J.E.Thomas. “Lament”, (2006), 160cm x 120cm, oil on canvas
Nils Holtug argues for the Value of Existence View which makes ‘the comparative claim that existence can be better (or worse) for a person than non-existence’ (p.370). Derek Parfit and John Broome argue against this view by stating that it is incoherent. Parfit argues that causing someone to exist cannot be better for a person because the alternative would not have been worse. Broome argues that it can never be true that it is better for a person to exist than to not exist because if she had not existed there would not have been a ‘her’ to have been worse off.
The argument set out by Parfit and Broome is called the Metaphysical Argument and it relies upon two premises. The first premise makes the judgement that it is better (or worse) to exist than never to exist and entails that it is worse (or better) to not exist than to exist. The second premise is that it cannot be worse (or better) to not exist. The first claim, Holtug states, is based upon the logic of ‘betterness’ relation, and the second premise is based upon the metaphysical principle called The No Properties of the Non-Existent Principle. This means that an individual cannot have any properties if it does not exist.
This principle can be disputed. Broome’s argument relies upon the point that if a person does not exist then it is impossible for any properties to be attached to her. Holtug contends that the logic of betterness relation that the argument relies upon assumes that in order for existence to be worse than non-existence, non-existence must be better than existence. To explore the logical properties of the betterness relation, Holtug considers the following definition:
1) y is worse for S than x, if and only of x is better for S than y.
If (1) states that existence if better (or worse) for a person than non-existence, non existence is better (or worse) for her. The latter part seems to violate the No Properties of the Non-Existent Principle. It seems to ascribe to her the property of being worse (or better) off in a possible world in which she does not exist. According to this principle we cannot claim that existence is better for her than non-existence because this implies that non-existence is worse for her than existence. So Holtug reassesses the argument with the proposition:
P: Non-existence is worse for Jeremy than existence.
Can the truth of P be established without ascribing to Jeremy positive properties in a possible world in which he does not exist? Holtug claims that P can be established by appeal to a preference that Jeremy has in an actual world in which he exists. Existence may be preferable for Jeremy because he prefers existence to non-existence. Jeremy’s life includes a surplus of positive value, whereas his non-existence had no value. Holtug insists that this is compatible with The No Properties of the Non-Existent Principle; it is better to have a surplus of values than no value. The Metaphysical Argument is not preserved because the Value of Existence View does not rely upon someone existing for the possibility of them benefiting from existence.
- Holtug, Nils. “On the value of coming into existence” Journal of Ethics , 5:4 , 2001 , 361-384
The problem of ‘hard consciousness’ is a sub-problem of the wider mind/body problem. For David Chalmers, the hard problem is qualia or the qualities of sensed experience. The dualist position on mind/body relations is that although we need bodies and brains to have consciousness, consciousness is not the same as our bodily and brain states. Mental events are of a different order to physical events, however they causally interact. This explanation does not explain how they interact but presumably as matter obeys certain physical laws so the mind obeys different laws pertaining to the realm of mental events. However, there is an opposing simplicity argument against dualism and that argument is based upon the principle of rational methodology known as ‘Ockham’s razor’. This can be expressed as not multiplying entities beyond what is strictly necessary to explain phenomena. Therefore, materialists argue that there is only physical matter and only one class of physical properties and theorizing that there are two separate substances, as dualists do, gives no advantage. As a further alternative view, in his Philosophical Investigations (1958) Wittgenstein assesses the ‘unbridgable gulf between consciousness and brain process’. He asks: ‘How does it come about that this does not come into the considerations of our ordinary life?’ He posits that it is not our consciousness that is a strange thing but our attitude towards ourselves that is strange. Whereas our consciousness is normally intentional, philosophical investigations into the ‘hard problem’ of consciousness do not envisage a context for their concepts. Therefore it is only the study of philosophy or being mentally troubled through which one is inclined to see consciousness as a ‘thing’ or to wonder at ‘it’ being connected to matter.
Townley, Dr. C., Lecture 14, The Mind Body Problem, in “Mind, Meaning and Metaphysics”, PHI130, Macquarie University 2011
 Churchland, Paul M. “The ontological problem (the mind-body problem)” in Matter and Consciousness: A Contemporary Introduction to the Philosophy of Mind , Churchland, Paul M. , 1988 , p.12
 ibid., p.18