Princeton Philosopher: ‘Why Not Sterilize the Human Race and Party into Extinction?’



June 9, 2010

ARPA Note: For more on this topic of Peter Singer and human dignity, check out the ARPA Canada resource “Building on Sand: Human Dignity in Canadian Law and Society.”

By Peter J. Smith, NEW YORK, June 8, 2010 ( – Princeton philosopher Peter Singer one of the world’s foremost contemporary utilitarian philosophers infamous for his advocacy of infanticide, would like individuals to consider this question: would sterilizing the human race to spare future generations the pain of existence be a good idea?

In a blog post for the New York Times entitled “Should this be the last generation?” Singer discusses in glowing terms the thought of South African philosopher David Benatar. Singer calls Benator the “author of a fine book with an arresting title: ‘Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming into Existence.’”

“To bring into existence someone who will suffer is, Benatar argues, to harm that person, but to bring into existence someone who will have a good life is not to benefit him or her,” explains Singer.

Both Singer and Benatar both believe that human beings do not have inherent dignity. Singer, the Princeton Chair of Bioethics, has gained notoriety for asserting that infanticide is justifiable, especially for disabled infants, because they lack self-awareness, which he asserts is a requirement for personhood.

A key difference, however, between Singer and Benatar, an existential nihilist who chairs the Department of Philosophy at the University of Cape Town in South Africa, is that Singer believes life could be worth living in certain conditions. But Benatar flat out rejects existence as good, and the still-living author discusses that view in his controversial book.

Singer explains Benatar’s antinatalist philosophy, which bases its moral framework by weighing the consequences of existence, in this way: “everyone will suffer to some extent, and if our species continues to reproduce, we can be sure that some future children will suffer severely. Hence continued reproduction will harm some children severely, and benefit none.”

Singer then invites readers to engage in a thought experiment: “So why don’t we make ourselves the last generation on earth? If we would all agree to have ourselves sterilized then no sacrifices would be required — we could party our way into extinction!”

“Even if we take a less pessimistic view of human existence than Benatar, we could still defend [this scenario], because it makes us better off — for one thing, we can get rid of all that guilt about what we are doing to future generations — and it doesn’t make anyone worse off, because there won’t be anyone else to be worse off,” he continued.

Singer distances himself from Benatar’s conclusions, however, and says, “I do think it would be wrong to choose the non-sentient universe.” Nevertheless, he said that for the human race to continue justifying reproducing itself over the next two centuries, individuals should ask themselves the hard questions of, “Is life worth living? Are the interests of a future child a reason for bringing that child into existence? And is the continuance of our species justifiable in the face of our knowledge that it will certainly bring suffering to innocent future human beings?”

Bioethicist Wesley J. Smith, a longtime critic of Singer’s work, responded to Singer’s recent article, saying, “This is nihilism on stilts and it is polluting the West’s self confidence and belief in universal human equality like the BP oil well is polluting the Caribbean.

“Only the resulting mess isn’t measured in polluted beaches and dead birds, but existential despair that destroys human lives.”

“Under the influence of anti-human advocates like Peter Singer, we have gone in the West from seeking to ‘secure the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity,’ to seriously questioning whether there should be any posterity at all,” Smith wrote on his blog. “This is not healthy. But it is the natural consequence of rejecting human exceptionalism.”

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