Tuesday, August 29, 2023

A Brief Repugnant Note

Nelly Furtado - I'm Like A Bird

Not a bird. Maybe Parfit's "barely worth living" entities?

If you have never heard of the philosophical problem The Repugnant Conclusion, you can skip this.

In the "Biting the Philosophical Bullet" chapter of Losing, I mention in passing that Parfit's repugnance is answered simply: the "sum of pleasure in the universe" doesn't exist, and is thus not ethically relevant. 

To spell this out a little more:

You don't harm anyone by not bringing an individual into existence, even if you could know that (hypothetical) entity would, on the whole, be happy. It wasn't immoral for me to be sterilized back in the 90s. It isn't immoral for anyone to use contraception, no matter how well-off their child might be.

In as much as morality exists, I think it is immoral to bring a being into the world who won't have an excellent shot at happiness. (At the very least, given The Case for Not Being Born.)

As I concluded in "Biting" (and haven't been convinced otherwise yet) the first and primary tasks of any ethical system should be to reduce and prevent the worst suffering. In general, we should maximize the well-being of those who exist, and the most important aspect of well-being is minimized suffering.

As I quote Scott Alexander in that chapter:

[T]he conclusion’s repugnance doesn’t hinge on the lives of the people involved being especially bad. It hinges on people having to be sadder and poorer than the alternative, their standard of living forever capped, just in order to tile the world with as many warm [or not warm] bodies as possible. I genuinely don’t care how big the population is. I don’t think you can do harm to potential people by not causing them to come into existence. Hurting actual people in order to please potential people seems plenty repugnant to me regardless of the exact level of the injury.

No one is under any ethical obligation to create a new being, full stop. Not me, not you, not a 12-year-old. It doesn't matter if you are one of ten billion, ten trillion, or the last person who could save "the human race." 

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