Nonexistent people, Legal philosophy
Law and Society | Legal History
Some believe that the harm or benefit of existence is assessed by comparing a person’s actual state of well-being with the level of well-being they would have had had they never existed. This approach relies on ascribing a state or level of well-being to “nonexistent people,” which seems a peculiar practice: how can we attribute well-being to a “nonexistent person”? To explain away this oddity, some have argued that because no properties of well-being can be attributed to “nonexistent people” such people may be ascribed a neutral or zero level of well-being, setting the baseline for comparatively assessing the harm or benefit of coming into existence. However, this line of argumentation conflates the category of having zero well-being with the category of having no well-being. No Ф, unlike a zero level of Ф, is not comparable to levels of Ф – neutral, positive, or negative. Considering the nature of well-being and the fact that “nonexistent people” cannot (metaphysically or conceptually) have well-being determinative properties, it follows that “nonexistent people” have no well-being rather than zero well-being.
Herstein, Ori J., "Why 'Nonexistent People' Do Not Have Zero Well-Being but No Well-Being at All" (2013). Cornell Law Faculty Publications. 500.
Published in: Journal of Applied Philosophy (2013).