Thursday, July 6, 2017

David Benatar's "The Human Predicament"

David Benatar is Professor of Philosophy at University of Cape Town, South Africa. He is the author of Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming Into Existence (2006) and Debating Procreation: Is it Wrong to Reproduce? (2015).

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Human Predicament: A Candid Guide to Life's Biggest Questions, and reported the following:
If you turn to page 99 of The Human Predicament, you’ll find yourself in the midst of a discussion of death, one crucial component of the human predicament. Will the quality of the whole book thereby be revealed to you? Others must offer their judgement, but I see no difference in quality between that page and the others.

In other ways, page 99 is not representative of the book as a whole. A Reader’s Guide immediately after the preface offers guidance on which parts of the book may be skipped by those readers less interested in some of the book’s more technical arguments. Page 99 is within one skippable part (in which I respond to the Epicurean argument that death is not bad for the person who dies).

In The Human Predicament I present a candid view of the human condition and offer substantially, although not exclusively, pessimistic answers to life’s big questions: There is no ultimate purpose to human life, even though we can and do create more limited forms of meaning. The quality of even the best lives is not good. Death, however, is not a costless solution. It can bring relief from suffering, but does so at the cost of annihilation. Moreover, it typically exacerbates rather than ameliorates the problem of life’s meaning. The option of immortality, if that were possible, would solve some of our problems, but would exacerbate others. For reasons arising from these reflections, suicide may be reasonable – the least bad option – only when one is or will soon be in extremis.

This grim picture makes for a work of unpopular philosophy. However, there is no reason to assume that the truth must be pleasant. In the concluding chapter, I discuss how we should respond to our predicament. Perpetual moroseness is not required and thus it should come as no surprise that the book also includes some humour.
Learn more about The Human Predicament at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue