Sunday, 25 December 2011

Things have changed. Do we have an obligation to die?

What I assumed most of the time here was something you maybe didn't notice, being a person culturally indoctrinated to believe otherwise. You see, it may be that you, dear reader, do not actually have to take other things into account when contemplating suicide. You may actually be the only person, only real person that is to say, in existence. Now while I certainly don't believe this, simply because the universe we're in doesn't seem like one tailor-suited to fit my or anyone else's needs (though I do sometimes toy with the idea that aliens watch and laugh at everything I do), it is however possible that you don't believe this (if I'm correct). It is possible that you are a Solipsist, and see me as either a figment of your imagination, a simulated being created by a computer, or a part of yourself. So let's put aside the fact that it should be technically impossible for you to commit suicide (owing to how the universe may in fact be you, the scientists won't let the virtual reality end etc.). Are you able, now, to do so? Are you obligated to live on? The problem I find with that reasoning, is that suicide is, and always will be, a decision born mainly from emotion - logic applied to emotion, such as how much 'utility' you get from life, but emotion nonetheless. Can you ignore you concern for those imaginary beings you talk to then? And the answer at first really appears to be no (absurdly), since you will feel bad (more bad) by attempting to get out of whatever crazy subjective reality your brain/overlords has or have concocted. But if we instead shift the focus from 'do whatever makes you feel good' to 'do whatever gives you the best utility', the clear answer is, if you are suffering and do not like to suffer, that you maximise your overall life-sum of experiences and exit. The imaginary or simulated beings you encounter do not factor into this because even though you care about their 'suffering' it doesn't really exist. As soon as you die, they will also die, so there are no booboos to kiss. And as for the consent issue, even if you are killing them, you are really just, say, shooting a rock with a raygun. No consent there, nothing to worry about.

Though in this situation we can say without a doubt that no one has an obligation to live, is it that the reverse is actually true? That we have an obligation to...DUN DUN DUN...die?! (Provided we are suffering more than we feel pleasure, would prefer to have a life-sum of experiences that is positive in value and have no qualms about dying).

Well, um, given those quite restrictive conditions, we actually would, it seems, have an obligation (to our values) to die. But I'm sure that in an actual scenario like this, these ideal restrictive limits would never really be met. People tend to not suffer too much, or if they do, they tend to not understand how much they actually suffer (and hence make the wrong judgement). People PROBABLY want a positive life-sum of experiences, I'll give you that, but I think most would be willing to settle with something that is zero, or slightly negative. As for the fear of death, thanatophobia, I think that to some extent everyone has an inherent Samaritans hotline inside them, and as I've seen from personal experience, sometimes one can be absolutely frozen with fear at the prospect of dying in a short period of time.

Regardless of how strange and absurd these conditions are, especially that of having good evidence you are in a Solipsist universe, I find it interesting how one could potentially find oneself either obligated to live or die. When people like say,Bryan Caplan, talk of how easy it is for one to kill oneself, they don't seem to understand how sometimes (or even, a lot of the time) there is very little choice in the matter at all. If you don't like your life, you can't just kill yourself, because you might actually be obligated, by your own moral values, to continue living. But if you were never born, then you wouldn't necessarily have that burden. Your joys wouldn't be there, but at the same time, why would an unborn being need any such joys? If you value non-suffering, then suicide becomes ever more unlikely. But if you value non-suffering, so too does having children.

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