TruePath comments on The Philanthropist’s Paradox - Effective Altruism Forum

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Comment author: TruePath 26 June 2017 07:33:29AM 4 points [-]

I simply don't believe that anyone is really (when it comes down to it) a presentist or a necessitist.

I don't think anyone is willing to actually endorse making choices which eliminate the headache of an existing person at the cost of bringing an infant into the world who will be tortured extensively for all time (but no one currently existing will see it and be made sad).

More generally, these views have more basic problems than anything considered here. Consider, for instance, the problem of personal identity. For either presentism or necessitism to be true there has to be a PRINCIPLED fact of the matter about when I become a new person if you slowly modify my brain structure until it matches that of some other possible (but not currently actual) person. The right answer to these Thesus's ship style worries is to shrug and say there isn't any fact of the matter but the presentist can't take that line because there are huge moral implications to where we draw the line for them.

Moreover, both these views have serious puzzles about what to say about when an individual exists. Is it when they actually generate qualia (if not you risk saying that the fact they will exist in the future actually means they exist now)? How do we even know when that happens?

Comment author: MichaelPlant 26 June 2017 10:12:16AM 1 point [-]

I'm probably a necessitiarian, and many (most?) people implicitly hold person-affecting views. However, that's besides the point. I'm neither defending nor evaluating person-affecting views, or indeed any positions in population axiology. As I mentioned, and is widely accepted by philosophers, all the views in population ethics have weird outcomes.

FWIW, and this is unrelated to anything said above, nothing about person-affecting views need rely on person identity. The entity of concern can just be something that is able to feel happiness or unhappiness. This is typically the same line total utilitarians take. What person-affectors and totalism disagree about is whether (for one reason on another) creating new entities is good.

In fact, all the problems you've raised for person-affecting views also arise for totalists. To see this, let's imagine a scenario where a mad scientist is creating a brain inside a body, where the body is being shocked with electricity. Suppose he grows it to a certain size, takes bits out, shrinks it, grows it again, etc. Now the totalist needs to take a stance on how much harm the scientist is doing and draw a line somewhere. The totalist and the person-affector can draw the line in the same place, wherever that is.

Whatever puzzles qualia poses for person-affecting views also apply to totalism (at least, the part of morality concerned with subjective experience).

Comment author: MichaelStJules 27 June 2017 03:40:15AM 0 points [-]

We can make necessitarianism asymmetric: only people who will necessarily exist OR would have negative utility (or less than the average/median utility, etc.) count.

Some prioritarian views, which also introduce some kind of asymmetry between good and bad, might also work.