Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Value of More Possible Worlds

As a follow up to my last post, I gave been asked to compare another pair of possible worlds.

[B]etween the following [pair] of worlds, which would desirism recommend ("neutral" or "toss a coin" is also an option)?

(A-life = almost all desires fulfilled...)

* World_7: one A-lives
* World_8: zero lives

[Suppose] I have a weak desire to go for World_8 instead of World_7. Is it okay to go for World_8 then?

Once more, my answer is that there is not enough information to answer this question.

I also need to know the answer to the question, "Are you the only being that exists? Are you currently the only creature with desires and, thus, the only being that has reason to prefer one option over the other?"

If the answer is yes then, ex hypothesi, there is more and stronger reason to choose World_8 over World_7 and little or no reason to object. We are told to assume that you do not care enough about whether an A-life exists. Furthermore, given the answer to this second question, there is nobody around who has a reason to object to - to bring praise and condemnation to bear on - the fact that your preferences are for World_8.

Consequently, it is "okay" in a sense to go for World_8. There are more and stronger reasons to do so, and nobody has a reason to object.

But let us assume, instead, that you are asking as a human on Planet Earth surrounded by 7 billion other humans with common human interests.

As a matter of fact, most humans have many and strong reasons to promote in others a preference for the continuation of life.

We don't have much reason to train others to choose between World_7 and World_8. In fact, we do not expect the option to come up, and certainly will have little opportunity to condemn the person who makes the "wrong choice". However, people will have many opportunities to choose between a life continuing and a life ending. We have reason to care which option they prefer - particularly when they are making choices that affect the continuation of our own life or the lives of those we care about. We have reason to bring praise and condemnation to bear to mold preferences - to promote an interest in a world where a particular A-life exists over one in which no life exists.

That is to say, we have reason to condemn those who would choose World_8 over World_7. Real-world humans who would opt for World_8 give us reason to worry. We have reason to worry about the likelihood that they would have a preference for a world in which we or those we care about did not exist. We have reasons to praise and express a preference for those who would choose World_7 over those who would choose World_8 simply because we have to live with these people.

In making this judgement, people have an unfortunate and misguided tendency to explain the reasons for choosing World_7 in terms of its intrinsic value. Yet, nobody has ever been able to answer questions about this value such as "Where does it come from?" or "How does it work?" or "How do we acquire knowledge of it?"

In fact, World_7 has no intrinsic merit. Intrinsic value does not exist.

What does exist are the reasons for action that people have to promote an environment in which they are surrounded by others who prefer World_7 over World_8. We promote this world by promoting an aversion to those with an expressed preference for World_8, and by telling them that they ought to choose - that a good person would choose - World_7.

Desirism holds that moral statements themselves carry the emotional component of praise or condemnation that their factual component says that people have reason to deliver. To say to a human on Earth, "It is okay to choose World_8" would be to say, "It is okay for you, as a human on Earth, to be indifferent as to whether life continues or not." However, this is decidedly NOT true.

This means that it is decidedly NOT okay for an earthling surrounded by 7 billion other earthlings to have a preference for World_8 over World_7 - let alone actually choose (or be so constituted that one would choose) World_8 over World_7 if the option ever came up.

Yet, it remains true that if the universe were to be stripped of all beings but one, that one being has a preference for World_8, and he were to ask, "Is there sufficient reason for me to choose World_7 instead?" the answer - given the assumptions we are provided - is "No, not really."

What about that future being's desires. Do they count? Are they not reasons to choose World_7?

I will answer that question tomorrow. But the answer is - they cannot count - at least not directly and in themselves.


Unknown said...

I would be interested to see you discuss Parfit's Repugnant conclusion, a realistic problem of possible lives :)

kipkoan said...

Ben: It seems to me that Alonzo addresses Parfit's Repugnant Conclusion in his previous "The Value of Possible Worlds" posting.

I'd summarize it like this: Parfit is wrong because we do not value an increase in the number of desires that exist in the world. We do not have a reason to maximize the total number of fulfilled desires. We have reasons to fulfill the desires that already exist (those desires are the reasons to do so).

I'd even go further and postulate that given the limited resources we have to go around, we have reason to try to limit the number of desires that exist so that our desires can still be fulfilled. That same reason would also motivate us to find ways to better use the resources we do have to fulfill our desires.

Unknown said...

That was helpful, thanks.

Evan said...

I think that desirism might deal with Parfit's Mere Addition Paradox in the following fashion:

In the case of adding a large amount of poor people with unfulfilled desires to our present day world, desirism would say that if such people were created, they would have many good reasons to use praise and condemnation to persuade the pre-existing population to want to fulfill their desires. Pre-existing people have good reason to want to avoid being praised and condemned in such a fashion, so they have good reason to avoid creating those people.

As for Parfit's other example, which deals with two populations that are completely separated and incapable of interacting (divided A+ and divided B), desirism would say that, since the populations cannot interact, it is irrelevant if anyone in one population has any good reasons to use praise and condemnation on someone in the other population. They cannot meet, so no one can praise or condemn anyone from the other population.

If they ever do meet the people of population A might have good reason to wish they could have prevented the extra people from existing in some way. But they had no way to do so, so that is irrelevant.