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Jeffhe comments on Is Effective Altruism fundamentally flawed? - Effective Altruism Forum

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Comment author: Michael_S 13 March 2018 03:30:33AM 7 points [-]

Choice situation 3: We can either save Al, and four others each from a minor headache or Emma from one major headache. Here, I assume you would say that we should save Emma from the major headache

I think you're making a mistaken assumption here about your readers. Conditional on agreeing 5 minor headaches in one person is worse than 1 major headache in one person, I would feel exactly the same if it were spread out over 5 people. I expect the majority of EAs would as well.

Comment author: Jeffhe  (EA Profile) 13 March 2018 11:52:54PM *  -1 points [-]

Hi Michael,

Thanks very much for your response.

UPDATE (ADDED ON MAR 16):

I have shortened the original reply as it was a bit repetitive and made improvements in its clarity. However, it is still not optimal. Thus I have written a new reply for first-time readers to better appreciate my position. You can find the somewhat improved original reply at the end of this new reply (if interested):

To be honest, I just don't get why you would feel the same if the 5 minor headaches were spread across 5 people. Supposing that 5 minor headaches in one person is (experientially) worse than 1 major headache in one person (as you request), consider WHAT MAKES IT THE CASE that the single person who suffers 5 minor headaches is worse off than a person who suffers just 1 major headache, other things being equal.

Well, imagine that we were this person who suffers 5 minor headaches. We suffer one minor headache one day, suffer another minor headache sometime after that, then another after that, etc. By the end of our 5th minor headache, we will have experienced what it’s like to go through 5 minor headaches. After all, we went through 5 minor headaches! Note that the what-it’s-like-of-going-through-5-headaches consists simply in the what-it’s-like-of-going-through-the-first-minor-headache then the what-it’s-like-of-going-through-the-second-minor-headache then the what-it’s-like-of-going-through-the-third-minor-headache, etc. Importantly, the what-it’s-like-of-going-through-5-headaches is NOT whatever we experience right after having our 5th headache (e.g. exhaustion that might set in after going through many headaches or some super painful headache that is the "synthesis" of the intensity of the past 5 minor headaches). It is NOT a singular/continuous feeling like the feeling we have when we're experiencing a normal pain episode. It is simply this: the what-it’s-like of going through one minor headache, then another (sometime later), then another, then another, then another. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Now, by the end of our 5th minor headache, we might have long forgotten about the first minor headache because, say, it happened so long ago. So, by the end of our 5th minor headache, we might not have an accurate appreciation of what it’s like to go through 5 minor headaches even though we in fact have experienced what it’s like to go through 5 minor headaches. As a result, if someone asked us whether we’ve been through more pain due to our minor headaches or more pain through a major headache that, say, we recently experienced, we would likely incorrectly answer the latter.

But, if we did have an accurate appreciation of what it’s like to go through 5 minor headaches, say, because we experienced all 5 minor headaches rather recently, then there will be a clear sense to us that going through them was (experientially) worse than the major headache. The 5 minor headaches would each be “fresh in our mind”, and thus the what-it’s-like-of-going-through-5-minor-headaches would be “fresh in our mind”. And with that what-it’s-like fresh in mind, it seems clear to us that it caused us more pain than the major headache did.

Now, a headache being “fresh in our mind” does not mean that the headache needs to be so fresh that it is qualitatively the same as experiencing a real headache. Being fresh in our mind just means we have an accurate appreciation/idea of what it felt like, just as we have some accurate idea of what our favorite dish tastes like.

Because we have appreciations of our past pains (to varying degrees of accuracy), we sometimes compare them and have a clear sense that one set of pains is worse than another. But it is not the comparison and the clear sense we have of one set of pain being worse than another that ultimately makes one set of pains worse than another. Rather, it is the other way around. It is the what-it’s-like-of-having-5-minor-headaches that is worse – more painful – than the what-it’s-like-of-having-a-major-headache. And if we have an accurate appreciation of both what-it’s-likes, then we will conclude the same. But, when we don’t, then our own conclusions could be wrong, like in the example provided earlier of a forgotten minor headache.

So, at the end of the day, what makes a person who has 5 minor headaches worse off than a person who has 1 major headache is the fact that he experienced what-it’s-like-of-going-through-5-minor-headaches.

But, in the case where the 5 minor headaches are spread across 5 people, there is no longer the what-it’s-like-of-going-through-5-minor-headaches because each of the 5 headaches is experienced by a different person. As a result, the only what-it’s-like present is the what-it’s-like-of-experiencing-one-minor-headache. Five different people each experience this what-it’s-like, but no one experiences what-it’s-like-of-going-through-5-minor-headaches. Moreover, the what-it’s-like of each of the 5 people cannot be linked to form the what-it’s-like-of-experiencing-5-minor headaches because the 5 people are experientially independent beings.

Now, it's clearly the case that the what-it’s-like-of-going-through-1-minor-headache is not worse than the what-it’s-like-of-going-through-a-major-headache. Given what I said in the previous paragraph, therefore, there is nothing present that could be worse than the what-it’s-like-to-go-through-a-major-headache in the case where the 5 minor headaches are spread across 5 people. Therefore, 5 minor headaches, spread across 5 people, cannot be (and thus is not) worse (experientially speaking) than one major headache.

Therefore, "conditional on agreeing 5 minor headaches in one person is worse than 1 major headache in one person, ... [one should not] feel exactly the same if it were spread out over 5 people."!

Finally, since 5 headaches, spread across 5 people, is not EXPERIENTIALLY worse than another person's single major headache, therefore the case in which Emma would suffer a major headache is MORALLY worse than the case in which 5 different people would each suffer a minor headache. (If you disagree with this, please see Objection 1.2 and my response to it) Therefore what I said in choice situation 3 holds.

-

The somewhat improved though sub-optimal original reply:

To be honest, I just don't get why you would feel the same if the pains were spread out over 5 people. I mean, when the 5 minor headaches occur in a single person, then FOR that person, there is a very clear sense how the 5 headaches are worse to endure than 1 major headache. But once the 5 minor headaches are spread across 5 different people, that clear sense is lost because each of the 5 people only experiences at most 1 minor headache. In each experiencing only 1 minor headache, NOT ONE of the 5 people experience something worse than a major headache (e.g., what Emma would go through). So none of them would individually be worse off than Emma. Are you really ready to say that the 5 of them together are worse off than Emma? But in what sense? Certainly not in any experiential sense (since none of them individually experiences anything worse than a major headache and they are experientially independent of each other). But then I don't see what other sense there are that matters.

Comment author: Michael_S 14 March 2018 01:55:51AM 4 points [-]

If a small headache is worth 2 points of disutility and a large headache is worth 5, the total amount of pain is worse because 2*5>5. It's a pretty straightforward total utilitarian interpretation.I find it irrelevant whether there's one person who's worse off; the total amount of pain is larger.

I'll also note that I find the concept of personhood to be incoherent in itself, so it really shouldn't matter at all whether it's the same "person". But while I think an incoherent personhood concept is sufficient for saying there's no difference if it's spread out over 5 people, I don't think it's necessary. Simple total utilitarianism gets you there.

Comment author: Jeffhe  (EA Profile) 14 March 2018 03:33:17AM *  0 points [-]

I assume we agree that we determine the points of disutility of the minor and major headache by how they each feel to someone. Since the major headache hurts more, it's worth more points (5 in this case).

But, were a single person to suffer all 5 minor headaches, he would end up having felt what it is like to go through 5 headaches - a feeling that would make him say things like "Going through those 5 minor headaches is worse/more painful than a major headache" or "There was more/greater/larger pain in going through those 5 minor headaches than a major headache".

We find these statements intelligible. But that is because we're at a point in life where we too have felt what it is like to go through multiple minor pains, and we too can consider (i.e. hold before our mind) a major pain in isolation, and compare these feelings: the what-it's-like of going through multiple minor pains vs the what-it's-like of going through a major pain.

But once the situation is that the 5 minor headache are spread across 5 people, there is no longer the what-it's-like-of-going-through-5-minor-headaches, just 5 independent what-it's-likes-of-going-through-1-minor-headache. As a result, in this situation, when you say "the total amount of pain [involved in 5 minor headaches] is worse [one major headache]", or that "the total amount of pain [involved in 5 minor headaches] is larger [than one major headache], there is nothing to support their intelligibility.

So, I honestly don't understand these statements. Sure, you can use numbers to show that 10 > 5, but there is no reality that that maps on to (i.e. describes). I worry that representing pain in numbers is extremely misleading in this way.

Regarding personhood, I think my position just requires me to be committed to there being a single subject-of-experience (is that what you meant by person?) who extends through time to the extent that it can be the subject of more than one pain episode. I must admit I know very little about the topic of personhood. On that note, any further comments that help your position and question mine would be helpful. Thanks.

Comment author: Michael_S 14 March 2018 01:31:24PM 1 point [-]

I think this is confusing means of estimation with actual utils. You can estimate that 5 headaches are worse than one by asking someone to compare five headaches vs. one. You could also produce an estimate by just asking someone who has received one small headache and one large headache whether they would rather receive 5 more small headaches or one more large headache. But there's no reason you can't apply these estimates more broadly. There's real pain behind the estimates that can be added up.

Comment author: Jeffhe  (EA Profile) 14 March 2018 07:15:53PM *  0 points [-]

I agree with the first half of what you said, but I don't agree that "there's no reason you can't apply these estimates more broadly (e.g. to a situation where 5 minor headaches are spread across 5 persons).

Sure, a person who has felt only one minor headache and one major headache can say "If put to the choice, I think I'd rather receive another major headache than 5 more minor headaches", but he says this as a result of imagining roughly what it would be like for him to go through 5 of this sort of minor headache and comparing that to what it was like for him to go through the one major headache.

Importantly, what is supporting the intelligibility of his statement is STILL the what-it's-like-of-going-through-5-minor-headaches, except that this time (unlike in my previous reply), the what-it's-like-of-going-through-5-minor-headaches is imagined rather than actual.

But in the situation where the 5 minor headaches are spread across 5 people, there isn't a what-it's-like-of-going-through-5-minor-headaches, imagined or actual, to support the intelligibility of the claim that 5 minor headaches (spread across 5 people) are worse or more painful than a major headache. What there is are five independent what-it's-like-of-going-through-1-minor-headache, since

1) the 5 people are obviously experientially independent of each other (i.e. each of them can only experience their own pain and no one else's), and

2) each of the 5 people experience just one minor headache.

But these five independent what-it's-likes can't support the intelligibility of the above claim. None of these what-it-likes are individually worse or more painful than the major headache. And they cannot collectively be worse or more painful than the major headache because they are experientially independent of each other.

The what-it's-like-of-going-through-5-minor-headaches is importantly different from five independent what-it's-like-of-going-through-1-minor-headache, and only the former can support the intelligibility of a claim like 5 minor headaches are worse than a major headache. But since the former what-it's-like can only occur in a single subject-of-experience, that means that, more specifically, the former what-it's-like can only support the intelligibility of a claim like 5 minor headaches, all had by one person, is worse than a major headache. It cannot support a claim like 5 minor headaches, spread across 5 people, are worse than a major headache.

Comment author: Michael_S 15 March 2018 04:17:22AM *  2 points [-]

It's the same 5 headaches. It doesn't matter if you're imagining one person going through it on five days or imagine five different people going through it on one day. You can still imagine 5 headaches. You can imagine what it would be like to say live the lives of 5 different people for one day with and without a minor headache. Just as you can imagine living the life of one person for 5 days with and without a headache. The connection to an individual is arbitrary and unnecessary.

Now this goes into the meaningless of personhood as a concept, but what would even count as the individual in your view? For simplicity, let's say 2 modest headaches in one person are worse than one major headache. What if between the two headaches, the person gets a major brain injury and their personality is completely altered (as has happened in real life). Let's say they also have no memory of their former self. Are they no longer the same person? Under your view, is it no longer possible to say that the two modest headaches are worse than the major headache? If it still is, why is it possible after this radical change in personality with no memory continuity but impossible between two different people?

Comment author: Jeffhe  (EA Profile) 16 March 2018 01:46:55AM *  0 points [-]

If I'm understanding you correctly, you essentially deny that there is a metaphysical difference (i.e. a REAL difference) between

A. One subject-of-experience experiencing 5 headaches over 5 days (say, one headache per day), and

B. Five independent subjects-of-experience each experiencing 1 headache over 5 days (say, each subject has their 1 headache on a different day, such that on any given day, only one of them has a headache).

And you deny this BECAUSE you think that, in case A for example, there simply is no fact of the matter as to how many subjects-of-experience there were over those 5 days IN THE FIRST PLACE, and NOT because you think one subject-of-experience going through 5 headaches IS IDENTICAL to five independent subjects-of-experience each going through 1 headache.

Also, you are not simply saying that we don't KNOW how many subjects of experience there were over those 5 days in case A, but that there actually isn't an answer to how many there were. The indeterminate-ness is "built into the world" so to speak, and not just existing in our state of mind.

You therefore think it is arbitrary to say that one subject-of-experience experienced all 5 headaches over the 5 days or that 5 subjects-of-experience each experienced 1 headache over the 5 days.

But importantly, IF there is a fact of the matter as to how many subjects-of-experience there is in any given time period, you would NOT continue to think that there is no metaphysical difference between case A and B. And this is because you agree that one subject-of-experience going through 5 headaches is not identical to five independent subjects-of-experience each going through 1 headache. You would say, "Obviously they are not identical. The problem, however, is that - in case A, for example - there simply is no fact of the matter as to how many subjects-of-experience there were over those 5 days IN THE FIRST PLACE so saying that one subject-of-experience experienced all 5 headaches is arbitrary."

I hope that was an accurate portrayal of your view.

Let us then try to build some consensus from the ground up:

First, there is surely experience. That there is experience, whether it be pain experience or color experience or whatever, is the most obvious truth there is. I assume you don't deny that. Ok, so we agree that

1) there is experience.

Second, well, each experience is clearly SOMEONE'S experience - it is experience FOR SOMEONE. Suppose there is a pain experience - a headache. Someone IN PARTICULAR experiences that headache. Let's suppose you're not experiencing it and that I am. Then I am that particular someone. I assume you don't deny any of that. Ok, so we agree that

2) there is not just experience, but that for every experience, there is also a particular subject-of-experience who experiences it, whether or not a particular subject-of-experience can also extend through time and be the subject of multiple experiences.

That's all the consensus building I want to do right now.

Now, let me report something about myself (for the sake of argument, just assume it's true): I felt 5 headaches over the past 5 days. Here (just as in case A) you would say that there is no fact of the matter whether one subject-of-experience felt those 5 headaches or five different subjects-of-experience felt those 5 headaches, even though the “I” in “I just felt 5 headaches” makes it SOUND LIKE there was only one subject-of-experience.

If I then say that, “no no, there was just one subject-of-experience who felt those 5 headaches”, your question (and challenge) to me is what is my criteria for saying that there was just one subject-of-experience and not five. More specifically, you ask whether memory-continuity and personality-continuity are necessary conditions for being the same subject-of-experience over the 5 days, “same” in the sense of being numerically identical and not qualitatively identical.

Here’s my answer:

I’m sure philosophers have tried to come up with various criteria. Presumably that’s what philosophers engaged in the field called “personal identity” in part do, though I don’t know much about that field. Anyways, presumably they are all trying to come up with a criteria that would neatly accommodate all our intuitive judgements in specific (perhaps imagined) cases concerning personal identity (e.g., split brain cases). A criteria that succeeded in doing that would presumably be regarded as the “true” or “correct” criteria. In other words, the ONLY way philosophers have for testing their criteria is presumably to see if their criteria would yield results that accord with our intuitions. Moreover, if the “correct” criteria is found, philosophers are presumably going to say that it is correct not merely in the sense that it accurately describes the implicit/sub-conscious assumptions that we hold about personal identity which have led us to have the intuitions we have. Indeed, presumably, they are going to say that the criteria is correct in the stronger sense that it accurately describes the conditions under which a subject-of-experience IN REALITY is the same numerical subject over time. Insofar as they would say this, philosophers are assuming that our intuitive judgements represent the truth (i.e. the way things actually are). For only if the intuitions represented the truth would it be the case that a criteria that accommodated all of them would thereby be a criteria that described reality.

But then the question is, do our intuitions represent the truth? I don’t know, and so even if I were able to give you a criteria that accommodated all our intuitions and that, according to this criteria, there was only one subject-of-experience who experienced all 5 headaches over those 5 days, I would not have, in any convincing way, demonstrated that there was in fact only one subject-of-experience who experienced all 5 headaches over those 5 days, instead of 5 independent subjects-of-experience who each experienced 1 headache. For you can always ask what reasons I have for taking our intuitions to represent the truth. I don’t think there is a convincing answer. So I don’t think presenting you with criteria will ultimately satisfy you, at least I don’t think it should.

Of course, that’s not to say that we wouldn’t know what would have to be the case for it to be true that one subject-of-experience experienced all 5 headaches over the 5 days: That would be true just in case one subject-of experience IN FACT experienced all 5 headaches over the 5 days. We just don’t know if that is the case. And I have just argued above that providing a criteria that accords with all our intuitions won’t really help us to know if that is the case either.

So, what reason can I give for believing that there really was just one subject-of-experience who experienced all 5 headaches over those 5 days? Well, what reason can YOU give for saying that there isn’t a fact of the matter as to whether there was one subject-of-experience who experienced all 5 headaches over those 5 days or give independent subjects-of-experience who each experienced only 1 headache over those 5 days?

Are we at a standstill? We would be if neither of us can provide reasons for our views. Your view attributes a fundamental indeterminate-ness to the world itself, and I wonder what reason you have for such a view.

I have a reason for believing my view. But this reply is already very long, so before I describe my reason, I would just like some confirmation that we’re on the same page. Thanks.

P.S. I'll just add (as a more direct response to the first paragraph of your response): Yes, I can imagine 5 headaches by either imagining myself in the shoes of one person for 5 days or imagining myself in the shoes of 5 different people for one day each. In both cases, I imagine 5 headaches. True. BUT. When I imagine myself in the shoes of 5 different people for one day each, what is going on is that one subject-of-experience (i.e. me), takes on the independent what-it's-likes (i.e. experiences) associated with the 5 different people, and IN DOING SO, LINKS THESE what-it's-likes - which in reality are experientially independent of each other - TOGETHER IN ME. So ultimately, when I imagine myself in the shoes of 5 different people for one day each, I am, in effect, imagining what it's like to go through 5 headaches. But in reality, there is no such what-it's-like among the 5 different people. The only what-it's-like present is the what-it's-like-of-going-through-1-headache, which each of the 5 different people would experience.

In essence, what I am saying is that when you or I imagine ourselves in the shoes of 5 different people for a day each, we do end up with the (imagined) what-it's-like-of-going-through-5-headaches, but there is no such what-it's-like in reality among those different 5 people. But there needs to be in order for their 5 independent headaches to be worse than a major headache. I hope that made sense. If it didn't, then I guess you can ignore these last two paragraphs.

P.S.S. As a more direct response to your questions in the second paragraph of your response: it would still be possible IF the person is still the same subject-of-experience after the radical change in personality and loss of memory. It is impossible between two different people because they are numerically different subjects-of-experience.

Comment author: Michael_S 17 March 2018 02:21:08AM *  0 points [-]

I'd say I'm making two arguments:

1) There is no distinct personal identity; rather it's a continuum. The you today is different than the you yesterday. The you today is also different from the me today. These differences are matters of degree. I don't think there is clearly a "subject of experience" that exists across time. There are too many cases (eg. brain injuries that change personality) that the single consciousness theory can't account for.

2) Even if I agreed that there was a distinct difference in kind that represented a consistent person, I don't think it's relevant to the moral accounting of experiences. Ie. I don't see why it matters whether experiences are "independent" or not. They're real experiences of pain

Comment author: Jeffhe  (EA Profile) 17 March 2018 03:31:30AM *  0 points [-]

1) I agree that the me today is different from the me yesterday, but I would say this is a qualitative difference, not a numerical difference. I am still the numerically same subject-of-experience as yesterday's me, even though I may be qualitatively different in various physical and psychological ways from yesterday's me. I also agree that the me today is different from the you today, but here I would say that the difference is not merely qualitative, but numerical too. You and I are numerically different subjects-of-experience, not just qualitatively different.

Moreover, I would agree that our qualitative differences are a matter of degrees and not of kind. I am not a chair and you a subject-of-experience. We are both embodied subjects-of-experience (i.e. of that kind), but we differ to various degrees: you might be taller or lighter-skinned, etc

I thus agreed with all your premises and have shown that they can be compatible with the existence of a subject-of-experience that extends through time. So I don't quite see a convincing argument for the lack of the existence of a subject-of-experience that extends through time.

2) So here you're granting me the existence of a subject-of-experience that extends through time, but you're saying that it makes no moral difference whether one subject-of-experience suffers 5 minor headaches or 5 numerically different subjects-of-experience each experience 1 minor headache, and that therefore, we should just focus on the number of headaches.

Well, as I tried to explain in previous replies, when there is one subject-of-experience who extends through time, it is possible for him to experience what it's like of going through 5 minor headaches, since after all, he experiences all 5 minor headaches (whether he remembers experiencing them or not). Moreover, it is ONLY the what-it's-like-of-going-through-5-minor-headaches that can plausibly be worse or more painful than the what-it's-like-of-going-through-a-major-headache.

In contrast, when the 5 minor headaches are spread across 5 people, each of the 5 people experiences only what it's like to go through 1 minor headache. Moreover, the what-it's-like-of-going-through-1-headache CANNOT plausibly be worse or more painful than the what-it's-like-of-going-through-a-major-headache.

Thus it matters whether the 5 headaches are experienced all by a single subject-of-experience (i.e. experienced together) or spread across five experientially independent subject-of-experiences (i.e. experienced independently). It matters because, again, ONLY when the 5 headaches are experienced together can there be the what-it's-like-of-going-through-5-minor-headaches and ONLY that can plausibly be said to be worse or more painful than the what-it's-like-of-going-through-a-major-headache.

P.S. I have extensively edited my very first reply to you, so that it is more clear and detailed for first-time readers. I would recommend giving it a read if you have the time. Thanks.

Comment author: kbog  (EA Profile) 20 March 2018 08:02:36AM *  0 points [-]

To be honest, I just don't get why you would feel the same if the 5 minor headaches were spread across 5 people

Because I don't have any reason to feel different. Imagine if I said, "5 headaches among tall people would be better than 5 headaches among short people." And then you said, "no, it's the same either way. Height is irrelevant." And then I replied, "I just don't get why you would feel the same if the people are tall or short!" In that case, clearly I wouldn't be giving you a response that carries any weight. If you want to show that the cases are different in a relevant way, then you need to spell it out. In the absence of reasons to say that there is a difference, we assume by default that they're similar.

Now, it's clearly the case that the what-it’s-like-of-going-through-1-minor-headache is not worse than the what-it’s-like-of-going-through-a-major-headache. Given what I said in the previous paragraph, therefore, there is nothing present that could be worse than the what-it’s-like-to-go-through-a-major-headache in the case where the 5 minor headaches are spread across 5 people. Therefore, 5 minor headaches, spread across 5 people, cannot be (and thus is not) worse (experientially speaking) than one major headache.

The third sentence does not follow from the second. This is like saying "there is nothing present in a Toyota Corolla that could make it weigh more than a Ford F-150, therefore five Toyota Corollas cannot weigh more than a Ford F-150." Just because there is no one element in a set of events that is worse than a bad thing doesn't mean that the set of events is not worse than the bad thing. There are lots of events where badness increases with composition, even without using aggregative utilitarian logic. E.g.: it is okay to have sex with Michelle, and it is okay to marry Tiffany, but it is not okay to do both.

Comment author: Jeffhe  (EA Profile) 20 March 2018 07:00:50PM *  0 points [-]

1) "Because I don't have any reason to feel different."

Ok, well, that comes as a surprise to me. In any case, I hope after reading my first reply to Michael_S, you at least sort of see how it could be possible that someone like I would feel surprised by that, even if you don't agree with my reasoning. In other words, I hope you at least sort of see how it could be possible that someone who would clearly agree with you that, say, 5 minor headaches all had by 1 tall person is experientially just as bad as 5 minor headaches all had by 1 short person, might still disagree with you that 5 minor headaches all had by 1 person is experientially just as bad as 5 minor headaches spread across 5 people.

2) "If you want to show that the cases are different in a relevant way, then you need to spell it out. In the absence of reasons to say that there is a difference, we assume by default that they're similar."

That's what my first reply to Michael_S, in effect, aimed to do.

3) "The third sentence does not follow from the second. This is like saying "there is nothing present in a Toyota Corolla that could make it weigh more than a Ford F-150, therefore five Toyota Corollas cannot weigh more than a Ford F-150." Just because there is no one element in a set of events that is worse than a bad thing doesn't mean that the set of events is not worse than the bad thing. There are lots of events where badness increases with composition, even without using aggregative utilitarian logic. E.g.: it is okay to have sex with Michelle, and it is okay to marry Tiffany, but it is not okay to do both."

Your reductio-by-analogy (I made that phrase up) doesn't work, because your analogy is relevantly different. In your analogy, we are dealing with the relation of _ being heavier than _, whereas I'm dealing with the relation of _ being experientially worse than _. These relations are very different in nature: one is quantitative in nature, the other is experiential in nature. You might insist that this is not a relevant difference, but I think it is when one really slows down to think about exactly what is it that makes 5 minor headaches experientially worse than a major headache.

As I mentioned, the answer is the what-it's-like-of-going-through-5-minor-headaches. That is, the what-it's-like of going through one minor headache, then another (sometime later), then another, then another, then another. It's THAT SPECIFIC WHAT-IT'S-LIKE that can plausibly be experientially worse than a major headache. It's THAT SPECIFIC WHAT-IT'S-LIKE that can plausibly be "shittier" or "sucker" than a major headache.

However, when the 5 minor headaches are spread across 5 people, there is just 5 what-it's-likes-of-going-through-1-minor-headache, and no single what-it's-like-of-going-through-5-minor-headaches. Why? Because each of the minor headaches in this situation would be felt by a numerically non-identical subject-of-experience (i.e. 5 people), and numerically different subjects-of-experience cannot have their experiences "linked". Otherwise, they would not be numerically different.

Therefore, only 5 minor headaches, when all had by one subject-of-experience (i.e. one person) can they be experientially worse than one major headache. And therefore, 5 minor headaches, when all had by one person, is experientially worse than 5 minor headaches, spread across 5 people.

I think what I just said above shows clearly how the relation of _ being experientially worse than _ is impacted by whether the 5 minor headaches are all had by one person or spread across 5 different people. Whereas the relation of _ being heavier than _ is not similarly affected. So that is the relevant difference.

I hope you can really consider what I'm saying here. Thanks.

Comment author: kbog  (EA Profile) 20 March 2018 09:33:55PM *  0 points [-]

I hope you at least sort of see how it could be possible that someone who would clearly agree with you that, say, 5 minor headaches all had by 1 tall person is experientially just as bad as 5 minor headaches all had by 1 short person, might still disagree with you that 5 minor headaches all had by 1 person is experientially just as bad as 5 minor headaches spread across 5 people.

Well I can see how it is possible for someone to believe that. I just don't think it is a justified position, and if you did embrace it you would have a lot of problems. For instance, it commits you to believing that it doesn't matter how many times you are tortured if your memory is wiped each time. Because you will never have the experience of being tortured a second time.

In your analogy, we are dealing with the relation of _ being heavier than _, whereas I'm dealing with the relation of _ being experientially worse than _. These relations are very different in nature: one is quantitative in nature, the other is experiential in nature.

There are two rooms, painted bright orange inside. One person goes into the first room for five minutes, five people go into the second for one minute. If we define orange-perception as the phenomenon of one conscious mind's perception of the color orange, the amount of orange-perception for the group is the same as the amount of orange-perception for the one person.

Something being experiential doesn't imply that it is not quantitative. We can clearly quantify experiences in many ways, e.g. I had two dreams, I was awake for thirty seconds, etc. Or me and my friends each saw one bird, and so on.

However, when the 5 minor headaches are spread across 5 people, there is just 5 what-it's-likes-of-going-through-1-minor-headache, and no single what-it's-like-of-going-through-5-minor-headaches.

Yes, but the question here is whether 5 what-it's-lies-of-going-through-1-minor-headache is 5x worse than 1 minor headache. We can believe this moral claim without believing that the phenomenon of 5 separate headaches is phenomenally equivalent to 1 experience of 5 headaches. There are lots of cases where A is morally equivalent to B even though A and B are physically or phenomenally different.

Comment author: Jeffhe  (EA Profile) 20 March 2018 10:39:04PM *  0 points [-]

1) "Well I can see how it is possible for someone to believe that. I just don't think it is a justified position, and if you did embrace it you would have a lot of problems. For instance, it commits you to believing that it doesn't matter how many times you are tortured if your memory is wiped each time. Because you will never have the experience of being tortured a second time."

I disagree. I was precisely trying to guard against such thoughts by enriching my first reply to Michael_S with a case of forgetfulness. I wrote, "Now, by the end of our 5th minor headache, we might have long forgotten about the first minor headache because, say, it happened so long ago. So, by the end of our 5th minor headache, we might not have an accurate appreciation of what it’s like to go through 5 minor headaches EVEN THOUGH we in fact have experienced what it’s like to go through 5 minor headaches." (I added the caps here for emphasis)

The point I was trying to make in that passage is that if one person (i.e. one subject-of-experience) experienced all 5 minor headaches, then whether he remembers them or not, the fact of the matter is that HE felt all of them, and insofar as he has, he is experientially worse off than someone who only felt a major headache. Of course, if you asked him at the end of his 5th minor headache whether HE thinks he's had it worse than someone with a major headache, he may say "no" because, say, he has forgotten about some of the minor headaches he's had. But that does NOT MEAN that, IN FACT, he did not have it worse. After all, the what-it's-like-of-going-through-5-minor-headaches is experentially worse than one major headache, and HE has experienced the former, whether he remembers it or not.

So, if my memory is wiped each time after getting tortured, of course it still matters how many times I'm tortured. Because I WILL have the experience of being tortured a second time, whether or not I VIEW that experience as such.

2) "There are two rooms, painted bright orange inside. One person goes into the first room for five minutes, five people go into the second for one minute. If we define orange-perception as the phenomenon of one conscious mind's perception of the color orange, the amount of orange-perception for the group is the same as the amount of orange-perception for the one person.

Something being experiential doesn't imply that it is not quantitative. We can clearly quantify experiences in many ways, e.g. I had two dreams, I was awake for thirty seconds, etc. Or me and my friends each saw one bird, and so on."

My point wasn't that we can't quantify experience in various ways, but that relations of an experiential nature, like the relation of X being experientially worse than Y, behave in relevantly different ways from relations of a quantitative - maybe 'non-experiential' might have been a better word - nature, like the relation of X being heavier than Y. As I tried to explain, the "experientially-worse-than" relation is impacted by whether the X (e.g. 5 minor headaches) are spread across 5 people or all had by one person, whereas the "heavier-than" relation is not impacted by whether X (e.g. 100 tons) are spread across 5 objects or true of 1 object.

3) "Yes, but the question here is whether 5 what-it's-lies-of-going-through-1-minor-headache is 5x worse than 1 minor headache. We can believe this moral claim without believing that the phenomenon of 5 separate headaches is phenomenally equivalent to 1 experience of 5 headaches. There are lots of cases where A is morally equivalent to B even though A and B are physically or phenomenally different."

The moral question here is whether a case in which 5 minor headaches are all had by one person is morally equivalent (i.e. morally just as bad) as a case in which 5 minor headaches are spread across 5 people. You think it is, and I think it isn't. Instead, I think the former case is morally worse than the latter case.

And the ONLY reason why I think this is because I think 5 headaches all had by one person is experientially worse than 5 headaches spread across 5 people. As I said before, I think experience is the only morally relevant factor.

Since I don't think anything other than experience matters, I would deny the existence of cases in which A and B are morally just as bad/good where A and B differ phenomenally.

Comment author: kbog  (EA Profile) 24 March 2018 09:11:42PM *  0 points [-]

I disagree. I was precisely trying to guard against such thoughts by enriching my first reply to Michael_S with a case of forgetfulness. I wrote, "Now, by the end of our 5th minor headache, we might have long forgotten about the first minor headache because, say, it happened so long ago. So, by the end of our 5th minor headache, we might not have an accurate appreciation of what it’s like to go through 5 minor headaches EVEN THOUGH we in fact have experienced what it’s like to go through 5 minor headaches." (I added the caps here for emphasis)

But I don't have an accurate appreciation of what it's like to be 5 people going through 5 headaches either. So I'm missing out on just as much as the amnesiac. In both cases people's perceptions are inaccurate.

My point wasn't that we can't quantify experience in various ways, but that relations of an experiential nature, like the relation of X being experientially worse than Y, behave in relevantly different ways from relations of a quantitative - maybe 'non-experiential' might have been a better word - nature, like the relation of X being heavier than Y. As I tried to explain, the "experientially-worse-than" relation is impacted by whether the X (e.g. 5 minor headaches) are spread across 5 people or all had by one person, whereas the "heavier-than" relation is not impacted by whether X (e.g. 100 tons) are spread across 5 objects or true of 1 object

Of course you can define a relation to have that property, but merely defining it that way gives us no reason to think that it should be the focus of our moral concern.

If I were to define a relation to have the property of being the target of our moral concern, it wouldn't be impacted by how it were spread across multiple people.

As I said before, I think experience is the only morally relevant factor.

Well, so do I. The point is that the mere fact that 5 headaches in one person is worse for one person doesn't necessarily imply that it is worse overall for 5 headaches among 5 people.

Comment author: Jeffhe  (EA Profile) 27 March 2018 08:10:28PM *  0 points [-]

Hi kbog, glad to hear back from you.

1) "But I don't have an accurate appreciation of what it's like to be 5 people going through 5 headaches either. So I'm missing out on just as much as the amnesiac. In both cases people's perceptions are inaccurate."

I don't quite understand how this is a response to what I said, so let me retrace some things:

You first claimed that if I believed that 5 minor headaches all had by one person is experientially worse than 5 minor headaches spread across 5 people, then I would be committed to "believing that it doesn't matter how many times you are tortured if your memory is wiped each time. Because you will never have the experience of being tortured a second time" and this is a problem.

I replied that it does matter how many times I get tortured because even if my memory is wiped each time, it is still ME (as opposed to a numerically different subject-of-experience, e.g. you) who would experience torture again and again. If my memory is wiped, I will incorrectly VIEW each additional episode of torture as the first one I've ever experienced, but it would not BE the first one I've ever experienced. I would still experience what-it's-like-of-going-through-x-number-of-torture-episodes even if after each episode, my memory was wiped. Since it's the what-it's-like-of-going-through-x-number-of-torture-episodes (and not my memory of it) that is experientially worse than something else, and since X is morally worse than Y when X is experientially worse (i.e. involves more pain) than Y, therefore, it does matter how many times I'm tortured irrespective of my memory.

Now, the fact that you said that I "will never have the experience of being tortured a second time" suggests that you think that memory-continuity is necessary to being the numerically same subject-of-experience (i.e. person). If this were true, then every time a person's memory is wiped, a numerically different person comes into existence and so no person would experience what-it's-like-of-going-through-2-torture-episodes if a memory wipe happens after each torture episode. But I don't think memory-continuity is necessary to being the numerically same subject-of-experience. I think a subject-of-experience at time t1 (call this subject "S1") and a subject-of-experience at some later time t2 (call this subject "S2") are numerically identical (though perhaps qualitatively different) just in case an experience at t1 (call this experience E1) and an experience at t2 (call this experience E2) are both felt by S1. In other words, I think S1 = S2 iff E1 and E2 are both felt by S1. S1 may have forgotten about E1 by t2 (due to a memory wipe), but that doesn't mean it wasn't S1 who also felt E2.

In a nutshell, memory (and thus how accurate we appreciate our past pains) is not morally relevant since it does not prevent a person from actually experiencing what-it's-like-of-going-through-multiple-pains, and it is this latter thing that is morally relevant. So I don't quite see the point of your latest reply.

2) "Of course you can define a relation to have that property, but merely defining it that way gives us no reason to think that it should be the focus of our moral concern.

If I were to define a relation to have the property of being the target of our moral concern, it wouldn't be impacted by how it were spread across multiple people."

I am not simply defining a relation here. We both agree that experience is morally relevant and that therefore pain is morally bad, and that therefore an outcome that involves more pain than another outcome is morally worse than the latter outcome. That is, we agree X is morally worse than Y iff X involves more pain than Y. But how are we to understand phrase 'involves more pain than'? I understand it as meaning "is experientially worse than", which is why I ultimately think that 5 minor headaches all had by one person is morally worse than 5 minor headaches spread across 5 people. You seem to agree with me that the former is experientially worse than the latter, yet you deny that the former is morally worse than the latter. Thus, you have to offer another plausible account of the phrase 'involves more pain than' on which 5 minor headaches all had by one person involves just as much pain as 5 minor headaches spread across 5 people. IMPORTANTLY, this account has to be one according to which 5 minor headaches all had by one person can involve more pain than 1 major headache and not merely in an experientially worse sense. Can you offer such an account?

I mean, how can 5 minor headaches all had by one person involve more pain than 1 major headache if not in an experientially worse sense? You might try to use math to help illustrate your point of view. You might say, well suppose each minor headache represents a pain of a magnitude of 2, and the major headache represents a pain of a magnitude of 6. You might further clarify that the 2 doesn't just signify the INTENSITY of the minor pain since how shitty a pain episode is doesn't just depend on its intensity but also on its duration. Thus, you might clarify that the 2 represents the overall shitness of the pain - the disutility of it, so to speak. Next, you might say that insofar as there are 5 such minor headaches, they represent 10 disutility, and 10 is bigger than 6. Therefore 5 minor headaches all had by one person involves more pain than a major headache.

But then I would ask you: what is the reality underpinning the number 10? Is it not some overall shittiness that is experientially worse than the overall shittiness from experiencing one major headache? Is it not the overall shittiness of what-it's-like-of-going-through-5-minor-headaches? If it is, then we haven't departed from my "is experientially worse than" interpretation of 'involves more pain than'. If it isn't, then what is it?

To see the problem even more clearly, consider when the 5 minor headaches are spread across 5 people. Here again, you will say that the 5 minor headaches represent 10 disutility and 10 is greater than 6, therefore 5 minor headaches spread across 5 people involve more pain than one major headache. This conclusion is easy to arrive at when one just focuses on the math: 2 x 5 = 10 and 10 > 6. But we must not forget to ask ourselves what the "10" might signify in reality. Is it meant to signify an overall shittiness that is shittier than the experience of 1 major headache? Ok, but where in reality is this overall shittiness? I certainly don't see it. I don't see the presence of this overall shittiness because there is no experience of it.

(Thus, I find using math to show that 5 minor headaches spread across 5 people involves more pain than 1 major headache is very misleading: yes, mathematically, you can easily portray it. But, at bottom, the '10' maps onto nothing in reality.)

So in conclusion, I don't see any other plausible interpretation of 'involves more pain than' than "is experientially worse than". If that is the case, then not only is it the case that I haven't arbitrarily defined a relation, but it's also the case that this relation is the only plausible morally relevant relation.

3) "Well, so do I. The point is that the mere fact that 5 headaches in one person is worse for one person doesn't necessarily imply that it is worse overall for 5 headaches among 5 people."

We need to distinguish between experientially worse and morally worse. You agree that 5 headaches in one person is experientially worse than 5 headaches spread across 5 people, yet you insist that that doesn't mean the former is morally worse than the latter. Well, again, this requires you to show that there is another plausible interpretation of 'involves more pain than' on which the former involves just as much pain as the latter.

Also, I should note that I was too hasty when I said that I think experience is the ONLY morally relevant factor. Actually, I also think who suffers is a morally relevant factor, but that doesn't affect our discussion here.

Comment author: kbog  (EA Profile) 28 March 2018 01:51:58AM 0 points [-]

In a nutshell, memory (and thus how accurate we appreciate our past pains) is not morally relevant since it does not prevent a person from actually experiencing what-it's-like-of-going-through-multiple-pains, and it is this latter thing that is morally relevant. So I don't quite see the point of your latest reply.

The point is that the subject has the same experiences as that of having one headache five times, and therefore has the same experiences as five headaches among five people. There isn't any morally relevant difference between these experiences, as the mere fact that the latter happens to be split among five people isn't morally relevant. So we should suppose that they are morally similar.

But how are we to understand phrase 'involves more pain than'?

You think it should be "involves more pain for one person than". But I think it should be "involves more pain total", or in other words I take your metric, evaluate each person separately with your metric, and add up the resulting numbers.

Thus, you have to offer another plausible account of the phrase 'involves more pain than' on which 5 minor headaches all had by one person involves just as much pain as 5 minor headaches spread across 5 people.

It's just plain old cardinal utility: the sum of the amount of pain experienced by each person.

IMPORTANTLY, this account has to be one according to which 5 minor headaches all had by one person can involve more pain than 1 major headache and not merely in an experientially worse sense

Why?

I mean, how can 5 minor headaches all had by one person involve more pain than 1 major headache if not in an experientially worse sense?

In the exact same way that you think they can.

then we haven't departed from my "is experientially worse than" interpretation of 'involves more pain than'.

Correct, we haven't, because we're not yet doing any interpersonal comparisons.

But we must not forget to ask ourselves what the "10" might signify in reality. Is it meant to signify an overall shittiness that is shittier than the experience of 1 major headache? Ok, but where in reality is this overall shittiness?

It is distributed - 20% of it is in each of the 5 people who are in pain.

Comment author: Jeffhe  (EA Profile) 28 March 2018 03:46:43AM *  0 points [-]

1) "The point is that the subject has the same experiences as that of having one headache five times, and therefore has the same experiences as five headaches among five people."

One subject-of-experience having one headache five times = the experience of what-it's-like-of-going-through-5-headaches. (Note that the symbol is an equal sign in case it's hard to see.)

Five headaches among five people = 5 experientially independent experiences of what-it's-like-of-going-through-1-headache. (Note the 5 experiences are experientially independent of each other because each is felt by a numerically different subject-of-experience, rather than all by one subject-of-experience.)

The single subject-of-experience does not "therefore has the same experiences as five headaches among five people."

2) "You think it should be "involves more pain for one person than". But I think it should be "involves more pain total", or in other words I take your metric, evaluate each person separately with your metric, and add up the resulting numbers."

Ok, and after adding up the numbers, what does the final resulting number refer to in reality? And in what sense does the referent (i.e. the thing referred to) involve more pain than a major headache?

Consider the case in which the 5 minor headaches are spread across 5 people, and suppose each minor headache has an overall shittiness score of 2 and a major headache has an overall shittiness score of 6. If I asked you what '2' refers to, you'd easily answer the shitty feeling characteristic of what it's like to go through a minor-headache. And you would say something analogous for '6' if I asked you what it refers to.

You then add up the five '2's and get 10. Ok, now, what does the '10' refer to? You cannot answer the shitty feeling characteristic of what it's like to go through 5 minor headaches, for this what-it's-like is not present since no individual feels all 5 headaches. The only what-it's-like that is present are 5 experientially independent what-it's-like-of-going-through-1-minor-headache. Ok so what does '10' refer to? 5 of these shitty feelings? Ok, and in what sense do 5 of these shitty feelings involve more pain than 1 major headache? Clearly not in an experiential sense for only the what-it's-like-of-going-through-5-minor-headaches is plausibly experientially worse than a major headache. So in what sense does the referent involve more pain than a major headache?

THIS IS THE CRUX OF OUR DISAGREEMENT. I CANNOT SEE HOW 5 what-it's-like-of-going-through-1-minor-headache involves more pain than 1 major headache. YES, mathematically, you can show me '10 > 6' all day long, but I don't see any reality onto which it maps!

3) "It's just plain old cardinal utility: the sum of the amount of pain experienced by each person."

Yes, but I don't see how that "sum of pain" can involve more pain than 1 major headache because what that "sum of pain" is, ultimately speaking, are 5 what-it's-likes-of-going-through-1-minor-pain, and NOT 1 what-it's-like-of-going-through-5-minor-pains.

4) "Why?"

Because ultimately you'll need an account of 'involves more pain than' on which 5 minor headaches spread across 5 people can involve more pain than 1 major headache. And in that situation, it is clearly the case that the 5 minor headaches are not experientially worse than the 1 major headache (for only the what-it's-like-of-going-through-5-minor-headaches can plausibly be experientially worse than 1 major headache).

My point was just that you'll need an account of 'involves more pain than' that can make sense of how 5 experientially independent what-it's-likes-of-going-through-1-minor-headache can involve more pain than 1 major headache, for my account (i.e. "is experientially worse than") certainly cannot make sense of it.

5) "It is distributed - 20% of it is in each of the 5 people who are in pain."

But when it's distributed, you won't have an overall shittiness that is shittier than the experience of 1 major headache, at least not when we understand "is shittier than" as meaning "is experientially worse than". For 5 experientially independent what-it's-likes-of-going-through-1-minor-headache are not experientially worse than 1 major headache: only the what-it's-like-of-going-through-5-minor-headaches can plausibly be experientially worse than 1 major headache.

Your task, again, is to provide a different account of 'involves more pain than' or 'shittier than' on which, somehow, 5 experientially independent what-it's-likes-of-going-through-1-minor-headache can somehow involve more pain than 1 major headache.