the little fence. We clutch our old photographs. In our churches and synagogues and mosques, we pray to the everlasting and eternal. Yet, in every nook and cranny, nature screams at the top of her lungs that nothing lasts, that it is all passing away. All that we see around us, including our own bodies, is shifting and evaporating and one day will be gone. Where are the one billion people who lived and breathed in the year 1800, only two short centuries ago?"

    Read the rest here: