Sunday, October 17, 2010

Back Online

Thanks to one and all for keeping things going during my absence. Looks like I've got some catching up to do. I thought I'd start by addressing the most recent comment, and go from there. First, here's the unabridged comment-

Anonymous said...
Hedonism is a theory of value that states : happiness is the only intrinsic good and stress is the only intrinsic bad. My understanding was that Negative Utilitarians, like Classical Utilitarians, are hedonists (or 'negative' hedonists, if they deny the intrinsic, positive value of happiness). This is a claim about what actually is universally valuable, the fact that some people have a positive attitude towards stress or a negative attitude towards happiness is irrelevant. You make it seem as though you 'personally' value your pleasure but you don't 'personally' dis-value your own stress, you regard all stress as intrinsically bad as a matter of fact. Again, the opposite of suffering is not the absence of suffering, the opposite of suffering is happiness. Since every positive has a negative, anyone who claims that stress is intrinsically bad has to concede that happiness is intrinsically good. Also, as a minor point, consent (in my view) is of no intrinsic, moral value. Consent is only required to prevent unwanted, or stressful, states of mind (petting a dog does not require his or her consent since it's assumed that the dog will not suffer as a result). If suffering did not exist, we would not require the consent of unborn children to create them. Alas, it does so I'm with you.

If you claim to be a hedonist, then you have to accept that being unconscious is of neutral value, neither good or bad. Hedonists are consequentialists, the consequences of an action are what make it good or bad. An action that increases suffering or happiness can not be considered good or bad even if the actor had good or bad intentions (only intentions are moral/immoral, actions are just good or bad based on the actual effect that they have on the emotional state of mind of everyone affected by the action). Not all deaths are painful, at least not in theory. From a hedonist point of view, only stress is harmful.If someone was killed painlessly in their sleep, this death would not be harmful, at least not for the deceased. If you claim that something besides stress is harmful, you've abandoned hedonism (since hedonists deny that life itself or the entities that experience happiness/stress have any intrinsic value/dis-value, only happiness/stress have intrinsic value/dis-value).

I'm not really criticizing the NU view because it's the view I'm leaning towards. The worst, logical conclusions to classical utilitarianism (ie. raping a small child if it will produce a greater amount of happiness for, say, 10 people) are far worse than the worst conclusions of NU (ie. killing someone in their sleep, if it could be done without causing any stress to them or their friends, family members etc. to prevent them or someone else from stubbing their toe). It's better to be unconscious than it is to suffer but, it's also better to be happy than it is to be unconscious, which is why I hope the bio-abolition of suffering becomes a reality. Why hasn't this possibility been mentioned by anti-natalists like Jim Crawford and David Benatar?

I'd like to begin by tweaking the commenter's definition of hedonism a bit, not as a matter of contention, but to possibly expand the parameters of the discussion. This reference from my laptop Webster's seems sufficient-

1. Philos. the ethical doctrine that pleasure, variously conceived of in terms of happiness of the individual or of society, is the principal good and the proper aim of action.

I suppose the two definitions might be reconciled through argumentation; still, I'm thinking that the one offered by anonymous is somewhat oversimplified, collapsing any levels of nuance or context down to a matter of immediate gratification v. discomfort. This isn't to say the conversation can't go down that road; for instance, one might believe that a simple pinprick definitionally negates an eternity of guaranteed bliss. However, one can just as easily believe that the pain of a pinprick, while 'intrinsically bad' when considered in isolation, can still be folded back into the 'hedonistic good'- say, for instance, when it serves to move you out of the path of a runaway train. Perhaps the point can rightly be made here that I'm making concessions to reality thereby mitigating a purely hedonistic outlook. That's probably true. Then again, I've never found pinprick-type arguments very convincing, especially from an emotional angle. Hell, if that's all we had to worry about, I doubt I'd expend the efforts I do writing on this subject.

Now I'll touch on two or three other points, briefly, and wrap this up-

Also, as a minor point, consent (in my view) is of no intrinsic, moral value.

I'd argue that the issue of consent IS a moral value in the context of certain moral frameworks. Furthermore, IF consent is gleaned to be an essential part of an overall moral schema, that makes it intrinsic, doesn't it? And while the statement "If suffering did not exist, we would not require the consent of unborn children to create them" seems quite relevant, I'm not so sure it rises to the level of logical necessity. At least, I can imagine a reality where suffering doesn't exist, but the rule of consent might still apply.

If you claim to be a hedonist, then you have to accept that being unconscious is of neutral value, neither good or bad.

Unconsciousness- or substitute non-existence, if you will- is of neutral experiential value to the non-existent, granted. I suppose this is because the term 'value' always has a relational context, while 'non-existence' and the 'non-existent' are really one and the same thing. However, unconsciousness DOES have value relative to consciousness. Positive value, in the case of sleep breaks in-between torture sessions, for instance.

How does this relate to antinatalism? For the antinatalist who sees life as intrinsically bad simply because there is ANY suffering, even a pinprick, a neutral (non-existence) becomes a positive relative to life, in the same way that a zero stands closer to the positive set of numbers than a negative one (-1) on a number line. For this sort of antinatalist, it's a matter of extending sympathy borne out of simple self awareness towards those who might someday exist, but don't yet.

There's another sort of antinatalist who feels that while all lives are not necessarily, intrinsically bad, the risk of a bad life far outweighs the right to create new life, especially when there's no possible way of of procuring even uniformed consent from the 'giftee'.

I'm both kinds of antinatalist, by the way :)

...which is why I hope the bio-abolition of suffering becomes a reality. Why hasn't this possibility been mentioned by anti-natalists like Jim Crawford and David Benatar?

I actually address this in my book, and more than likely have touched on the subject somewhere in this blog, though the exact location escapes me at the moment. In a nutshell...

1. We don't know if such a possibility is a real possibility.

2. Even if accomplished, there are no guarantees of maintaining such an 'abolition of suffering'. Things might just as likely revert, or even get worse as technology advances.

3. In the meantime, the stepping stones to our imagined utopia are wrought of suffering, and laid in death. Procreate for the Future! A towering gravestone built in homage to a dream.

Anonymous- I realize you were addressing the O.P., but I thought I'd offer my own slant on things. Thanks for the thoughtful comment, and welcome! (if you're new...there are about a dozen anonymous's running around here). Welcome as well to any other newbies, and my gratitude to all participants of this blog, old and new. I'll be around.

Btw, for those concerned I indeed DO have a roof over my head, and it's not the roof of my '86 Mazda. Four walls, even! 'Nuff said.


Compoverde said...

Hey Jim, I have a problem that I stated in a previous comment. You might be able to answer this, or you may have already in your post, I am not sure. I am trying to answer my friend without using the "risk of more harm than good" argument as my only response. This was my previous response:

I am a very big proponent of antinatalism and the general concept of negative utilitarianism, but a friend of mine brought up an interesting point, and I'm trying to see how to work through it. Maybe someone can help me.

He said that my argument can be overcome if there is a situation where there is a benefit that "outweighed" all the harms of existence for an individual, and that the individual himself preferred positive utilitarian grounds to negative utilitarian grounds. In other words if someone had an incident "A" that over came all incidents of harm "H", and that individual valued happiness more than avoiding pain, that person would have gained from being born and thus, in utilitarian theory, would be justified in being born.

He also gave an example of a child who is spanked when he says a mean thing to a stranger and the idea of the child learning for the rest of his life that being mean to strangers because of some physical trait they see, is bad. Wasn't the pain of spanking "good" for the child for every instance he came across that situation for the rest of his life? That little pain was outweighed by the benefit of not being mean to strangers.

Again, I am a thorough antinatalist, but I am having trouble formulating a response. Uncertainty, is a good one, but to me feels a bit like a cop out. You don't KNOW that the child will have more postiive and negative experiences and value pleasure more than avoiding pain. I think that is an okay argument but not compelling enough. I'd have to show that ANY harm is bad, even if there are benefits that might outweigh those harms for that individual.

metamorphhh said...


While I believe that life is intrinsically harmful, and that death- with all the corollary harms which death entails- outweighs coming-into-being, I've never felt that this is a very convincing argument. How do I convince someone that their own life isn't worth the cost, if they feel otherwise? After all the arguments having to do with survival biases, at the end of the day if a person insists that he is happy, even ecstatically happy, my 'uh, no, you're not' seems to ring a bit hollow. Personally, I find the argument from risk a much stronger position, since almost everyone can imagine circumstances under which it would be better not to create a new life.

I'll try to expand on this later. Gotta run!

TGGP said...

You might like this from Karl Smith.

francoistremblay said...

I stopped at "Also, as a minor point, consent (in my view) is of no intrinsic, moral value."

This person has NO fucking idea what they are talking about. In what insane, irrational ethical "view" does consent have no value?? How can this possibly be justified unless you are basically a hermit?

timcooijmans said...

I think consent has value, but not intrinsically. If someone does something to me that I do not consent to, I will probably suffer. That suffering is intrinsically of value. By proxy, consent is of value.