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Are our lives meaningful or meaningless? Is our inevitable death a bad thing? Would immortality be an improvement? Would it be better all things considered to hasten our deaths by suicide? Many people ask these big uestions and some people are plagued by them Surprisingly analytic philosophers have said relatively little about these important uestions about the meaning of life When they have tackled the big uestions they have tended like popular writers to offer comforting optimistic answers The Human Predicament invites readers to take a clear eyed and unfettered view of the human conditionDavid Benatar here offers a substantial but not unmitigated pessimism about the central uestions of human existence He argues that while our lives can have some meaning we are ultimately the insignificant beings that we fear we might be He maintains that the uality of life although less bad for some than for others leaves much to be desired in even the best cases Worse death is generally not a solution; in fact it exacerbates rather than mitigates our cosmic meaninglessness While it can release us from suffering it imposes another cost annihilation This state of affairs has nuanced implications for how we should think about many things including immortality and suicide and how we should think about the possibility of deeper meaning in our lives Ultimately this thoughtful provocative and deeply candid treatment of life's big uestions will interest anyone who has contemplated why we are here and what the answer means for how we should live


10 thoughts on “The Human Predicament

  1. says:

    I have been aware that life sucks for a very long time but this book opened my eyes to new ways this gift is undeniably bad Thanks a lot mom and dad you selfish shitsEVEN BETTER THE SECOND TIME


  2. says:

    David Benatar is a dangerous mind You won’t find a photo or a video with his face online Keep reading and you’ll understand why Remember True Detective Season 1? Oh yeah that classic Now recall the pessimistic philosophy of detective Rustin Rust Cohle brilliantly portrayed by McConaughey Guess where the script writers found ideas for that? Enter Benatar and a number of other authors with similar ideas Well pessimism in philosophy is nothing new The classical forms of pessimism are found in works of pre socratic philosophers such as Heraclitus and Parmenides You would also find pessimism in works of Baltasar Gracián Voltaire et al Later came most notably Schopenhauer and many others Why bother with another pessimist author? Well unlike some other contemporary pessimists like Thacker or Ligotti or previously Cioran Benatar’s works are recognizably philosophical texts well written and clear not some pessimistic musings about the horrors of life Even if you disagree with his conclusions you can certainly follow his reasoning Maybe this is the reason why Peter Singer chose to engage at least thrice in discussing the works and ideas of this author I also posted an interesting conversation between David Benatar and Sam Harris So yeah Benatar gets noticed So here is his latest book In fact this is already a third book by this author I’ve read And I have to tell you if you are into philosophy Benatar ensures you’ll have evenings of engaging reading So what is that “Human Predicament” all about? Well in short there is no cosmic meaning of our lives whatsoever and the uality of our lives is much worse than many of us like to think In addition we bring unhappy lives into existence by procreating We also create a lot of misery and suffering for instance by consuming animal products Benatar a vegan by the way spares some pages for the predicament of nonhuman animals too First Benatar deals with the uestion of meaning whether there is some significant point to our lives or whether our lives are rather all either pointless or insignificant Put another way meaning in his view is about “transcending limits” A meaningful life is one that transcends one’s own limits and significantly impacts others or serves purposes beyond oneself According to Benatar somewhat good news is that our lives can be meaningful on individual level or the level of a family or a small group But the wider the circle gets the less of any meaning our life possesses Take even the level of the family A few generations pass and you are forgotten as if you’ve never existedIf we get to talk about a life having a “point” or be “significant” or “transcend limits” on a larger scale it is usually by making an important mark However people can make marks in numerous ways and many of those marks are moral stains Indeed among those who have made the biggest impacts in human history are vast numbers of vile people claims the authorFew people can claim to have truly made a mark on a global scale And if we get to talk about meaning “from the point of view of the universe” sorry Sigwick there’s no meaning whatsoever In Benatar’s view it is wrong to euate the cosmic perspective with terrestrial concerns In fact if you are really following what science tells us you should be appalled by how cosmically insignificant we are Well I must admit my own intuitions about meaning diverge from Benatar’s I think it's liberating that we are deprived of some predefined cosmic purpose or meaning We don’t need an omnipotent dictator to give us meaning We are thrown into existence and are forced to create it for ourselves Benatar acknowledges that we are able to do it Otherwise we would see an unending stream of suicides and chronic depression Benatar himself opposes suicide on moral grounds unless it is really warranted While taking one’s own life would bring relief from the angst associated with the absence of cosmic meaning it would not actually give one’s life any cosmic meaning Benatar is right to claim Still you wonder how come he is not a promortalist rather an antinatalist? According to him the uality of our lives is truly horrid Unconvinced? Consider this for example Your worst pains are worse than your best pleasures are good If you deny this ask yourself whether you would accept an hour of the most delightful pleasures in exchange for an hour of the worst tortures Arthur Schopenhauer makes a similar point when he asks us to “compare the respective feelings of two animals one of which is engaged in eating the other” The animal being eaten suffers and loses vastly than the animal that is eating gains from this one mealConsider too the temporal dimensions of injury or illness and recovery One can be injured in seconds One is hit by a bullet or projectile or is knocked over or falls or suffers a stroke or heart attack In these and other ways one can instantly lose one’s sight or hearing or the use of a limb or years of learning The path to recovery is slow In many cases full recovery is never attained Injury comes in an instant but the resultant suffering can last a lifetimeBenatar claims that we are subjective and often wrong in evaluating the uality of our lives He is right to notice that those who sustain severe injuries or get impaired after a while get adapted to the new reality of their lives and their subjective uality of life increases as they get used to the new circumstances Well he himself has pointed out a problem with this sort of argumentation We are indeed subjective It is hard to evaluate human life as a whole and convincingly claim that all things considered the bad outweighs the good It was interesting to spot Benatar’s interest in the ideas of transhumanism However he thinks that transhumanism is often unduly optimistic It assumes that the uality of life after the anticipated enhancements would be good enough This assumption is problematic for Benatar While the uality of life would be better it is not clear that it would be good enough to count as good For example it would be better to live much longer in good health and it would be better if we knew much than we do but even lives enhanced in these and other ways would be far from ideal We would still die and we would still have vastly ignorance than knowledge Well you get the picture So what are we left with? As Benatar famously claimed in this and other books we shouldn’t procreate You can also spare yourself the trouble of reading philosophy As Benatar puts it the optimist might say “I recognize the human predicament It is horrible but I want to adopt an optimistic view to help me cope I shall continue at the back of my mind to be aware of the predicament but I can compartmentalize those thoughts—or at least try to” Let’s call this offering a pragmatic optimism But this is not what Benatar prefers On reason is that if you are eclipsed by the optimism you might lose sight of the human predicament and create peopleFor Benatar the preferred option is to embrace the pessimistic view but navigate its currents in one’s life It is possible to be an uneuivocal pessimist but not dwell on these thoughts all the time They may surface regularly but it is possible to busy oneself with projects that create terrestrial meaning enhance the uality of life for oneself other humans and other animals and “save” lives but not create themWhatever you think of his line of thinking in conclusion he is right to observe that individual humans have their own personal predicaments some of which are worse than others All things being eual the poor and destitute are worse off than those who are economically privileged; the sick are worse off than the healthy; the ugly are worse off than the attractive; and the gloomiest pessimists are worse off than others including those pessimists who have the gift of managing the negative impact of pessimism on their livesSo maybe what we can do is help one another cope with predicaments in life create meaning for those around us and try to have a positive impact on our global civilization while we are alive


  3. says:

    I received this book as a Goodreads giveawayDavid Benatar's The Human Predicament A Candid Guide to Life's Biggest uestions is a sober clear eyed exploration of what may represent the essential uestions of human existence The fundamental tragedy of being human is our capacity to understand that through no fault of our own we find ourselves in an existential trap One for which there is no escape That humans tend towards a sort of optimism about their predicament that leads them to pass this tragedy on to their offspring in an attempt to circumvent their essential meaningless only prolongs our suffering as a species and only serves to pull and bodies into that self same trap Depressing stuff but as presented by Benatar hard to disputeNot a light or easy read but for anyone who uestions their place in the universe an essential one Five stars


  4. says:

    You can consider me someone who agrees with Benatar that Life is a Battlefield and with his most famous antinatalist views That being said I think I am coming to the realization that I do not find many of his other subsidiary arguments convincing His attempts to make the case that death is also bad though heavily uantified seem to me utterly unconvincing His attempt to get one over on Epicurus makes me think Epicurus still holds the lead in this discussion More importantly the general pessimist viewpoint that a lack of meaning and purpose in life leads to suffering I find utterly baffling Those things are if anything liberating from the everday suffering that generally makes me favor anti natalist argumentsPerhaps in the end I am much like Lovecraft an indifferentist Existential crisis are for try hards and pearl clutchers Even still in a relentlessly and terrifyingly optimistic culture as ours its necessary to read such things as this as both escape and a corrective And Benatar is in the end a good writer and a rigorous thinker


  5. says:

    I'm buying a few copies so that I can give them away to friends The one I had is gone alreadyNot that the book is without its problems The excess of if then arguments make the reading objective and simple to follow but it also lays out many traps for the reader if then? What if no it does not follow? Because whereas I agree with the author on this main points I also find that his conclusions are not so trouble free as to warrant an if then syntax The most intriguing part for me is when he details the extent of which no life is good Not mine not yours Even the best of lives is still pretty tragic Our uality of life is appalling in general though much worse in some cases By your mid twenties it is all one big decline even as people try to compensate those losses with wisdom and kindness Yet the truth is that we lose our health in the small and big ways; we lose our youthful appearance and the skin starts to sag; our cognitive abilities decline then we suffer pains and pains and then we die All this decline is happening even as we earn a promotion enjoy our precious vacations or feel good for some of the timeAlso enjoyed how he claims that suicides should be avoided at all costs except if there is a perfectly rational motive for doing it like a terminal illness or deep incapacitation Suicide is not stupid egotistical brave or cowardly it is a decision that can be made in a manner of despair but ideally should be made rationally


  6. says:

    Extremely light reading


  7. says:

    Life sucks The anti natalist philosopher David Benatar goes to great lengths to explain why life sucks and then you die which sucks


  8. says:

    A clear sensible argument that I’ll probably read than once It also felt deeply reassuring I will try to be a pragmatic pessimist and create as much terrestrial meaning for myself as I can


  9. says:

    The Pessimistic PredicamentDavid Benatar is what you might call a Debbie Downer He preaches a robust but not unmitigated pessimism arguing that although our lives may have some “terrestrial” meaning insofar as we make a positive impact on our communities and leave behind a legacy from which others may benefit our existence is nonetheless completely meaningless—both as individuals and as a species—from what Benatar calls the “Cosmic Perspective” the perspective the universes would have if it had a perspective Human life though not without the possibility of momentary pleasure is overwhelmingly bleak and tragic at its core pervaded by varying degrees of physical and psychological anguish and is unfailingly performed like a jester show in the court of a tyrant under the shadow of our certain annihilation Although hedonistic philosophers like Epicurus saw death as a release from the pain of existence and thus not something to be feared or despised Benatar wants to rob us even of that consolation Death he says is a bad thing in and of itself even for the one who dies because it deprives us of what we want most instinctually—that is to live—and because it annihilates us Being born under the shadow of death is thus a greater evil than never being born at all because the latter possibility does not necessitate suffering deprivation and obliteration while the former one does It is therefore “unconscionable” according to Benatar’s reasoning to create new living beings By having children we trap new consciousnesses in the snare of the human predicament; we spread the disease of existence This man explicitly describes procreation as a “sexually transmitted ‘virus’” that “spreads the existential predicament” and attributes the perpetuation of the human race to “negligence” “indifference” “selfishness” and “misplaced altruism” He is no doubt a hit at baby showers Such a bleak view of the human condition is nothing new We find it in various forms in Heraclitus and Democritus Epicurus and Lucretius Macbeth and Hamlet in ohelet the Biblical book of Ecclesiastes and in the Wisdom of Solomon Many have lamented the suffering and futility intrinsic to life The world’s largest religion is devoted to the worship of a man who is said to have emerged on the other side of death and who now serves as a portal through which the children of Adam might transcend the vanity of life in the realm of corruptible flesh and matter; which whether or not one accepts this belief testifies powerfully to the perceived direness of life under the reign of death and impermanence Yet it is peculiar that in our own time the sort of philosophy espoused by Benatar—pessimistic materialistic hedonistic and vaguely utilitarian—has become fashionable primarily among the middle and upper classes of Europe and America precisely those people who have been better positioned than virtually anyone else in the history of the world to mitigate the unpleasant aspects of life Though Benatar argues convincingly that even the most fortunate human lives are unavoidably tragic it is a predominantly “first world” phenomenon to assert the meaninglessness of life over and above any supposedly false consolation Meanwhile the peoples of the “third world” with whom we shudder at the prospect of trading places who work harder die younger repose in sualor and spend their lives suffering from ailments which are easily treatable in wealthy nations live lives which they perceive to be rich with meaning The tribal animists of the world smile in the face of death while we in the sedentary world sulk behind our palace walls This may be because there is something romantic and individualistic in the pessimistic stance which makes it conducive to the navel gazing existence of post industrial societies than to the communal forms of life to which human beings are biologically accustomed and which still prevail in significant—but shrinking—corners of the world A romantic pessimist can only fulfill his pessimism alone or at least with the perception that he is alone because his pessimism is a means of establishing his uniueness In a world of mindless self deceiving optimism he imagines himself to be the only one with the perception to recognize the harsh realities of existence and the courage to face them head on Like Hester Prynne’s baby in The Scarlet Letter the pessimism of the pessimist that which draws the scorn of the surrounding society is both the means and the evidence of his transcendence of that society One might detect something of a typological Savior complex subtly at work in the minds of certain first world pessimists; though I’m not accusing Benatar of this But what about Benatar’s arguments? They’re certainly coherent; but they’re only compelling if one accepts certain presuppositions that underlie his thought process The most fundamental of these is his materialism his treatment of the cosmos as a closed and self contained system of matter and energy; of physical cause and effect His materialism proscribes any engagement with metaphysics; in fact he offers no discussion of metaphysical arguments at all; which I found odd because the most longstanding contrary perspectives to pessimism typically have metaphysical dimensions to them Such a perspective though not obviously wrong is susceptible to challenge from any number of non materialist positions This materialism somewhat narrows Benatar’s definitions of both the meaningfulness and goodness of life Meaning for Benatar is reducible to leaving a legacy; which when one considers that time obliterates all “legacies” makes it unsurprising that he would go on to conclude that life is ultimately meaningless Likewise Benatar reduces the goodness of life to a felicific calculus a simple ratio of pleasure to pain If we spend time in discomfort than in states of bliss then to live is simply a misfortune Anyone coming from an idealistic or dare I say theistic perspective; who believes like the Thomists that physical existence is only a type of metaphor or analogue of a greater original all encompassing reality—is unlikely to go along with an analysis of the “big uestions” of life undertaken under such restricted terms There’s also an irony in Benatar’s conceptual framing of his arguments If we accept his materialism and say that all discussion of meaning goodness and value must refer only to the realm of physical contingency then the distinctions he draws between life and death humanity and nature and the terrestrial and cosmic perspectives become completely arbitrary Life and death are merely two chemical states and the mutation of one into the other is no significant than the changing of a liuid into a gas It seems like a big deal in our minds but our minds are nothing than another type of matter and thus a part of the same chemical processes What objective distinction is there to be made between the terrestrial and cosmic perspectives? The earth and its biosphere are as much part of the cosmos as the Andromeda galaxy; nothing in the universe is really significant than anything else Benatar asserts the indifference and non perception of the cosmos and yet a small segment of the cosmos—about the size of both of my fists put together—is currently ordering its appendages to type up a review of his book based on its perceptions of his arguments and their significance The “rest” of the universe may be indifferent to us but in point of fact what does that actually mean? Benatar’s definition of the “cosmic perspective”—as the perspective the universe would have if it had a perspective—trivializes his conception of our meaninglessness To say that the universe is indifferent to us is to say that Alpha Centauri doesn’t know or care how your day went But who gives a shit? This is not what most people have in mind when they wonder about the meaning of life In the end though it’s unlikely to change minds The Human Predicament is a valuable elaboration of an old but tireless mode of thought


  10. says:

    Got this book for my 45th birthday in the year 2020 from a friend who knew I was kind of depressed and losing interest in things that usually had me going The author is an analytical philosopher meaning he looks and compares things in a dead pan manner taking out emotion and humanities love for romanticising stories and times It is bleak and depressing but somehow among all these fears and insecurities of the end of times and fiery tornadoes and nazis coming back and earth boiling us alive it seemed strangely relaxing even funny at places I have just scratched the surface and have found myself worried and amused with the accuracy and normalcy of some of the claims Benatar makes about the meaning of human life have you considered yours yet? don't worry you will and am really looking forward to chapters on suicide and death I would not recommend it to a depressed person but since I was depressed when I started reading it and had a oh wait EVERYONE feels this? moments while reading it maybe depressed people need to read it Tldr No there is no meaning so try to make the best of it and be nice to people around you Treat them like human beings therein you just might find meaning