TruePath comments on Does Effective Altruism Lead to the Altruistic Repugnant Conclusion? - Effective Altruism Forum

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Comment author: TruePath 29 July 2017 05:41:55AM *  3 points [-]

This is, IMO, a pretty unpersuasive argument. At least if you are willing, like me, to bite the bullet that SUFFICIENTLY many small gains in utility could make up for a few large gains. I don't even find this particularly difficult to swallow. Indeed, I can explain away our feeling that somehow this shouldn't be true by appealing to our inclination to (as a matter of practical life navigation) to round down sufficiently small hurts to zero.

Also I would suggest that many of the examples that seem problematic are delibrately rigged so the overt description (a world with many people with a small amount of positive utility) presents the situation one way while the flavor text is phrased so as to trigger our empathetic/whats it like response as if it it didn't satisfy the overt description. For instance if we remove the flavor about it being a very highly overpopulated world and simply said consider a universe with many many beings each with a small amount of utility then finding that superior no longer seems particularly troubling. It just states the principle allowing addition of utilities in the abstract. However, sneak in the flavor text that the world is very overcrowded and the temptation is to imagine a world which is ACTIVELY UNPLEASANT to be in, i.e., one in which people have negative utility.

More generally, I find these kind of considerations far more compelling at convincing me I have very poor intuitions for comparing the relative goodness/badness of some kinds of situations and that I better eschew any attempt to rely MORE on those intuitions and dive into the math. In particular, the worst response I can imagine is to say: huh, wow I guess I'm really bad at deciding which situations are better or worse in many circumstances, indeed, one can find cases where A seems better than B better than C better than A considered pairwise, guess I'll throw over this helpful formalism and just use my intuition directly to evaluate which states of affairs are preferable.