Monday, April 4, 2011

No one would be better off not existing

  1. (Premise) If t is a time at which a human being x exists, then x owes thanks to God for existing at t.
  2. (Premise) If x would be better off not existing at t, then x does not owe anybody thanks for existing at t.
  3. Therefore, there is no human being that exists at a time at which it would be better for her not to exist.
A corollary is that every human in hell is better off existing than not existing, and owes thanks to God for continuing to exist, as per my remarks here.  

This post is inspired by a remark I overheard wafting from another restaurant table near the Central APA that on some view (I didn't hear whose), even those in hell owe thanks to God.


Leonhard said...

What does 'owe' here mean?

Does it simple mean that there's some mystical magical philosophical thomistical 'oweninessity' that everyone possesses which doesn't really have any effect other than that if in fact they were good people they'd thank God, no matter what circumstances they're in. (Warning for sarcasm impeared, this is meant to be a grotesque caricature).

Or does it mean that someone in Hell, would think of himself better off existing than non-existing? I.e would prefer it to non-existence?

Or did you have something else in mind with 'owe'?

JacobAD said...

How can X be better off not existing if X does not exist? Can betteroffness be a property of something that does not exist?

Perhaps the only meaningful question is, would the world (which does exist) be better off if I did not exist as a part of it?

Derrick said...

It seems odd to say that something is better off just by existing, since being better off in state of affairs S implies that if S did not obtain one would be worse off. Since one couldn't be worse off by not existing, it seems that there is something off about saying that one is better off simply by existing.

Drew said...

I think that's a very good point. How could you be better off not existing, when such a state of affairs would contain no you to be better off?

Furthermore, do people in hell owe God thanks for their continued existence? That's something to ponder.

Alexander R Pruss said...

I am quite sympathetic to the idea that one can't talk of being better off not existing and to the idea that the comparison is of dubious meaning, which is why I didn't try to argue that x is better off existing rather than not existing, but only that x isn't better off not existing rather than existing.

Vlastimil Vohánka said...

I recall Chesterton said he would thank to God even in hell. I don't recall where, though.

Alexander R Pruss said...

The Chesterton quote (or pseudo-quote) reminds me of the promise that every knee will bend to Christ.

Alexander R Pruss said...


In my idiolect, "owe A to y" means "has a moral duty to y to render A".

What does it mean to have a moral duty to y? Well, this may just be fundamental. But we can at least talk of some logical connections. If x has a moral duty to y to do A, then x has a moral duty to do A, and if x fails in this duty, x pro tanto wrongs y.

Vlastimil Vohánka said...


This is what a friend of mine says:

i'd deny premise (2): 2.(Premise) If x would be better off not existing at t, then x does not owe anybody thanks for existing at t.
distinguo: i may owe thanks for my life *until t* and owe no thanks for my life from t onward. If one's life is sufficiently bad from t onward, one might not own thanks for one's life as a whole, and owe thanks for one's life until t.