I am grateful to be alive. I think my being alive is both good, and good for me. That is, it is morally good, and it gets me what I want. Many, however, say this is nonsense – you can’t hurt someone by preventing them from existing because then there would be no one there to hurt. I disagree. I can care about things beyond my immediate experience, such as what happens to my family after I die. So you can hurt me by changing such things, even if I never experience your hurt.
Even three years after you wrote this, thank you for pointing it out! It's also worth noting that no one addressed this point.
Imagine you have the option to create a universe that is devoid from sentient life, or a universe that contains 1 trillion happy people, and one child that suffers from pain for three months and then dies agonizingly. Which one is the moral choice? I say creating the empty universe is the moral choice - no matter how much happiness is experienced by *other* sentients, the preventable suffering of that one child is unjustifiable, since it will never experience the happiness that is supposed to "outbalance" its suffering. And if eternalism is true, that suffering is timelessly real and can never be undone. That's the strongest case for negative utilitarianism, and this is why I disagree with Robin when he writes (three years ago):
"Just as a possible world where humanity becomes extinct in the next ten years seems morally far worse than one where it continues on for millions of years, a possible world where humanity or anything like it had never existed seems worse than both."
How many additional sentients will we force to suffer involuntarily so that *others* can be happy?
This is a response to many points people in the comments threat a making:
And to plug myself as well:
Robin's initial post goes from an emotional but incoherent statement : "So you can hurt me by changing such things, even if I never experience your hurt" to an unrelated discussion on multiverses and morality.No possible discussion of the desires of me and all my potential mini-mes in the blackberry multiverse can have tuppence worth of value in a discussion on morality. We may indeed want Father Christmas to exist. Does that make our wish moral ? I may indeed wish, along with all my potential mini-mes, that a certain potential but non existant political figure on the planet Zorg continue to not exist. Does that make that wish moral ?By all means, those wishes are meaningful, within the cohort of me and my clones, but the invocation of 'potential existence' and 'multiple universes' adds nothing to the fact that what is meaningful for dull old singular me in this world is not necessarily moral for the dull old singular society in which I evolve.
I agree with the above points.
obligatory Onion article
It frustrates me that people are missing an essential point: suicide is different from never existing in the first place. Suicide has as a precondition of existing in the first place, and experiencing pain, thus putting you already in the negative. Suicide also includes risks of unpleasant consequences (pain, failing and waking up in a hospital or asylum, inflicting emotional anguish, maybe even hell for some belief systems). In short, it's inconvenient, and it is possible to regret existing and ever being born without wishing to undergo the inconvenience of suicide. Many people go on living out of inertia. Call us lazy, call us cowards, but don't call us inconsistent or illogical.
A less methodologically-based objection to Robin's idea (due to Sam Kinison) is here.
TGGP - thanks for the link, interesting stuff. mtraven - I think we're in agreement here. If you give weight to nonexistent entities, you must realise that there are an infinite number of them and you start getting in trouble very quickly.
If and when I have children, it won't be an act of mercy. It'll be an effort by my genes to reproduce themselves and give themselves the best chance of continuing to reproduce into the future. Questions like 'Dad, would I have been better off not existing?' will be met with a cuff round the head.
I would hope that the alien god would have something to say about any genes that cause their survival machine to consider non-existence a better option than existence! Like the man say - we're protein computers 'designed' to make more protein computers. Anything else is fluff.
Caledonian: "If you're not careful to use words specifically and precisely, you end up saying nothing at all... which of course is the desired endstate for quite a lot of people, evidently including Our Hosts."
Oh, evidently! Our hosts have evidently made those hundreds of posts over the past year because they had nothing to say and wanted to say it. Dude, go have a cold shower until you stop hallucinating.
I think when you encounter people loosely using words to say nothing at all, you should respond with scat.
A ska-dee-bop gah-doodly-boo!
I assume in this context that 'hurt' is to be understood more broadly as 'hurting one's interests', i.e. harming.
Conclusions cannot be more precise than the means used to reach them; this is especially important when dealing with natural language, because of its immense ambiguity and general lack of precision.
If you're not careful to use words specifically and precisely, you end up saying nothing at all... which of course is the desired endstate for quite a lot of people, evidently including Our Hosts.
it isn't the Republican party of Abraham LincolnI know some folks at lewrockwell.com who will disagree with that!
ben jones, Chip Smith has discusses the relation between Benatar's theory and abortion. My post here sums up and provides links for his posts.
ben jones -- the point is that there are hugely more nonexistent states than existent ones. If existence is good and nonexistence is bad, than there is an overwhelming amount of badness as compared with goodness. Of course, if you believe in some version of a multiverse in which every possible cofiguration of the universe exists, then the above isn't true, but in that case the whole discussion seems rather pointless.
I actually agree with Robin that "it matters how many creatures exist", but for different reasons. The non-existent wishes of non-existent people cannot coherently be granted any weight whatsoever. So that is not the right reason. Instead of an agent-centered approach, though, we may adopt a world-centered approach. That is, do not ask "what would be best for these people?"; ask instead, "what would the best possible world look like?" As a general rule, flourishing lives add value to a world (at least up to a certain point: 1 billion people is better than just a hundred, but maybe 2b is not so different from 1b). So we should want there to be many flourishing lives. But the particular identities of the individuals who fill this role is not so important. (Again, see the non-identity problem, as discussed upthread.)
P.S. For anyone interested in Benatar's arguments that it is better never to have existed, I explain here precisely where I think he goes wrong.
Perhaps the most obviously questionable idea here is not the idea that we should bring into existence possible individuals who love life, but the idea that we can do so without any serious risk of instead creating individuals who will experience agony, disillusionment, more misery than happiness, etc. Optimism bias!
But it does matter if more or less of them get their wish; it matters how many creatures exist.
Answer the question. Do not give us more eloquent nonsense dressed up as an argument.
Implications for abortion/birth control?
In fact, if we're placing non-zero value on the wishes of non-existent or potential people, why are we not making like bunnies? Strain on the environment? Strain on ourselves? Better things to do with our time? I hope everyone who agrees with Eliezer (above) has at least one good reason that they believe.
mtraven - does your point have any significance other than to underline the inherent fuzziness of talking about 'other potential realities'?
Mitchell - existence is what you make of it. The absence of huge piles of bodies at the foot of every skyscraper is testament to the fact that while existence itself may not constitute 'a good', most of us think of it as having positive utility. Beats the hell out of the alternative. Isn't that right, ARH?