Thursday, 17 May 2012

Why Killing is Wrong and the Doomsday Button too

Killing is wrong, I decided a while back, not just because of the negative utility experienced by humans prior to their death because of the killing ritual, but because any human killed is effectively robbed of the positive utility they would have had after death, along with their consent being violated. In this case by the way it IS meaningful consent, as suffering, or at least loss of positive utility, will occur. Therefore, the Doomsday Button is probably immoral to push, as it essentially kills everyone on Earth.

EDIT: Look in the comments section. Thanks to Bazompora, who corrected me on this one, I now believe you CANNOT be robbed of positive utility, simply because the act of being robbed implies deprivation, which implies that the 'owner' had a right to their future utility - which is absurd, because owning one's future would have hilarious consequences (sort of). Anything can change one's future utility, so you can't say that the dog crapping on the street robbed you of 10 more years of life, even if you would have live 10 more years had it not set in motions a chain of events because of that.

You must before doing something like this consider that the vast majority of humans on this world want to be alive, and have a right to choose whether to live or die as they see fit (see this, especially the end). Therefore the Doomsday button is wrong because you a breaking a fundamental moral right, so says moral intuition. But is being robbed of positive utility really such a crime?

Moral intuition, again, says yes. If you slander someone and stop them from getting a highly-paid job that would have raised their positive utility compared to their state otherwise, you have quite obviously done a bad thing. So the Doomsday button is doubly wrong, sadly.

But can you just say, for the greater good, since more lives of suffering will not have been made? No, because morality does not take into account the greater good, it takes into account a harm, and a harm is something you cannot do if you do not wish to violate your morality, which people generally do not seek to do for feelings of guilt. For the purposes of this discussion, breaking of consent, violation of rights and loss of positive utility most likely constitute harms.

I'm a little rusty in my morality arguments, but reading over things I might get a bit better. If I can be bothered. In any case, until next time.

14 comments:

  1. How can you deprive someone of utility they not only won't miss afterwards, but haven't missed yet either?
    Don't get me wrong: I'm not hot for a doomsday button, although it would be the lesser evil to letting even a single more person be tortured to death. But do we deprive a cat or dog when we put it asleep? I don't think so and certainly does the departed critter not think or feel deprived of meals. Similarly, was something 'robbed' from you, if a girl you could have fallen in love with otherwise, is never met?

    My only objection to the doomsday button (if it's not outright torture), would be that it would rob 'the up-till-then-still-present humans' of their intentions, their aspirations, the little -personal- merits that they PREMEDITATEDLY endured personal suffering for.

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    1. That is interesting. Depriving them of the benefit of their expectations. That also has implications for our (questionable) project of relieving people of their happy illusions. Will have to think about that.

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    2. "Similarly, was something 'robbed' from you, if a girl you could have fallen in love with otherwise, is never met?"

      Yeah pretty much if someone intentionally caused it. Slandering someone so they don't get that job they've always dreamed of is not okay. So too is maybe telling their future soul mate to stay away from them because they have an STD, when they don't. If these things are not wrong then there must be some sort of deeper reason why I am pretty sure these are wrong.

      Though I'll have to think about that dog example. My first response was 'dogs don't have meaningful consent like a human does', but that's nothing to do with it. It's probably that the positives you deprive the dog of are made up for by the negatives you take away. Which may make the Doomsday Button less wrong if you're 'getting rid of' the population of the planet and they are all depressed.

      Still, I could've missed something, so I'm open to suggestions.

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    3. "Yeah pretty much if someone intentionally caused it."

      But you would never suffer from or for that, would you not? You wouldn't know. Life constantly pushes things good and bad out of our way, but we don't describe ourselves as robbed of the winning ticket with every draw, do we?

      In this example though, one could make the case that someone 'did robbery', which would be an immoral manipulation of causality.

      But does every act of 'robbing' automatically make the other party 'robbed'? I would support that the latter qualification requires 'deprivation' of something 'owned or owed', as in:

      "Slandering someone so they don't get that job they've always dreamed of is not okay."

      ... which would effectively have the victim 'robbed' of the gratification he/she 'endured for'. Such act would be a clear malicious deprivation of 'suffering relief'.


      "Depriving them of the benefit of their expectations. That also has implications for our (questionable) project of relieving people of their happy illusions. Will have to think about that."

      I shall, for my part, reflect ...
      (Oooh, pun)

      Seriously thinking though, I can bring up:
      • are illusions 'due' or are we rightfully undoing wrongs?
      • if the unfair distribution of happiness is an injustice, then is the forceful balancing out not justice?

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    4. I think a bit of epistemic modesty might be required here, folks. All this talk of 'us' relieving 'them' of their illusions. I, for one, am constantly refining and revising my postion in the light of dialogue and debate. I don't pretend to have the absolute low-down on everything. Surely 'entering into discussion and engagement' might be a bit more appropriate, rather than 'oh, let's just wake everyone up, as obviously the 7 or 8 regular antinatalists on the blogsphere are the only people out of the 7+ billion who know exactly what's going on.'

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    5. "'oh, let's just wake everyone up, as obviously the 7 or 8 regular antinatalists on the blogsphere are the only people out of the 7+ billion who know exactly what's going on.'"
      Laughed at that. Yeah true I guess you can't help getting a bit dogmatic about things you've been with for a while. Groups tend towards polarisation.

      I don't agree that they're illusions because everything's pretty much subjective anyway. But I think if you're going to have a morality logic entails it should most likely be antinatalist. But you don't have to have a morality because no objective morality really exists, it's just a thing built into us humans.

      To Bazompora
      "But does every act of 'robbing' automatically make the other party 'robbed'? I would support that the latter qualification requires 'deprivation' of something 'owned or owed', as in". Do people own their optimal future? I suppose not. The problem with all this is that if you're right, and it seems more and more likely that you are, I don't understand why it seems morally intuitive that 'robbing' someone of a future opportunity is wrong. Maybe it's just culturally intuitive, and other cultures wouldn't care?

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    6. I'm a bit puzzled now: don't we steal opportunities from others all the time? When you get a job, a place on a team, a partner or a prize, aren't you at the same time eliminating that opportunity for someone else? The utility you acquire could have benefitted others, if it weren't for you making it disappear in your sack first.
      Of course, people will react indignated, if some hoard all potential for themselves; but at that point, deprivation already has entered the stage, apparent as a plucked field.

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    7. Yeah you're right. Will edit the post a bit soon, when I've had time to think.

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  2. The best thing would be if we could just put something in the water that would make all living things infertile.

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    1. Yes, Stacy. I too completely agree with you and Estnihil about forced sterilization. However, I wouldn't say Doomsday button is "doubly" wrong or whatever.

      There seems to be nothing wrong with death itself ... It is the fear of death which is bad. You know, it will cause terrible angst if you announce to the world, "I am going to press the Doomsday Button in half an hour. Beware!", but the doomsday button -- if it is instantaneous -- will be something like instilling an anesthetic to someone without a warning.

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    2. The half an hour will give everyone time to think about all they hoped for in the future, and will crush all those hopes.

      Also, if an individual dies, hopes others have for that individual will be shattered -- but not if everyone dies at the same time. (Something Benatar discusses too.)

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  3. I used to be hot on the Doomsday button but am not so sure now, for the kind of reasons you mention.

    I still think I'd go with the secret sterilisation button, though. For me, the angst suffered by the majority regarding their inabilty to procreate would be sufficiently compensated by the knowledge that no new victims would be brought into the world.

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  4. Wow, someone else agrees with me on the Doomsday button thing? I never expected THAT.

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  5. The Big Red Button is, of course, just a hypothetical that cannot exist in reality - unless we manage to invent the trans-ultra-hyper laser that instantly blew Alderaan to bits* (yeah, good luck!). The only way this could be arguably moral AFAIC is if there is guaranteed instant death of all people within literally the same millisecond (nerve signals travel at a few hundred kmh, iirc - so 0.001 sec should be enough to prevent pain from occuring). If agony and awareness of violation of freedom of choice occur - I have to say I cannot agree.

    In the end, reducing the population itself cannot help but cause some degree of suffering - at least with current technology. Given that cessation of all births would mean the elderly would suffer when they got too old to work, that would mean elderly people would die of starvation or thirst. Perhaps a "fleet" of robots can be a stopgap - letting the elderly live as long as possible while the robots would provide their needs.

    Back to the real world: IIRC, antinatalism does not claim to have a real solution for society, except very hypothetically; it only claims to have a solution on the individual level. Even so, individuals CAN make a choice, and that's ultimately THE most important thing. If nothing else, we can at least prevent suffering in our own potential descendants.



    *Blowing up Alderaan took about 2 ⨉ 1027 Joules - about the same as our entire sun's output in 5.27 seconds ( Source )

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