Prof. Nils Holtug on the Positive Value of Existence


Does this make sense??


zzzzzzzzz :ugeek: :confused:


Maybe you find the subject boring because you’ve never bothered to think through the implications of saying that no state of existence can be better (or worse) than non-existence.
If you assume a horse ceases to exist at death (as most people assume), it would mean that leaving a horse with a broken leg to suffer for hours or days isn’t really cruel, because that state of existence is no worse than total extinction.**

It would also seem to mean that you’ll never really have any reason to be grateful for being brought into existence, even if you get to heaven, because even that state of existence is no better than non-existence.

And you could never really have any reason to complain if you ended up in eternal torment, because that state of existence would be no worse than non-existence.

Those are the logical consequences of saying that no state of existence can be better (or worse) for than non-existence.

That’s why I found this whole paper, and especially the following, very interesting.


You are right. I have never, nor would I ever have those thoughts. It’s a pointless argument. A theoretical exercise. It has no real bearing on my life, nor will it ever. If I already know what is coming, why would I imagine anything else? Why would I put all that effort into it. Rather, I am better to keep my eye on the goal and with everything within me press towards the mark of the high calling that says I already exist, I was created for a purpose and predestined. Do you think you are going to win souls or converts with your argument? Most people won’t even comprehend it. Do you think your existence is in peril? :question:


Actually, I didn’t write that paper, so the thoughts contained therein aren’t mine.

The thoughts were apparently put on paper about ten years before I lost everything I valued here on earth, and began questioning everything I believed.

(If you look at the acknowledgements on that last page, you’ll see "the article was presented at the Oxford-Copenhagen Summit on Ethics in 1999, and at the International Society for Utilitarian Studies conference in North Carolina in 2000…)

I might never have considered these questions myself, if I hadn’t encountered one of the counter arguments Prof. Holtug addresses (namely, that it couldn’t be any worse for you if you didn’t exist, because there wouldn’t be any you.)

I thought the purpose of this section on philosophy was to discuss philosophy?

And as far as the question of whether any states of existence are better than non-existence having any bearing on your life, that might depend on whether your faith (in God, His existence, His goodness, His plan and purpose) is always as strong as you think it is now.

If you ever find yourself alone in the dark, questioning everything you once believed, the question of whether any state of earthly or heavenly existence could be better than non-existence might take on more practical importance.

I don’t know

Agustine, Anselm, and Aquinas seemed to think they could win souls by arguing that existence is greater than non-existence (that was part of their Cosmological argument in favor of God’s existence), but some might disagree (or even say they were making a category error.)

What I do know is that churchmen have been discussing philosophy since Paul’s sermon on Mars hill, and have considered it right and proper to do so.

The JW’s, the 7th day Adventists, other Sabbatarian groups, and Sunday Adventists have always denied the immortality of the soul, and now even the Church of England favors an annihilationist interpretation of scripture.

Given that view, it’s quite possible for creatures to cease to exist.

And given the view that existence can’t be any better or worse than non-existence, the saved gain nothing, and the lost lose nothing (and I don’t expect that argument to wine many souls, do you?)

But to answer your question directly (if the annihilationists are right, and suicide is a sin) I do think that my existence may have been in peril when I was first hit with the repeated suggestion that existence was really no better or worsethan non-existence.

Anyway, I would like to know what those with an interest in philosophy think of this paper.

Thank you.


Hi Michael

I’m no philosopher. But it seems to me that you’re trying to ‘get behind’ a concept -ie can non-existence ever be better or worse than existence? - which is intrinsically meaningless.

If I never exist then anything you say about the relative merits of my existence or non-existence is immediately null and void. You simply cannot say anything coherent about ‘me’ at all. If I never exist, there is no ‘me’ - never is, never was, never will be - to talk about. I can’t do the talking. Neither can anybody else. The very concept of ‘me’ is a non-concept. It is meaningless.

I’ve read a number of your posts over the last few months, and you seem to be obsessed with this idea that non-existence may be ‘better’ or ‘worse’ than non-existence. But surely you can see that the very question is totally, utterly meaningless?

I’m very sorry to hear of your troubles. We all have troubles. Yours have clearly been very severe. But the answer - if answer there is (and I doubt there is) - does not lie in obsessively analysing a meaningless concept.

God bless you sir.



President Hillary Clinton doesn’t exist, and may never exist.

But President Hillary Clinton could exist, because she could be elected President in 2016.

But I’m sure you’ve heard of abstract entities, haven’t you?

The state of affairs where Mrs. Clinton is elected President in 2016 is one type of abstract entity (and during the next presidential election cycle I suspect Democrats and Republicans will find it meaningful to discuss the properties of that particular abstract entity.)

Merely-possible individuals are another type of abstract entity.


If johnnyparker exists, and there was a time when he didn’t exist, than even at that time (when he didn’t exist) it was possible for him to exist.

He was an abstract entity.

I believe that was the point the author of that paper was making here.

(Parentheses and emphasis mine.)

If you disagree with Prof. Holtug (the author of this paper), could you please show me the logical flaws in his arguments?

Also, could you please answer the following questions for me?

1.) If no state of conscious existence is any better or worse than non-existence, doesn’t it follow that eternal conscious torment is no worse than non-existence?

2.) And wouldn’t there be no logical or moral reason for a materialist (or even for most Christians, who believe that death is total extinction for an animal) to put a suffering animal out of it’s misery?

Every materialist believes that death is oblivion, and most Theists believe it is for a horse, so wouldn’t there be no reason to put a suffering horse out of it’s misery (if misery is no worse than non-existence)?

Getting back to the paper, i particularly liked the surplus of positive value argument.

What did you think of the surplus of positive value argument?

Did you bother to read the paper Johnny?


Hi Michael

Thanks for your reply. But I’m afraid you’re missing the point.

An abstract entity is one thing. And given that I exist now, and once didn’t, then it is coherent to talk about the possibility of my existence. But had I never existed, it would be incoherent to talk of the possibility of my existence - because there is no ‘me’ to discuss even theoretically. I am not an abstract entity, because I am not an ‘I’ at all. The word has no meaning.

I read some of the paper, and skimmed the rest. As I said before, I think the whole subject of the paper is a meaningless concept. The moment you start trying to compare the relative merits of an individual’s existing or not existing you have voided logic altogether. You cannot apply logic to nonsense, which is what this author is talking.

What I was trying to do was encourage you to stop fretting about a meaningless and useless concept, and get on with the real life you have now. I really hope you can do that.

All the best



The point is that as long as you could exist (even if you never did) you would be an abstract entity, and it would not be at all incoherent for God to consider the possibility of your existence.

There is nothing incoherent about that.


P.S. You never answered my two questions.

1.) If no state of conscious existence is any better or worse than non-existence, doesn’t it follow that eternal conscious torment is no worse than non-existence (and that there would be nothing morally objectionable in the idea of God knowingly bringing beings doomed to such a fate into existence)?

2.) And wouldn’t there be no logical or moral reason for a materialist (or even for most Christians, who believe that death is total extinction for an animal) to put a suffering animal out of it’s misery?

Aren’t those the unavoidable consequences of the proposition that no state of existence is any better or worse than non-existence?



This question requires a distinction I don’t see being made: namely, the difference between my existence as I experience it as a good and my existence as another experiences it as a good.

No one, I don’t think, would say that his conscious experience of existing is “better” than a certain state of existence if his consciousness didn’t exist to begin with. To HIM, he would not know anything at all and so be incapable of valuing one thing over another. But in another persons eyes, surely it makes sense to say that being is better than non being regarding person x?


Thousands of my children don’t exist, and I don’t miss them at all. Does that make me callous?

Of course, if multiverse theories are correct, then every one of my potential children will exist somewhere. Every possible arrangement of particles will exist. Because God is eternally creative, I think it perfectly sensible to argue that everything that can logically exist, does exist. Except for square circles etc, non-existence is non-existent.


If God is omniscient, every proposition He holds to be true must actually be true, right?

So if God holds it to be true that it would be better for Chris to exist in a conscious state of unending happiness, than to exist in a conscious state of unending exquisite pain, that must actually be true, right?

And I don’t see why you think you’d have to exist, and be consciously aware of that truth to make it so.

If you read the paper (even if you only read the abstract), you should realize that Prof. Nils is saying that merely possible people can be benefited or harmed by being brought into existence, and I’m still not sure why you would disagree with this?

Isn’t that the point?

That it’s better to know things like happiness, love, joy, pleasure, and ecstasy, than it is to know nothing; and that it’s better to know nothing than it is to know only meaningless, purposeless, unending, exquisite pain.

And better not just in the eyes of those of us who are here to see that it’s better, but in the sense of ultimate reality.

Now let’s get back to horses.

Assuming (for the sake of this discussion) that animals can really suffer, and that death is the end for them, are you really saying that it wouldn’t be better for a horse to know nothing, than it would for him to know only exquisite pain?

That no matter how extreme the suffering, or how hopeless the condition, you would be doing the poor animal himself no kindness by putting him out of his misery?

Is that logical?


If God were to hold that proposition true, and if he was omniscient, then yes it would have to really be true. But that doesn’t imply that everything imaginable can possibly be true. It may not be possible for God to think the proposition true, in other words. And I don’t believe I’d have to exist to make the thought “If Chris exists in conditions x he will be better off than conditions y.” I would only have to possibly exist, since the statement itself implies nothing about whether or not I actually exist but only, supposing I do, etc.

Perhaps I am missing something in your above quote, but I fail to see the implication you are trying to draw.

“Merely possible people can be benefited or harmed by being brought into existence” seems to put the cart before the horse if you are trying to compare their state of being pre-creation to post-creation from their own subjective viewpoint. But that is an inherent incoherency, in my opinion. I don’t think God compares those two states at all in that way.

I’m not sure how you extrapolated that from me. If I saw an animal in pain and I deemed its suffering had no corrective purpose for its life, I would end its life.

What, if you don’t mind me asking, are you really asking in your example?


What I’m trying to get at is whether you see any states of existence (earthly happiness, heavenly bliss, unending joy in the presence of God, earthly horrors such as Auschwitz, or eternal conscious torment in hell) as objectively better or worse than non-existence?

But why (if no state of existence can be any better or worse than non-existence)?

If that were really true, it would mean that extinguishing the animals life was doing it no service, and letting it go on suffering was doing it no dis-service (because conscious suffering is no worse than non-existence, and non-existence is no better than conscious suffering.)

So (if that were true, and that’s really what you believe) why would you go out of your way to put the suffering animal out of it’s misery, unless it was just to make yourself feel better?

And if you believe that God is the one necessary being, who brought all derivative beings into existence, why do you suppose He would have done that (if no state of existence is any better r worse than non-existence)?

Do you think He just did it to make Himself feel better?

To me, the proposition that no state of existence is better or worse than non-existence argues against the existence of the God proposed by classic Christian Theism, against a loving purpose for creation, and against UR.

So if you believe that no state of conscious existence is any better or worse than non-existence, why would you put a suffering animal out of it’s misery, and why do you suppose God created us?

If I understand you correctly, you disagree with Prof Holtug’s thesis that being brought into existence can be a benefit, so you don’t really see creation as benefiting anyone (except maybe God, who already existed)?

Is that right Chris?


I would distinguish. In God’s mind, certain comparative states of existence are far better than others. But comparing it in the creature’s mind who would not exist, I find such a comparison meaningless.

Because of the impact the suffering would have on me, I would imagine.

Well if that’s the case then your criticism would apply to any possible act I could ever do to the animal. A criticism that admits of no exception is a meaningless one. If you try to compare the subjective experience of “non-existence” to “existence” you are comparing two states of affairs that are not parallel, and if you criticism is based on such a comparison, then it is meaningless, regardless of the scenario you apply it to.

I would do it just to make me feel better. That is my point.

As a matter of fact, I don’t believe it possible to do an act for any other reason.

In an anthropomorphic way, yes, I suppose I would agree with that.

Because creating us fulfills a desire which God has, I would imagine.


Than you don’t really believe there is such a thing as unselfish love, do you?

Silly me, I thought it was out of unselfish love that God brought us into existence, and I thought it was this quality of unselfish love that we were meant to learn from a life of sorrow and joy here, and it turns out (given your reasoning about no state of existence being any better or worse than non-existence) that there’s no such thing.

I thought He brought us into existence to enjoy all the good things He knew we could never enjoy if we didn’t exist, but (according to you) He only did it to make Himself feel better.

Is that what you really believe Chris?


If God’s being is fulfilled in doing all he can for an “other,” then his desire is simply to express himself in such a way. If it “makes God feel better” to give himself to his creation – to die, maybe, on a cross – then is it not true he is acting in order to make himself feel better and also loving you as much as he can?


But his existence, and ours, is really no better than non-existence?

If He had the choice, He might not be here?

And we’re only here to make Him feel better?

Is that right?

That is what you said, isn’t it?


Could you explain how you reasoned that God’s existence is no better than his non-existence?