Tuesday, June 6, 2023

The Philosophical Bullet Bites

Edie Brickell & New Bohemians - “What I Am

This chicken is ethically irrelevant.

A fair number of people have written to me about "Biting the Philosophical Bullet" in Losing My Religions. (You will have to read that chapter for this post to make sense.)

Someone in Greece asked if I wouldn't choose one individual suffering level 10 vs two individuals suffering level 10, everything else being equal.

Well, sure, but that's just my intuition. It is only because I am experiencing more suffering at the thought of two vs one.

If this is the Chicken World example, there is nothing worse about FL (two suffering) than RR (one). As Robert Daoust of the Organization to Prevent Intense Suffering noted, there is more badness in FL, but no worseness

The real problem becomes apparent once you choose one over two based on your intuition. The next question is: Wouldn't you choose one person suffering level 10 than X people suffering level 9.9? (Where X can be any number from 2 on up.) 

Again, that makes intuitive sense, but it is wrong. 

This becomes clear once you follow the logic that flows from choosing one suffering level 10 vs X suffering level 9.9. That choice leads inexorably to choosing 1 suffering level 10 vs Y suffering level 0.0001. 

The error comes from thinking about "the amount of suffering in the universe." The "universe" doesn't suffer. Only individual conscious minds suffer. 

Each individual conscious mind is an entire universe unto itself.

The only relevant units for ethical calculations are individual conscious minds. In the case of X people suffering level 9.9, there is no universe (i.e., mind) worse than the universe (mind) suffering level 10.

Robert also sent me this CS Lewis quote, which I wish I had read way back in the day:

We must never make the problem of pain worse than it is by vague talk about the "unimaginable sum of human misery. . ." Search all time and space and you will not find that composite pain in anyone's consciousness. There is no such thing as a sum of suffering, for no one suffers it. When you have reached the maximum that a single person can suffer, we have, no doubt, reached something very horrible, but we have reached all the suffering there ever can be in the universe. The addition of a million fellow-sufferers adds no more pain.

-CS Lewis in The Problem of Pain 

For a Xtian apologist, he was pretty smart in this area.


Robert Daoust said...

Quantifying a phenomenon like suffering is something that yields various results according to the point of view that is used. I advocate for the creation of a science of suffering that would provide useful results obtained from an objective point of view. Meanwhile, “religion is a light in the fog” (Edie Brickell & New Bohemians) that is projected on water droplets and is reflected in such a manner that any light that is already there within a white fog is prevented from reaching us. To lose religion is to gain insight. I profoundly disagree with apologists like Lewis. Their ‘idealistic’ view goes against the ‘materialistic’ objective measurement of suffering: two subjective occurrences of a certain kind of suffering present a greater quantity of unpleasantness in the objective world than one subjective occurrence of the same kind. Importantly, I guess a scientific quantification of suffering would not allow much to use the numbers 1 to 10 in order to compare occurrences of suffering, be it only because qualia are what makes suffering more or less unpleasant and the qualia involved in one degree of suffering occurrence are quite different from the qualia in any other degree.

Matt Ball said...

I don't think I disagree with any of this. I definitely agree that to lose religion is to gain insight!