David Benatar

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David Benatar (born 1966) is a professor of philosophy and head of the Department of Philosophy at the University of Cape Town in Cape Town, South Africa.[1] He is best known for his advocacy of antinatalism in his book Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming into Existence, in which he argues that coming into existence is a serious harm, regardless of the feelings of the existing being once brought into existence, and that, as a consequence, it is always morally wrong to create more sentient beings.[2]


Benatar argues from the uncontroversial premise that pain is, in itself, a bad thing.[3] Nevertheless, he offers qualified defences of the corporal punishment of children[4] and the circumcision of male infants (which he deems a matter for parental discretion).[5] He is the author of a series of widely-cited papers in medical ethics, including "Between Prophylaxis and Child Abuse" (The American Journal of Bioethics) and "A Pain in the Fetus: Toward Ending Confusion about Fetal Pain" (Bioethics).[6][7]

Benatar's work has often been associated with contemporary philosophies of nihilism and pessimism. In an interview with True Detective creator and writer Nic Pizzolatto, Benatar's Better Never to Have Been is cited as an influence on the TV series, along with Ray Brassier's Nihil Unbound, Thomas Ligotti's The Conspiracy Against the Human Race, Jim Crawford's Confessions of an Antinatalist, and Eugene Thacker's In The Dust of This Planet.[8]

His work has been published in such journals as Ethics, Journal of Applied Philosophy, Social Theory and Practice, American Philosophical Quarterly, QJM: An International Journal of Medicine, Journal of Law and Religion and the British Medical Journal.

Benatar's The Second Sexism: Discrimination Against Men and Boys (2012) has been met with controversy: The philosopher Simon Blackburn writes: "Benatar knows that such examples are likely to meet snorts of disbelief or derision, but he is careful to back up his claims with empirical data, and as a philosopher he is especially careful both about the interpretation of evidence and the use of terms such as "discrimination". [...] I do not at all doubt that there is a case to be made for the recognition of a second sexism, nor that Benatar makes it well. And it is not as if he himself is taking sides in these invidious comparisons. He is not a participant in the sex wars but a peacemaker who wants them to wind down. All that he aims to show is that if it is all too often tough being a woman, it is also sometimes tough being a man, and that any failure to recognise this risks distorting what should be everyone's goal, namely universal sympathy as well as social justice for all, regardless of gender."[9] The philosopher Iddo Landau writes: "Benatar suggests that in order to cope with the hitherto ignored second sexism we should not only acknowledge it but also dedicate much more empirical and philosophical research to this under-explored topic and, of course, try to change many attitudes, social norms, and laws. / This is a very well-argued book that presents an unorthodox thesis and defends it ably. It would be a useful text in both undergraduate and graduate courses in philosophy and gender studies, where it is certain to arouse a lot of discussion, much of it excited. [...] Most importantly [...] it is likely to change our understanding of gender relations."[10]

Suzanne Moore, a columnist for The Guardian and The Sunday Mail, writes: "... abundant tripe trickles down from on high, even academe. Every so often a new tome details how men, not women, are discriminated against (apart from rape, murder, equal pay, genital mutilation, the power imbalance in politics, business, education, law and arts they may have a point). Things are tough for some guys. Really, I know that. I just find it hard to accept feminism has gone too far, that a bit of underarm hair signals the end of western civilisation."[11] In a brief letter to The Guardian, Benatar sought to correct some errors in Moore's account of his views; [12] Benatar had predicted criticisms in the book: "Given the prevailing orthodoxy in the academy and the sensitivity of the issues I shall be discussing, the views I defend in this book will be deemed threatening by many. I am under no illusions. My position, no matter how clearly stated, is likely to be misunderstood."[13]

Benatar is vegan, and has taken part in debates on veganism.[14]


  • Benatar, David (2001). Ethics for Everyday. McGraw-Hill. ISBN 978-0-07-240889-8. 
  • Benatar, David (2006). Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming into Existence. Clarendon Press. ISBN 978-0-19-929642-2. 
  • Benatar, David (2012). The Second Sexism: Discrimination Against Men and Boys. John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 978-0-470-67451-2. 
  • Benatar, David; Wasserman, David (2015). Debating Procreation: Is It Wrong to Reproduce?. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-027311-8. 
  • Archard, David; Benatar, David (2016). Procreation and Parenthood: The Ethics of Bearing and Rearing Children. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-874815-1. 
  • Benatar, David (2017). The Human Predicament: A Candid Guide to Life's Biggest Questions. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780190633813. 

As editor

  • Benatar, David, ed. (2006). Cutting to the core: exploring the ethics of contested surgeries. Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 978-0-7425-5001-8. 
  • Ethics for Everyday. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2002.
  • Life, Death & Meaning : Key Philosophical Readings on the Big Questions (2004)


  1. ^ University of Cape Town Philosophy Department Staff
  2. ^ Steyn, Mark (14 December 2007). "Children? Not if you love the planet". Orange County Register. Retrieved 29 April 2008. 
  3. ^ Benatar 2006.
  4. ^ Gert et al. 1998.
  5. ^ Michael Benatar, David Benatar, "Between Prophylaxis and Child Abuse: The Ethics of Neonatal Circumcision," in: David Benatar, ed., Cutting to the Core: Exploring the Ethics of Contested Surgeries (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2006), pp. 23–46.
  6. ^ Benatar & Benatar 2003.
  7. ^ Benatar & Benatar 2001.
  8. ^ "Writer Nic Pizzolatto on Thomas Ligotti and the Weird Secrets of True Detective."
  9. ^ Times Higher Education review, 5 July 2012, retrieved 27 August 2012.
  10. ^ Metapsychology online reviews, 21 August 2012, retrieved 27 August 2012.
  11. ^ The Guardian, 16 May 2012, "The Second Sexism is just victim-envy", retrieved 27 August 2012.
  12. ^ The Guardian, 18 May 2012, "Men and sexism", retrieved 27 August 2012
  13. ^ Benatar 2012, p. 16.
  14. ^ The Species Barrier, around 30 minutes in


  • Gert, Joshua; Costa, Victoria; Dancy, Margaret; Benatar, David (1998). "Corporal Punishment". Social Theory and Practice. 24 (2): 237–260. doi:10.5840/soctheorpract19982423. ISSN 0037-802X. 
  • Benatar, Michael; Benatar, David (2003). "Between Prophylaxis and Child Abuse: The Ethics of Neonatal Male Circumcision". The American Journal of Bioethics. 3 (2): 35–48. doi:10.1162/152651603766436216. ISSN 1526-5161. 
  • Benatar, David; Benatar, Michael (2001). "A Pain in the Fetus: Toward Ending Confusion about Fetal Pain". Bioethics. 15 (1): 57–76. doi:10.1111/1467-8519.00212. ISSN 0269-9702. 
  • Kolbert, Elizabeth (9 April 2012). "The Case Against Kids: Is procreation immoral?". The New Yorker. Retrieved 6 April 2012. 
  • Haupt, Adam (14 May 2007). "We dare not erase race from debate". Mail & Guardian. Johannesburg. Retrieved 21 February 2011. 
  • London, Leslie (4 June 2007). "Affirmative action and the invisibility of white privilege". 26.08. University of Cape Town. Retrieved 21 February 2011. 
  • Raditlhalo, Sam (25 April 2007). "So much remains hidden behind those plastic smiles at UCT". Cape Times. Retrieved 29 April 2008. [dead link]
  • "Affirmative Action and UCT – the debate". Monday Paper. 26.05. University of Cape Town. 23 April 2007. Retrieved 21 February 2011. 
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