Life is very bad and never worth it

Consider the capacity of the human body for pleasure. Sometimes, it is pleasant to eat, to drink, to see, to touch, to smell, to hear, to make love. The mouth. The eyes. The fingertips. The nose. The ears. The genitals. Our voluptific faculties (if you will forgive me the coinage) are not exclusively concentrated in these places, but it is undeniable that they are concentrated here. The whole body is susceptible to pleasure, but in places there are wells from which it may be drawn up in greater quantity. But not inexhaustibly. How long is it possible to know pleasure? Rich Romans ate to satiety, and then purged their overburdened bellies and ate again. But they could not eat for ever. A rose is sweet, but the nose becomes habituated to its scent. And what of the most intense pleasures, the personality-annihilating ecstasies of sex? (...) Even if I were a woman, and could string orgasm on orgasm like beads upon a necklace, in time I should sicken of it. Yet consider. Consider pain. Give me a cubic centimetre of your flesh and I could give you pain that would swallow you as the ocean swallows a grain of salt. And you would always be ripe for it, from before the time of your birth to the moment of your death. We are always in season for the embrace of pain. To experience pain requires no intelligence, no maturity, no wisdom, no slow working of the hormones in the moist midnight of our innards. We are always ripe for it. All life is ripe for it. Always. (...) Consider the ways in which we may gain pleasure. Consider. Consider the ways in which we may be given pain. The one is to the other as the moon is to the sun.  (ALDAPUERTA, 1995)

The judgement of Cambyses, by Gerard David

I've cited the fragment above the same way Ray Brassier (2007) presented it in his book Nihil Unbound. However, the citation isn't complete. The complete text from which this citation came from is found in Jesús Ignacio Aldapuerta's The Eyes: Emetic Fables from the Andalusian de Sade.

It seemed appropriated to put this in the beginning of this short post because those words remind me of Schopenhauer (2015), Cioran (1989), Zapffe (1933) and Ligotti (2010). It is from them and from my own life that I get the inspiration to write today. And also from observing other lives. I'm referring to human lives, of course. If I included animal lives, the conclusion would be much worse.

Over the last few years some of my friends asked me if the good things weren't enough to justify life, even though they acknowledge that the positive experiences were less frequent then negative ones. I argued that the positive experiences do not justify life. "But what if there is more pleasure than pain? What if positive states were more intense than the negative states?" No and no. Besides, even if we were like the gods, even if we were born immortal and without the capacity to feel physical pain, and could only feel pleasure and positive states, I'd still argue that it isn't worth it coming into existence. And here I mesh together two philosophical perspectives: David Benatar's and Julio Cabrera's.

For Benatar (2006), even if we were like the gods, it would be indifferent whether we were born or not, because if we are not created to experience this immortality and lack of pain, we'd never miss this god-like existence. For Benatar, the lack of a being who never came into existence and therefore could never experience positive states shouldn't be lamented; but the lack of a being who never existed and never went through pain can be celebrated (it is something positive even though there isn't anyone to celebrate; the intuitive example is that nobody laments the non-existence of Martians who wage war and exploit one another like we do). For Cabrera (2018), on the other hand, even if we were immortal and never felt pain, it wouldn't be worth existing, since physical pain, although predominant, doesn't represent the totality of negative states sentient beings go through—and I would add: for beings equipped with intelligence and reflective capacities, physical pain is just one negative aspect of life among many others.

Things change for Benatar if the being is guaranteed to go through only one pain—like hurting a big toe. In this case, we shouldn't be indifferent, but totally opposed to the creation of this new being. In other words: he advocates that we cease reproducing, since all of us feel pain during our lifetimes—even the most privileged among us. And that pain tends to be much greater than the one produced by a hurt toe. Those who actually read Benatar don't expect that everyone will follow through with his ethical prescription and stop reproducing. His serious readers also don't plan to force others to stop procreating. Even Cabrera doesn't expect people to stop procreating, and doesn't condone forcing anyone. Despite their differences, Cabrera and Benatar agree in a lot of things, especially if we take into account real life and not hypothetical and fantastical wanderings about "immortality" and "capacity of never feeling pain or negative states".

The question of suicide usually comes up at this point: "so you think we should kill ourselves?" Both Benatar and Cabrera are (at first) against suicide, for similar reasons. I can sum them up here: while their philosophies come to the conclusion that it is better never to have been—they get there using different arguments, but they are not incompatible with one another—when we arrive in this world against our will, we have an interest to continue existing, both for ourselves and also for others close to us. It might seem incredible for those who consider this type of life denying ethics to be absurd, but both philosophers believe that the person considering suicide must factor what others around him will suffer besides his or her own suffering.

Having said that, at least Benatar is open to euthanasia in cases where the evil of death isn't greater than the tremendous suffering felt by the moral patient. For Benatar, death is one of life's great evils, the final negative experience. Under no hypothesis does Benatar consider dying the same as never being born, for the simple fact that we experience all of this filth—Cabrera argues something similar regarding death. In the case of Benatar, there is also the approval of abortion, as long as it is performed before the fetus is able to feel pain and before the arrival of consciousness (at a time more or less agreed upon by the scientific consensus). I can't see why I would disagree with euthanasia and abortion as explained by him. Unfortunately, in Brazil, those rights are denied to terminal patients and women for the most obscure reasons possible.

In a less contemporary and more speculative note, but still philosophical, we have Schopenhauer and Cioran. For Schopenhauer, existence is permeated by a metaphysical force he calls the Will. This force is irrational, erratic and wants to perpetuate itself regardless of the amount of pain it may cause. Schopenhauer was also against suicide, but like Cabrera and Benatar, his reasons weren't emotional or religious. In fact, he states that we should never judge a suicide as a sinner or a coward, firstly because sins don't exist, secondly because we all had terrible nightmares from which the only escape was waking up—and for many, life is such a terrible living nightmare that they can only escape through death.

The problem of suicide, for Schopenhauer, is that it only destroys the individual (the phenomenon) and not the Will (the thing-in-itself). The right thing to do, according to him, is try to starve the Will inside us, denying it.

Cioran, on the other hand, didn't have a systematic philosophy like Schopenhauer, and he was extremely skeptic when it came to metaphysical questions, be them transcendental or immanent. He agrees that existence is irrational and chaotic, but he doesn't see the need to formulate systems and speculate about forces that exist behind the veil of reality. Even if they did exist, we'd never know. What we know about life is that it is suffering. Both Cioran and Schopenhauer argued that, even though life is a vast ocean of misery, it brings us sublime moments, be it through pleasure or through some other kind of positive state—but those moments are deceptive. Basically, life gives us enough scraps so we can believe it is worth continuing indefinitely. Cioran is even less emphatic in his condemnation of suicide than Schopenhauer and Benatar, but he still writes that we don't need to commit the act, at least not for now. One day, perhaps—he is in favor of keeping the idea of suicide in reserve. The idea of suicide by itself can alleviate our suffering, according to him.

At this point it is possible that you might be questioning the title of this post, since I didn't present enough evidence that life is very bad—I only presented a brief and (very) incomplete summary as to why life isn't worth starting when we consider the possibility of a hurt toe. Yes, I admit it. I did not present any hard evidence that life is very bad. The reader is right to question this absence here, but for the wrong reasons. That life is very bad should be self-evident at this point in the story of our lives. It is an entanglement of pain and negative situations (and if we include boredom, these increase exponentially) punctuated by a few wonderful moments that are fleeting and hard to obtain. Even the best lives are so bad that it leaves little doubt that the phenomenon of life in general is a mistake. The best lives only seem incredible to us because we don't have them; envy is, after all, one of the most basic feelings of mankind. I'll leave you with an aphorism from Confessions and Anathemas:  
At every age of our life, we discover that life is a mistake. Only at fifteen is this a revelation that combines a shudder of fear and a touch of enchantment. With time this revelation, degenerating, turns into to a truism, and thus we come to regret the period when it was a source of the unforeseen. (CIORAN, 2012)

By Fernando Olszewski

(This post was originally published January 1st, 2020 @ Exilado Metafísico)


. ALDAPUERTA, Jesús Ignacio. The Eyes: Emetic Fables from the Andalusian de Sade. London: Headpress, 1995. Translated by Lucia Teodora.
. BENATAR, David. Better Never to Have Been: the harm of coming into existence. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006.
. BRASSIER, Ray. Nihil Unbound: Enlightenment and Extinction. New York: Palgrave Macmillian, 2007.
. CABRERA, Julio. Mal-estar e moralidade: situação humana, ética e procriação responsável. Brasília: Editora Unb, 2018.
. CIORAN, Emil. Anathemas and Admirations. New York: Arcade, 2012. Translated by Richard Howard.
. CIORAN, Emil. Breviário de decomposição. Rio de Janeiro: Rocco, 1989. Translated by José Thomaz Brum.
. LIGOTTI, Thomas. The Conspiracy Against the Human Race. New York: Hippocampus Press, 2010.
. SCHOPENHAUER, Arthur. O mundo como vontade e como representação. São Paulo: Editora Unesp, 2015. Tradução de: Jair Barboza.
. ZAPFFE, Peter Wessel. The Last Messiah. S.L: S.N., 1933. Translated by Gisle R. Tangenes. Available at: