Thursday, June 30, 2016

Wild Animal Suffering

Remember the last time you went into the Great Outdoors? Perhaps you went on a hike in a beautiful, serene meadow, or camped by a harmonic creek, or fished on the side of a magnificent lake. It sure was a nice experience. At the very least the nature shows and outdoor advertisements make it seem this way. Rousseau is present in many of these depictions.

Unfortunately, this picture of an uncorrupted, perfect environment is naive and wrong. The cute chirps you hear from birds in a forest are the sound of thousands of organisms desperate to get laid or hungry for food. Unbeknownst to you, your tent near the creek is also near the carcass of a dead squirrel infested with maggots. The fish you pulled from the water, regardless of whether you keep them, likely felt pain when hooked and likely felt immense fear as they struggled against the line in a futile attempt for escape.

Many people yearn to escape the noise and pollution of the "corrupted" modern world and get back to nature. In an almost pantheistic sense, these people see nature as something beautiful, good, spiritual.

But there is nothing beautiful, good, or spiritual about the savage gladiator arena of the natural world. There's a reason so much footage for nature shows are left on the cutting room floor. The pain of the prey outweighs the pleasure of the predator. Much of nature is brutal, inefficient, pointless and disgusting. In the words of Ligotti, it's malignantly useless.

Wild animal suffering in all likelihood outweighs the suffering of domesticated animals and even humans (another somewhat domesticated animal). Every single day, millions of animals are subjected to fear and pain as the environment and predators threaten their existences. You literally cannot look out the window on a sunny, cheerful day without looking at a state of affairs in which something is suffering, decaying, or dying.

Due to this extreme amount of suffering in the wild, do humans have any obligation to reduce or eliminate such suffering? Surely we have a duty to not bring harm upon animals, such as our domesticated pets or farm animals. But should we care what happens in the Wild? Or are we just too removed to be able to do anything about it?

One obvious answer is to oppose environmentalism for the sake of environmentalism. It only maintains the suffering.

In addition, are we able to access any sort of aesthetic appreciation of nature without ignoring or compartmentalizing away the horrible events that transpire every day?

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Is life "worth it"?

When we say something turned out good, it means the final conclusion of an event was positive.

A person who goes through four years of grueling college to earn a degree that lands them a six-digit salary would presumably be a positive conclusion. The person going through these four years of grueling college chose to go to college because she wanted the six digit salary. It therefore was an accomplishment and a positive end to the process. It was all worth it.

But a person who went through four years of grueling military service across seas because they were drafted by the government but left the service unscathed and with a fully-fledged retirement plan is not a positive conclusion because the person did not initially want to participate in the draft. When the person finally goes home and tells everyone it was all worth it, he does not say it because he genuinely believes this but because he's trying to look on the bright side - now he has a retirement plan and wasn't injured during service. It was not worth it.

So it stands that our ethical obligations regarding the well-being of other people requires that we have a reasonable belief that they will benefit (re: appreciate) the action on their behalf. We also need to be reasonably sure that the final outcome will be worth it for the individual, and that it won't simply be licking their wounds but actually proud and appreciative of the fact that this entire ordeal has resulted in the way it has.

How do we know when the outcome is worth the ordeal? We know when:
  1. The individual either has or would have agreed to go through the ordeal.
  2. The individual going through the ordeal wishes the ordeal to continue.
  3. The outcome of the ordeal is satisfying, which typically means it is long-lasting (most likely permanent) and high in intensity of good (re: pleasure).
  4. There is a reasonable chance that the individual will succeed in the ordeal and appreciate the outcome.
  5. The problems inherent in the ordeal do not leave permanent scars on the individual, physical and mental alike.

How does this pan out in regards to birth? That is to say, is the ordeal of life worth starting?
  1. Did the individual agree or would have agreed to go through the ordeal? This is impossible to know, since nobody exists to ask consent of or to base a rational decision off of.
  2. Does the individual wish to continue the ordeal? Some certainly do. But some certainly don't. And then there's the majority who don't consciously wish to continue to live but do so out of habit.
  3. Is the outcome of the ordeal satisfying? Depends on what you consider satisfying. The satisfaction of banal needs and desires is surely not satisfying in the accomplishment-sense. And it is surely obvious that satisfaction is temporary while disatisfaction is ever-lingering. What is the "ontological" outcome of life? Death (re: Heidegger Being-Towards-Death). Apart from death, are there any long-lasting and high-intensity outcomes of life that make up for our otherwise uncomfortable existences?
  4. Is there a reasonable chance that the individual will succeed in the ordeal and appreciate the outcome? If we're talking about death as the final outcome, then it's 100% guaranteed. Does someone appreciate dying? Most likely not. Is it a given that life will be worth it to every person on the deathbed? Not in the "licking their wounds" Pollyannaism but a genuine appreciation of their existence? I personally doubt it.
  5. Are the problems inherent to the odeal leave permanent scars on the individual? Absolutely - just look at exponentially-rising amount of suicides every year. The process of growing up means to sufficiently repress and hide the scars of childhood. People inevitably grow old and die of some kind of disease, most likely. The celebration after the battle will always involve licking our wounds and mourning the dead - the outcome of the battle is not worth the battle itself, unless something needed to be solved by the battle. But without life, there are no problems to be solved, thus no battle is necessary.

Thus birth is at best a risk imposition and at worst a zero-sum game.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Why the "promise" of heaven is not a good enough justification for birth

Short post to put down some thoughts.

Religions often place emphasis on being born. In the Abrahamic religions, birth is almost always seen as a good thing. In the Eastern religions, it's not that birth is a good thing per-se but rather it's the best way to avoid being born into a lower caste, or a lower state that is further from nirvana and the release from samsara.

Evidently, all of these religions claim some kind of salvation, whether it be Heaven, nirvana, or something else. Those born are given the chance of great happiness and pleasure in whatever the afterlife brings them.

But this is a ridiculous reason to justify birth, for two reasons:

1.) Heaven, nirvana, or the like are by no means guaranteed (you could end up in Hell, or never reach nirvana, etc)

2.) The afterlife is not even known to exist.

Ethics is presumably supposed to deal with how we should act, given what we know. This plays out in a mirror two ways:

1.) Given that Hell or endless nirvana is a possibility, why take the risk and have a child?

2.) Given that the afterlife is not even known to exist, why should it be used as a reason for decision of the awesome magnitude of birth?

I've said it many times before, and I'll say it again: THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH NON-EXISTENCE.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Meta-Philosophy: Conjectures

In this post I combine my own thoughts with those explained in Nicholas Rescher's book: Philosophical reasoning (highly recommend it btw).

The definition of conjecture is:

  1. 1.
    an opinion or conclusion formed on the basis of incomplete information.
    "conjectures about the newcomer were many and varied"

Clearly, we would find the claims of astrology, divination, new age woo, and the like to be based on nothing but conjecture. The conclusion that the stars have an influence on the machinations of human society is not supported by any statistical evidence, for example.

No scientific theory can be seen as ultimate - there are no non-negotiable, perennial "facts" surrounding scientific inquiry. What is the case today may not be the case tomorrow, or what is seen today as the most plausible theory may be contradicted tomorrow. Without a complete knowledge of all the information and the knowledge that one knows all the information, no theory cannot fail to not be conjectural.

Philosophical theories are also conjectural, probably even more so than most scientific theories but less so than pseudo-scientific theories. The fact that we cannot find more information via the empirical route means that a question is largely non-empirical and thus non-scientific. (of course this is a useful simplification).

Thus, any process of inquiry is going to have to settle with the next-best option: truth estimation.

But why would someone desire to believe in an estimation, a mere approximation? The only answer (which is of course approximating) is that beliefs are useful. We can see how we ought to believe in the claims of astrologers or diviners because there is very little evidence for their claims and we don't have time to waste on their bullshit.

If we're engineers, it will be useful to believe that the laws of physics apply everywhere. If we're organizing a political entity, it will be useful to know of various political philosophies so we can pick the best one, the one that does the job better than all the others. If we're trying to figure out what to do in a situation, ethics will come into play.

But when it comes to the more theoretical scientific and philosophical questions (especially metaphysical questions), there seems to be very little necessity to believe in anything. Whyshould I believe in strings, or quarks, or the Big Bang? Why should I believe in universals (or perhaps tropes), or the mental (or lack thereof), or God(s)? Since any belief we have will ultimately be conjectural, and these theoretical conjectures have little to no usefulness to my daily activities, why should I host any of these beliefs?

The answer (once again an approximation), I think, is that although answers to these questions are not practically useful, we nevertheless need them. We are curious explorers who know the possibility of being wrong but set sail regardless.

To the uber-skeptic, this is unacceptable. They will contend that any non-useful conjecture is not worth believing or not even worth pursuing refinement at all.

Unfortunately, what this uber-skeptic gains in the lack of erroneous commissions, she loses in omissions. The uber-skeptic is so engrossed with being wrong that she never even tries.

Similarly, the highly-gullible sacrifice level-headedness for the commission of silly beliefs.

Philosophical questions can be categorized into three different kinds:
  1. Informative (what is the case)
  2. Practical (how to do things)
  3. Evaluative (what to aim at)
The latter two (practical and evaluative) are the philosophical questions whose conjectures are necessary for survival and prospering. The first one (informative) are the more theoretical questions, the questions who have very little to no immediate impact on the day-to-day. As such, there are very little consequences of being right or wrong, either.

It stands, then, that any belief we have is subject to revision, updates, or expulsion. Dogma is the death of reason and leads to an over-confidence in a belief that is nevertheless conjectural. To force someone to believe something that is neither practical or evaluative is an infringement on their epistemological liberty.

But for the rest of us - those who are genuinely interesting in understanding and appreciating what can be intelligibly communicated - full speed ahead.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

A direct response to Francois Tremblay's post(s)

This will be a direct response to a post Francois Tremblay made that was supposed to clear up confusion regarding Benatar's asymmetry. Unfortunately, Tremblay has perma-banned me after calling me a piece of shit and garbage, so I can't post this to his blog directly. Perhaps he'll see this post and bequeath us with his reaction. :)

From his post:

"My simplified argument highlights the justification for Benatar’s statements:

(1) If a person exists, then
[th]eir pain is a bad thing.
(2) If a person exists, then
[th]eir pleasure is a good thing.
(3) What does not exist cannot suffer (therefore this non-existing pain is a good thing).
(4) What does not exist cannot be deprived of any pleasure (therefore this non-existing pleasure is not a bad thing).

Or to be more specific:

(3) In a state of affairs where person X does not exist, no one is experiencing the suffering that person X would otherwise have experienced.
(4) In a state of affairs where person X does not exist, no one is being deprived of the pleasure that person X would otherwise have experienced.

However you formulate it, (3) is always better than (1), and (4) is always no worse than (2)."

I have no qualms with (1) and (2). Obviously, the existence of pleasure is a good thing and the existence of pain is a bad thing.

But I have issue with (4) being equivalent to (2). He goes into it later, but essentially I disagree with his anti-frustrationism and believe that (2) can be better than (4), thus making (4) worse than (2) but not bad-in-itself.

Look at (3). Notice how Tremblay sees the lack of suffering as an impersonal good. It's just a brute fact that the lack of suffering is good. Now look at (4). Notice how Tremblay uses the word deprivation. There is no impersonal bad here. Tremblay is being inconsistent with his use of impersonal values.

So we can instead write it like this:

(3) In a state of affairs where person X does not exist, no one is experiencing the suffering that person X would otherwise have experienced.
(4) In a state of affairs where person X does not exist, no one is experiencing the pleasure that person X would otherwise have experienced.

In this formulation, (3) is the same, while (4) has been changed. And, interestingly enough, (4) implies that the lack of pleasure is a bad thing. Just as (3) imbues a feeling of relief, (4) imbues a feeling of regret.
If this doesn't convince you, imagine you are in a scenario and can choose between two possible worlds: a world in which a person experiences a limitless omega sequence of pleasure, and a world in which nobody experiences a limitless omega sequence of pleasure. Imagine there are no other factors involved here, and forget that this situation seems to be highly implausible.

Clearly, anyone would pick the world in which a person experiences a limitless omega sequence. It seems to not only be good for the person experiencing it but also impersonally good. And it seems as though it is also impersonally bad if nobody experiences a limitless omega sequence.

Now imagine you are in a similar situation here, except the person who will experience the limitless omega sequence will be subjected to the tiniest, most insignificant pin-prick before experiencing the endless bliss. Is the lack of this tiny pin-prick of equal value of good compared to the good of the limitless omega sequence? I suspect not. Was the person harmed? Of course - they felt the pin-prick. Does the person care? No - they're now experiencing limitless, exponential pleasure.

Now, if Tremblay wishes to claim that it is just a brute fact that the lack of suffering is a good thing, then that is what he wishes to claims (despite the various issues with it discussed above and below). However, it's not entirely clear why we should accept this position, or why we should believe impersonal goods trump personal goods, or why we should believe the value amount between impersonal goods (lack of suffering) and personal goods (existence of pleasure) are equal.

The superior position is to admit that there is nothing right or wrong about non-existence, whereas there exists the potential for wrong-ness in existence in virtue of its definition (just as there is the potential for right-ness in existence). 

Let's continue:

"Julio Cabrera wrote a paper called “Quality of Human Life and Non-existence (Some criticisms of David Benatar’s formal and material positions)” (PDF here). His main objection is that by transposing the counter-factual formulation of (3) to (4), we can get the following proposition, which contradicts the Asymmetry:

'Of the pleasure of an existing person, (4) says that the absence of this pleasure would have been bad even if this could only have been achieved by the absence of the person who now enjoys it.'

But with my rephrasing, you can now see that Cabrera is wrong in his transposition. The absence of this pleasure cannot be bad, because no one is being deprived of it. Cabreba continues:

'Claim (4) says that this absence is bad when judged in terms of the interests of the person who would otherwise have existed. We may not know who that person would have been, but we can still say that whoever that person would have been, the avoidance of his or her pleasures is bad when judged in terms of his or her potential interests”.'

In the absolute, Cabrera is right, the absence of pleasure is worse than the presence of pleasure given a potential person’s interests. But we are comparing two states of affairs, not examining a state in the absolute: in the comparison, (4) cannot be worse than (2) because pleasure in fulfillment of a need is not any better than the absence of need in the first place."

First, it's not entirely clear why we should favor the value of a state of affairs over the value of a potential person's interests. Also, I have no idea what "a state in the absolute" is supposed to mean.

Second, Tremblay is still failing to see the full extent of the use of counterfactuals. Take a look at my own version:

(A) Benefits (such as pleasure) require persons
(A*) The lack of a benefit is a detriment
(B) Detriments (such as pain) require persons
(B*) The lack of a detriment is a benefit
(1) The existence of a benefit is a good thing
(2) The existence of a detriment is a bad thing
(3) The lack of a benefit is bad only if there is is a person who can experience this detriment
(4) The lack of a detriment is good only if there is a person who can experience this benefit
(5) The value of a state of affairs depends on the persons and their benefits/detriments who compose the state of affairs

Impersonal values are only brought into play when one utilizes counterfactuals as a comparison: impersonal values therefore do not actually exist. When we look at a desert island, we (initially) see a desert island. We can obviously say that it is a good thing that there's no suffering going on, on this island. But we can equally and genuinely say that it is a bad thing that there's no pleasure going on, on this island. Notice, however, that if the existence of pleasure depends on the existence of an obscene amount of pain, then this pleasure cannot possible be a good thing. Thus, once again, the asymmetry is between the actual amounts of pleasure and pain in existence, not in a comparison between non-existence and existence.

In his formulation, Tremblay claims that the lack of pain (4) cannot be worse than the existence of pleasure (2) because of a thing called anti-frustrationism. To quote:

"To explain this, Benatar uses the concept of anti-frustrationism. Suppose we give Kate a pill that gives her the desire to see the tree closest to the Sydney Opera House be painted red. This desire is frustrated because that tree is not actually painted red. Now suppose we go to the Sydney Opera House, paint the tree closest to it in red, and show Kate the result. Now we are back to where we were before: the manufactured desire, fulfilled, now gone. The upshot of this is that an absence of need is no worse than a fulfilled need, and better than a frustrated need."

But this is an over simplification. Not all goods are dependent upon needs. I can be surprised by a song I like, or given ice cream that I didn't pay for and previously did not want. I enjoy these experiences. It's not just a relief, it's a positive experience. And this positive experience would presumably play a part in the value of a state of affairs.

For example, I can desire to put a stop-sign at the end of my street to increase safety. Initially I presumably was frustrated by the amount of car accidents. So I petition to get a stop sign and my wish is granted. Anti-frustrationism would claim that as soon as the stop sign is planted, all I experience is a relief. good... I might mutter as an anti-frustrationist. But I wouldn't simply be relieved of desire, I would be elevated into a higher experience. I would be proud of my accomplishment, experience political efficacy and feel powerful, experience joy. I returned to the initial state without desire and then went above and beyond.

To continue:

"But when we say “pleasure is better than pain,” we are not claiming that it is better relative to anyone or anything. We’re simply stating that it is an objective fact that the experience of pleasure is objectively better than the experience of pain. You may reply that no evidence has been presented for that statement, and that it must be better for someone. Well, anyone who disagrees with the statement is free to disbelieve the Asymmetry, but humans are programmed to seek pleasure and avoid pain."

I deny that it is an objective fact that the experience of pleasure is better than the experience of pain. The fact that humans are programmed to seek pleasure and avoid pain is only because pleasure and pain are good and bad (respectively) to humans themselves. We don't seek pleasure because it's an actual objective moral good, we seek it because it makes us feel good. And we don't avoid pain because it's an actual moral objective bad, we avoid it because it makes us feel bad.

Therefore, the experience of pleasure is better than the experience of pain for the individual, but not in the objective "state of affairs" sense. We care about a state of affairs that has a lot of pain in it, not because we are concerned with the value status of this state of affairs, but because we are concerned about the individuals within this state of affairs. We say that pleasure is better than pain (or pain is worse than pleasure) because we know what pleasure and pain feel like and are glad (or sad) that someone is experiencing pleasure (or pain).

It's also not entirely clear if pleasure or pain is always a good or bad thing in the objective sense. If we really are going to take Tremblay's word here and say that it is objectively a good thing that pleasure exists, then he has to admit that the pleasure a rapist experiences is good, and even better than the pain the victim feels. And I certainly hope he agrees that this pleasure is not good at all because it's not deserved and comes at the expense of another person's suffering. So thus it is more complicated then originally stated, and requires a certain amount of subjective decision to come to an overall value of a state of affairs.


"The good, by definition, cannot be good relative to a person. One person saying “abortion is good” and another saying “abortion is bad,” if both individuals are merely expressing a relative position which is only true insofar as they are concerned, has the same weight as one saying “chocolate ice cream is good” and another saying “chocolate ice cream is bad.” It must either collapse into nihilism or be relabeled as mere preference. Likewise, stating that “pleasure is good for person X” cannot sustain a logical argument because it is not in itself relevant to anyone else but person X. It is not a viable ethical position."

I have to question why it is not a viable ethical position to assign values to individual preferences. We are all human beings, and likely have the same preferences (pain=bad, pleasure=good). Morality would have evolved out of a need for a cohesive social group. If we can all recognize that pain=bad and pleasure=good for everyone in the society, then we can create a social rule to take this into account.

So instead we can say "Pleasure is good for human beings", and since all X's are human beings, we can then say "Pleasure is good for all X's."

We can sustain this by knowing that to a specific human being, pleasure is a good thing, and that it is in the best interests of the community to have all members experience what they consider to be a good. Those who have good experiences that come into conflict with other's good experiences are punished by the law.

And we don't even need to say "It is good that all X's are experiencing pleasure" in the objective state-of-affairs sense. It's enough to say that what we find good is also good in other people, and that it is also a good thing to us personally (re: compassion and empathy) to see other people experience the good.

Thus, a potential state of affairs is good/better just if the observer desires it to be the case. And a potential state of affairs is a bad/worse state just if the observer does not desire it to be the case.

Tremblay has this odd idea that ethics has to deal with the objective picture of the world. and as an anti-realist I cannot say that I agree with him that ethics has anything to do with an objective value of the world since I believe there is no objective value to the world. There are no "impersonal" goods or bads.

To end, let's recap. Tremblay said:

"In the absolute, Cabrera is right, the absence of pleasure is worse than the presence of pleasure given a potential person’s interests. But we are comparing two states of affairs, not examining a state in the absolute: in the comparison, (4) cannot be worse than (2) because pleasure in fulfillment of a need is not any better than the absence of need in the first place."

Again, it's by no means evident that the analysis of state of affairs should be taken more seriously than an analysis of a potential person's interests. Why shouldn't we take seriously a potential person's interests? And I've already discussed why anti-frustrationism is insufficient.

In addition, here's a quote from Tremblay's other post regarding Elizabeth Harman's apparent failure to debunk the asymmetry:

"Procreation is bad because the state of affairs where any person P does not exist contains less suffering (P’s suffering) than the state of affairs where P does exist.

In that specific form, I can’t disagree: no matter what the conditions are, the existence of any specific person is always a bad thing."

I will explain why this fails:

Since anti-frustrationism is insufficient, it stands that the existence of pleasure can be better than the lack of pain just if there is a sufficiently large amount of pleasure that effectively counters the pain (let it be known that I am not arguing we live in any such situation, only that it is a conceptual possibility).

Furthermore, since I reject any objective evaluation of a state of affairs, I also reject his view that a state of affairs can be objectively better or worse than another state of affairs.

The final statement in italics above also logically leads to pro-mortalism (pro-suicide) which Tremblay accepts. However, it logically has to go beyond pro-suicide to forced killings, because he is focused on the objective value of a state of affairs. He specifically said that the existence of any specific person is always a bad thing. If it's a bad thing, then it ought to be removed. And he can't appeal to personal interests here, because personal interests were not used when arguing for the asymmetry (states of affairs were). Thus, the conclusion is that it is not only immoral to bring someone into existence but also immoral to continue to live.

Additionally, I would like to point out how Tremblay is still falling into the counterfactual issue:

He states that the lack of pleasure is not a bad thing because there is nobody there to experience the deprivation, but then states that the lack of pain is a good thing because there is nobody there to experience the pain. Thus he is applying a brute factual value to the lack of suffering but not to the lack of pleasure.

First, since the experience of deprivation of pleasure is a bad, and since there's nobody there to experience this deprivation, Tremblay has to believe the lack of pleasure is a good thing. It's a good thing, according to Tremblay, that nobody is experiencing the deprivation of pleasure, pleasure that could have been good as well if actualized.

Second, like I showed above, if pleasure and pain are benefits and detriments, and the absence of them are detriments and benefits (respectively), and the value of a state of affairs depends on benefits and detriments, then the lack of pleasure means a lack of benefit but without anyone there to experience the detriment, and the lack of pain means a lack of detriment but without anyone there to experience the benefit.

Thus, a birth is only bad if the detriments outweigh the benefits. Let is be known that a person flourishing despite their detriments would nevertheless be experiencing an overall benefit, and thus creating a positive value of the state of affairs, if we are to take Tremblay's notion seriously.

To quote from myself above:

>Thus, a potential state of affairs is good/better just if the observer desires it to be the case. And a potential state of affairs is a bad/worse state just if the observer does not desire it to be the case.

The lesson from this is that we evaluate the value of a state of affairs based upon what we personally would like to see as the state of affairs. I don't wish to see the Holocaust, or the Sacking of Rome, or a lion eating a gazelle. I wish it were the case that these events did not happen or do not happen in the present or future. I also wish to see much pleasure in individuals, to see great works of art, and to be able to read philosophy. But my wish to not see the Holocaust, etc. is larger than my wish to see pleasure in individuals, etc. In which case, my wish to not see the Holocaust, etc. effectively trumps my wish to see pleasure in individuals, etc. If I were God and could choose which scenario to make into reality (life or no-life), I would pick no-life because no-life is better than life in virtue of the fact that life has more suffering than pleasure. 

Thus, it can be clearly seen why the asymmetry, although being inconsistent and logically flawed, is nevertheless intuitive. There exists (at least the potential of) vast amounts of pain and suffering on Earth. Pain seems to be structurally imbued within life. Whereas pleasure is not guaranteed and is ephemeral and oftentimes disappointing. Another very important thing to point out is that the worst-pain-possible is always more intense than the best-pleasure-possible.

Here a quote by Peter Zapffe seems relevant: "[...] if a desert island is no tragedy, why is a deserted universe?" In other words, there's nothing wrong with non-existence. There's nothing right about it, either...but there's everything wrong and right about existence. This quote pumps the intuitions in that a deserted island seems peaceful compared to all the crap that happens in our lives. It makes non-existence seem almost righteous in comparison to the rather mediocre nature of life. But notice how this is not analytic in the fashion of Benatar. Zapffe isn't claiming that it is a transcendental fact that it is good that there is no suffering. Zapffe's statement applies to this particular world, but perhaps it doesn't apply to all worlds. Perhaps in other hypothetical worlds, there exists a sufficient amount of pleasure to make existence entirely worth it. Perhaps in these hypothetical worlds, pleasure is a guarantee. Perhaps in these worlds, pleasure is a necessary component of existence instead of pain (in our case). In which case, what would be wrong about bringing these joyous people into existence?

The Eight "D's" of Pessimism

NOTE: this is ctrl+c ctrl+v from PF that I made a while ago.

I have consolidated eight adjectives, all beginning with the letter D, that I feel aptly describes the major points brought up by the various philosophical pessimists. They are listed in a kind of "chronological" order of manifestation in some sense, although they are not “required” to appear in these orders.

1.) Desire can be characterized by a feeling of incompleteness. When we desire something, we feel as though we are lacking something important in our lives. The feeling of dissatisfaction, the striving to “complete” the ego or fulfill a need, is what constitutes Schopenhauer’s conception of the Will, or the general idea of the Buddhist tanha. Accordingly, both philosophies recommended the ceasing of unnecessary desire, for to live a life of desire is to live a life enslaved by need.

2.) Decay is the inevitable destruction of things that we hold dear. The attachment we feel for these things “sets us up”, so to speak, for the feeling of loss. Time is forever thrusting things forward, and entropy is the result. This is why we have to continue to eat, breathe, sleep, fill up our automobile’s gas tank, pay for electricity, etc. The world does not care about your attachments to things; this is also why it is so difficult to let go of people who have died, or deal with the inevitable accidents that throw someone’s life into turmoil. Everything is impermanent and in motion.

3.) Discomfort is fairly straight forward. The consequences of desire and decay are a type of discomfort, but in addition to these are the various feelings of pain, as well as psychological discomfort (i.e. a “psychache”). From a pin prick to a broken femur, from embarrassment to a suicide attempt, pain is a univocal part of our existence. To rise above pain in some instances can lead to a meaningful experience. To succumb to pain and thereby suffer leads to a meaningless existence.

4.) Disgust is, I take it, to be the next emotional step once one has come to terms with the former three aspects of existence. Existence is not perfect, it is not a dream-world. With disgust comes compassion, though, which is something to be cultivated.

5.) Disillusionment is tied in with disgust; when one has “lifted the curtain” and seen life in all its glory and horror, the fantasies of life held before, the pretty little narrative that drives us all, begin to crumble. A feeling of dissatisfaction with what is seen becomes apparent. Man’s very existence becomes suspect; suicide becomes an option. The existentialists of the twentieth century seemed to focus primarily on finding meaning after the prior meanings had been lost. What matters here, though, is that the disillusionment is felt to be permanent.

6.) Despair can follow disillusionment. Perhaps no meaning is to be found, and life is absurd and potentially even malignant at times. With the loss of hope comes the experience of despair, a complete loss of any anchors, structure, stability or control.

7) Disinterest follows disillusionment, but is also its own slice of human existence. Disinterest refers to a feeling of apathy, or boredom, to life. Weltschmerz, or world-weariness, is a classic romantic adjective used to describe such a feeling. One could also say that our desires lead to a impermanent feeling of satisfaction, which inevitably decays into a general disinterest, or boredom with what we have, which leads back to another instance of desire to keep ourselves distracted and entertained.

8.) Death is the ultimate property of being alive. It is what motivates the creation of culture, aesthetics, and other forms of distraction. Death is an inevitable event for all living creatures. To avoid it is to live invalidly and to live in fear, to accept it is to nevertheless undergo the experience.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Back with some more thoughts on antinatalism - a reply to Francois Tremblay!

I spent some time over at Francois Tremblay's blog The Prime Directive having a discussion with him about antinatalism, specifically Benatar's asymmetry, on several of his threads. I thought at first that the discussion was going to go well, but we had some disagreements (that I believe were mostly misunderstandings on BOTH our parts) that unfortunately led to the dissolution of discussion. So Francois, if you are reading this right now, I apologize for any annoyances I may have brought with me and I hope you will understand that I was not intentionally trying to anger you.

Anyway, an interesting view he brought up was that the asymmetry can be expanded from outside of the interests of potential persons and into the value of states of affairs. I'm not entirely sure if this analysis works, though.

Before I begin, I would like to quote Tremblay as saying this to another user:

"All I am saying is, you’re overcomplicating the argument, which is what people do because they can’t deal with the simplicity and directness of AN arguments."

There is absolutely no correlation between simplicity and directness and being right. In fact, if something is too simple it can be easy to overlook important aspects (that I will mention below). And directness can certainly make people uncomfortable but does not qualify as evidence of a theory being right. So let's not get ahead of ourselves and assume something is right just because it is simple and direct.

So, to begin, Tremblay says this:

"Nonexistence does not have properties, including welfare. We are talking about the whole state of affairs, not just properties in isolation. The fact that a certain sum of suffering has been removed from the world is the good thing."

I'm not entirely sure what this means, but I suspect that by state of affairs he means something "outside" of non-existence, perhaps as from an observer's perspective. (Let us not forget that states of affairs are not an uncontroversial ontological item)

From this analysis I believe that Tremblay is of the view that a state of affairs can have a value in itself. If the state of affairs includes beings that suffer, that is a bad thing and makes the overall state of affairs of negative value. I'm not sure how "world" and "state of affairs" differs here, but perhaps if Tremblay is reading this he can explain.

Now, I'm not sure if this was a mistake on his part, but if a certain SUM (remember that now) of suffering being removed from the world is a good thing, then a certain SUM of pleasure being removed from the world is a bad thing. And I take it to be quite obvious that pleasure is something entirely different than just the appeasement of desire. It goes up and beyond the neutral state and into a state of good. Deprivationalism and/or anti-frustrationism is appealing but I don't think it's solid.

Anyway, [in response to another user], Tremblay says: "That cannot be the case because, again, non-existence cannot be deprived of pleasure. You seem to equate non-existence with some kind of neutral state or mathematical zero. It is not. But most importantly, what we’re comparing, again, are states of affair. Like I say in the entry, no one is being deprived of the non-existing pleasure. So how does your analysis make any sense?"

and: "Suffering is bad, and the absence of suffering is good. Pleasure is good, but the absence of pleasure is not bad."

and: "No… both evaluations are made on the same basis. To wit:“(3) What does not exist cannot suffer (therefore this non-existing pain is a good thing).
(4) What does not exist cannot be deprived of any pleasure (therefore this non-existing pleasure is not a bad thing).”"

I believe I see how Tremblay is using states of affairs here. He is arguing that in virtue of its constituents, a state of affairs has value, and this value is important. A state of affairs can be bad or worse than another state of affairs, and according to Tremblay we need to take this into account.

Now, Tremblay may deny that this is the case, but Benatar is not focused on states of affairs. He is focused on arguing that coming into existence is always a harm. Harm affects individuals, not states of affairs. Additionally, if Benatar were focused on states of affairs, then he wouldn't have dedicated a large portion of his book to a material argument attempting to show how bad our lives are. He clearly is concerned with the well-fare of the individual, not the overall states of affairs. It's entirely fine if Tremblay wants to make his own argument based upon Benatar's, but it is quite evident that Benatar is not using state of affairs in the way Tremblay is.

Anyway, let's take a look at the above quoted passage more closely:

Notice how Tremblay uses "deprived" in (4) but does not use it in (3). However, we can change things up a bit:

(3) What does not exist cannot be relieved of suffering (therefore this non-existing pain is not-good)
(4) What does not exist cannot be deprived of any pleasure (therefore this non-existing pleasure is not-bad)

or we can say this:

(3) What does not exist cannot suffer (therefore this non-existing pain is a good thing)
(4) What does not exist cannot feel pleasure (therefore this non-existing pleasure is a bad thing)

Tremblay seems to be committed to the idea that the lack of suffering is a good thing even if it does not benefit anyone, while also believing that the lack of pleasure is not-bad since it does not detriment anyone. This is also Benatar's view.

Which at the surface seems plausible, but falls apart under analysis. He (and Benatar) essentially have to believe that they can spontaneously create goodness just by thinking about all the potential people who are non-existent. This "good" is just "floating" around in non-existence.

Furthermore, it's not entirely clear that non-existence counts as a state of affairs. If non-existence has no properties, then it's difficult to see how any state of affairs can encompass this. And if non-existence is good in itself (because it lacks suffering) is ceases to be non-existent because it has a property that exists. So Tremblay is committed to the idea that the unconscious cosmos is good-in-itself in virtue of the fact that nobody exists to feel suffering. 

This is absurd for a couple of reasons:

First, we usually don't rejoice when we find out there is no life on Mars that can experience suffering. If we are antinatalists (as both Tremblay and I are) and not those starry-eyed biologists from NASA, then we would find this to be good only in comparison to what could have been the case. Thus, the lack of suffering is not a good-ness but only a good (to be more precise: a better)

Second, it reeks of anthropomorphism. This universe is absolutely massive and I highly doubt that any form of human value of pain/pleasure extends to the universe as a whole, independently of the mind. In addition to the argument-from-human-puniness, what makes more sense is that the Kantian phenomenal world that we experience on a daily basis can be given a value, but the noumenal world cannot be accessed and therefore we have no way of knowing if there is any value independent of our own minds.

Third, it leads to pro-mortalism. Now, Tremblay has come right out and said quite explicitly that he is pro-suicide. He is entitled to his opinion, but I find this to be repugnant. By pro-mortalism, I interpret this as meaning encouraging of suicide. And if I am interpreting his position correctly, he is a pro-mortalist because he believes it is in our best interests (or maybe that of state of affairs, he hasn't been clear about this) to kill ourselves. Presumably this comes directly from the asymmetry, in which pleasure is argued to offer no benefit (advantage) to the person in comparison to non-existence, while pain offers a detriment (disadvantage) to the person in comparison to non-existence.

To expand upon the third issue requires me to explain what I believe to be the single-most damning argument against Benatar's asymmetry: the equivocation of the degrees-of-value of the lack of pain with the existence of pleasure as necessarily equal.

A quick note: Tremblay has stated herself that he believes pain and pleasure to be independent of each other and do not "cancel each other out". I don't think I agree. In fact, pain seems to cancel pleasure out quite easily. But we also make decisions based upon an evaluation of pleasure and pain, and commit to a decision if the pleasures outweigh the pains.

Now, let me explain what I mean by the equivocation:

In Benatar's original asymmetry, Benatar states that the lack of pain is a good thing while the presence of pleasure is a good thing. He makes these values equal. He then goes on to say that since non-existence has nothing bad about it, but existence does (pain), there is only a harm in coming into existence and no benefit (since non-existence only has good, while existence has good and bad).

But I believe it to be a mistake to make the good of the lack of pain equal to the good of pleasure. Without this equalization, Benatar's asymmetry fails.

For we can imagine a world in which there is so much suffering and so little pleasure that the amount of suffering vastly outweighs the amount of pleasure. In an abstract utilitarian sense, we might say that a person existing in this world will experience 400(-)s and only 2(+)s. Assuming Benatar is right that the lack of (+)s is not-bad, then the lack of 400(-)s equals a gain of 400(+)s. Therefore, it is quite clear that there is an advantage to staying in non-existence: there is more good.

However, we can also imagine a world in which there is so much pleasures and very little pain that the amount of pleasure vastly outweighs the amount of pain. In an abstract utilitarian sense, we might say that a person existing in this world will experience 400(+)s and only 2(-)s. Again, assuming Benatar is right that the lack of (+) is not-bad, then the lack of 2(-)s equals a gain of 2(+)s. 
2(+)s < 400(+)s, therefore the birth is permissible. Do I think we live in such a world? No. But regardless of this, it's a conceptual possibility.

Without the use of amounts of good/bad, it is impossible to differentiate between two states of varying amounts of good. They're both good no doubt, but one is better in virtue of the fact that is has more good.

The greatest lesson we can learn from Benatar's asymmetry is not that birth is always a harm and immoral, but that birth is purely unnecessary. There is nothing wrong with not having a child, but there is everything wrong with bringing upon an individual (against their consent) a sufficient amount of pain.

So Benatar is in all likelihood correct that the lack of pleasure is not-bad. I'm still not entirely convinced but I suspect that the lack of pain is a good. But the flaw in Benatar's reasoning here is to assume that the values of good in the existence of pleasure and the non-existence of pain are equal, when they are not.

This also explains why the asymmetry does not lead to pro-mortalism: because existence can have a sufficient amount of pleasure to be greater in good than the good derived from not experiencing pain. 

It also would explain why we would be opposed to blowing up an entire world (filled with both happy people and suffering people). If we accept the ultimate conclusion of Benatar's asymmetry, then there is no difference between killing only those who are suffering and killing everyone (including those experiencing pleasure). Quite evidently, this is wrong.

We can presumably accept that even if there is pain in a life, if the person experiencing the pain can live despite this pain and enjoy life, then they would contribute to the overall value of the state of affairs.

Instead of the asymmetry (or perhaps in addition to it), we need reasons to believe that pain exceeds (or has the potential to exceed) pleasure in the important sense, so much that coming into existence is a bad thing. I outlined some of these reasons in my previous blog post.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Benefits, Harms, and the Permissibility of Bith

What did I say? Looks like it's time for another excursion into the realm of procreative ethics! (h8rs gun h8). This time, however, I will be constructing instead of deconstructing.

The view that (currently) makes the most sense to me regarding harms and benefits is:

  1. A harm is anything that makes a person feel bad or worse
  2. A benefit is anything that makes a person feel good or better
  3. The act of taking-away a benefit harms a person
  4. The act of taking-away a harm benefits a person
  5. A lack of harm simpliciter is not a benefit
  6. A lack of benefit simpliciter is not a harm
  7. Harms and benefits can only be applied to persons
Thus, there is no benefit of not feeling a harm if you do not currently exist. And there is no harm of not feeling a benefit if you do not currently exist. Both of these statements are true because there is no harm or benefit to be taken away, because there is no person to experience these harms and benefits and in fact these harms and benefits don't begin to exist until a person begins to exist. This does not preclude the utilization of counterfactuals and possible persons. Read that again. This does not preclude the utilization of counterfactuals and possible persons.

An evaluation of the ethics of birth (and any important action for that matter) must take into account the various harms and benefits associated with this action.

An interesting idea that crossed my mind the other day was the morality of harming a single person for the benefit of the whole, without the consent of the singular person. This strikes me as immoral, plain and simple. 

The trouble with these kinds of actions is that a person is being used as a means-to-and-end and not as a person themselves. In other words, they are being instrumentalized, used as a "stepping-stone" to achieve a purpose that is apparently greater than themselves. Any sort of benefit that was brought upon a group by the sacrifice of an individual (against their will and without their participation in the benefit) is invalidated. It is not good in the abstract sense.

The key idea with this that I found the most interesting is that if the person is not being instrumentalized, then I believe it to be acceptable to harm a person for their own benefit, so long as the benefit is greater than the harm.

What does it mean for a benefit to be greater than a harm (or vice versa)? A few things come to mind:

  • The person appreciates the benefit far more than they are unappreciative of the harm
  • The benefit is greater in magnitude of pleasure than the magnitude of pain associated with the harm
  • The benefit lasts for a greater amount of time than the harm does
  • The benefit occurs during or after the harm
When making decisions that impact other individuals without their consent, what do we need to have? A couple things come to mind:

  • A reasonable need to perform the action
  • A reasonable belief that the benefits will in fact outweigh the harms

Now I will return to the issue of benefits and harms for potential persons and benefits and harms simpliciter

First, though, I should state that I consider a person to be an entity capable of self-identification, qualitative experiences and rational reasoning abilities. 

Now, for the first example, imagine a person is dying. By dying, they will both be benefited and harmed because the harms and benefits of life (respectively) will be removed.

For the second example, imagine a possible, unborn person. By being born, they will be both benefited and harmed by the various benefits and harms of life. By not being born, they do not experience any benefits or harms. A possible person only avoids benefits and harms when in a comparison to existence. It's not good-in-itself (i.e. simpliciter) that the possible person is not experiencing a harm.

Therefore, the final remark here is that nobody is harmed nor benefited in non-existence, while everyone is harmed and benefited in existence. What matters here in the debate about procreative ethics is how much harm accompanies existence in comparison to how much benefit accompanies existence.

Thus, to return again to Benatar's asymmetry, we can see how it does not by itself lead to an antinatalistic conclusion even if the asymmetry is accepted. For pleasure is still a benefit to a person. The absence of pain is beneficial only to the extent that there exists a certain amount of pain avoided. But the presence of pleasure (a benefit) can be greater than the absence of pain (a benefit), theoretically.

Let's see how this actually plays out:

Take a look at how the benefits of life outweigh the harms of life:

  • Is it true that the person appreciates the benefits far more than they are unappreciative of the harms? 
    • It's not entirely obvious that this is the case. For many people, life is a burden.
  • The benefit is greater in magnitude of pleasure than the magnitude of pain associated with the harm 
    • This is doubtful, and there are many other asymmetries between pleasure and pain: injury is swift, recovery is slow, pain is guaranteed, pleasure is contingent, the worst-case scenario invalidates the best-case scenario, pain often invalidates pleasure but pleasure rarely invalidates pain, etc.
  • The benefit lasts for a greater amount of time than the harm does
    • This is also doubtful. The hedonic treadmill prevents us from maintaining a constant feeling of pleasure. Benefits are easily invalidated by even the smallest of pains, while pains are difficult to invalidate by pleasure alone.
Take a look at the reasons for making decisions that impact other people and how these reasons stand in the case of birth:
  • Is there a reasonable need to perform the action (of giving birth)?
    • There doesn't seem to be. Birth doesn't solve any problems for the person being born - it only creates problems for the person. And there's nothing wrong with not having children.
  • Is there a reasonable belief that the benefits will in fact outweigh the harms of life by giving birth?
    • See above. It is doubtful that the benefits of birth outweigh the harms, and thus birth is of a net harm.
  • Is it true that the benefit occurs during or after the harm?
    • ​This is certainly not the case.

In conclusion, I believe that important decisions must be justified by reasons, and these reasons are based upon harms and benefits. In the case of birth, the reasons for birth are staggeringly poor in comparison to the reasons against birth.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Apathy as the Final Expression of Nihilism

When a person is first faced with the "threat" of nihilism, they seem to always feel great anxiety. The world around them seems suddenly foreign and ambivalent (or perhaps even malignant). They may feel disconnected and isolated from society, or sense their life is kind of exile.

If the person doesn't manage of overcome this initial angst by compartmentalizing or some other method, then they may feel despair and hopelessness. Their dreams, their impressions, their fantasies of what reality is like have been torn down. There seems to be no way to recover.

A human being cannot exist in an extended period of anxiety, though. Sleep may be the escape for some, and for others, drugs or other distractions are a way to ease the anxiety. But ultimately the anxiety does not permanently pass. It's physically exhausting to feel anxiety of any type for an extended period of time, and depressing to believe that the source of one's anxiety will not pass.

Hence why I believe apathy is the final expression of nihilism. For to act upon nihilism is to attempt to make meaning in a meaningless universe. To construct or destroy is to try to take control over a world outside of your control. It's to not accept that the world is what it is. To be apathetic is to neither deny the reality of nihilism nor embrace it - for it's useless to fight nihilism, but equally uncomfortable to embrace it.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Being smart and an asshole still makes you an asshole

And being an asshole doesn't mean you're smart - it just means you're an asshole.

This isn't going to be a philosophical post. Just a vent.

There is nothing that I hate more than a smart-ass. You know the type: the one with an obscene confidence in their views, the smug smile in light of their cheap victory, and the dismissive and pretentious "holier than thou" attitude. The one who preaches open-ended discussion but nevertheless rolls their eyes when you try to argue your point.

I don't claim to be able to read minds but I suspect the source of smart-assery is a need for recognition (insecurity), a deep and pervasive anger, and a bigoted intolerance masked as acceptance. Oddly enough the smart-ass tends to ends up just being an ass and isn't very smart.

You know who fits this description well? Donald Trump. Richard Dawkins. Radical Christian evangelicals and teenagers who just got done reading their first apologetics book. Etc.

There is no excuse for being a smart-ass. Nobody likes when you act like it. Nobody is impressed by your finesse and aggression. Nobody cares. 

You know what people do care for? Genuine understanding. Compassion. Empathy. A willingness to relate. Humbleness (it's not not-humble to say you are humble unless you are proud of the fact and advertising this virtue to others). The willingness to compromise. Adherence to the principle of charity. BASIC KINDNESS.


On Emotions and Moods

Typically we tell other people that we are in a good mood or a bad mood. Moods are generally accompanied by other feelings, such as pain or pleasure. Moods also tend to be transitory.

Emotions often accompany moods, but are more specific. Instead of a good/bad distinction, we have emotions that can flip-flop between being good or bad. Sometimes we don't even know what the hell we are feeling.

But what are moods and emotions anyway, and what causes them? Why do we have moods and emotions?

For example, let's say you're a business executive who has spent a good portion of your life dedicated to your company and rising the ranks. Suddenly and unexpectedly you are let go. As you walk out of the building that was your former workplace, you feel an immense surge of anger, regret, despair, and your mood becomes negative.

This may sound like a silly question, but why would you feel these emotions? Why would you have a bad mood? Why is it that we don't walk around all day happy-as-a-clown with a smile on our faces and a spunk to our step?

Emotions and moods seem out of our control. If something truly bad happens to us, it seems impossible to smile (genuinely). And if something hilarious or great happens to us, it seems impossible to cry out of sadness. All those self-help books claim to be able to show you how to control your own mood and emotions just out of pure "will" - but why should you have to be trained to control these emotions? How likely is it that you can "naturally" become the dictator of your own emotions? You might as well tell me to tell myself to see a pink ocean, or feel sandpaper as a pillow. It's out of my control.

Although emotions and moods are transitory, they still last for a certain amount of time. Something sustains them. From the biological view, the sustainment might be dopamine (or the lack thereof), or perhaps serotonin or adrenaline. But typically we don't say "I'm sad because I have a low amount of dopamine firing in my synapses." We say we're sad because we lost our job, or a pet, or something like that. In other words, we have reasons for feeling the way we do.
But this leads back to the previous issue: why do these issues cause us to feel this way? What are the triggers?

I have some tentative answers:

Since humans are a product of natural selection, and since the mind is (likely, stfu epiphenomenalism) a product of natural selection, and since emotions and moods don't seem to be solely under our conscious control, it would seem that emotions and moods serve a function. Although I can try to limit the influence of my mood or emotions (and thus counteracting the function of them), I have no control over the actual experience of these moods and emotions. I still feel this way and I can't just "stop" feeling this way. It's quite strange actually.

Functionalism and representationalism often get flak for not being able to explain qualia, and although this is a separate issue, it is quite phenomenologically obvious that the anger (a qualitative experience) I felt caused me to punch a hole in the wall. The anger was perhaps caused by me losing my job. It built up, and up, and up up up up UP until I presumably lost control and made a hole in the drywall.

So the self can be seen as a kind of executive decision-maker. The self is influenced by all sorts of things, including emotions and moods. It has no control over these emotions or moods because in fact these are part of the self itself. 

The self is not "free", it's just a necessary component for a decision. It's the body's way of enslaving itself.

A human may feel depressed after losing their job because losing their job meant a loss of an ability to survive. The sadness and anger involved in this serve a functional role as an internal motivator - you're feeling depressed, getting a job will restore your ability to survive, having an ability to survive will end this depression, you don't like feeling depressed, so go get a job! Let it be known that the source of the depression is the body itself - so it stands that the body is hurting itself to motivate itself.

Similarly, a person who has a good mood and positive emotions will perform jobs (and thus survive) more efficiently. They will want to continue to survive because this means they will continue to feel good. Thus this is the way the body rewards itself for doing productive things.

Emotions and moods are also usually quite irrational but nevertheless poignant and persuasive, almost in a tyrannical way. People do stupid shit because their emotions got the better of them. They may punch a hole in the drywall simply out of anger - an anger that in the evolutionary past would have allowed them to release their strength against an opponent but in today's day and age makes it nuisance. It nevertheless is a force that causes us to release it - like a spring primed for release.

Since these emotions are generally irrational and primal, and thus not under the influence of the rational self directly, things can go very wrong when someone has a psychological disorder. In mood disorders, this means that people can have bipolar disorder, depression, schizophrenia, or the like. They don't have direct control over what they feel, just like everyone else, but their moods and emotions are going haywire. They require medication and therapy. It stands, then, that the only way to truly change what you are feeling is not by pure "will" but by changing what you encounter on a daily basis (thus emotions and moods are motivators).

"Final" remarks on Benatar's asymmetry

EDIT: if you're here from Francois Tremblay's blog The Prime Directive, I have written a response to his own response. You can find it here. Also make sure to check out my post here, which I talk extensively on value-voids and the inability to ascribe value to non-existence. Unfortunately, Tremblay is an intolerant asshole who censors bans anyone who disagrees with him. So let it be known that I genuinely tried to have a discussion with him but it was his own fault that it fell apart. Check out those other links as well as this post and let me know what you have to think.


When I say "final", what I mean is that I think I finally have come to rest upon a coherent and satisfying position but probably will end up changing it again at some point in time, whether that be by my own admission or by a critique from another individual.

Anyway, here goes!

The first point to be made here is that I believe pleasure to be supererogatory. This means that the lack of pleasure is not a bad thing in itself. However, what I think tends to get looked over is the fact that even if the lack of pleasure is not a bad thing, the presence of pleasure is surely a good thing.

Now, many times the lack of pleasure is accompanied by a feeling of deprivation. We often feel desire for a pleasure and a sense of being incomplete without it. This is a kind of "suffering". But pleasure is not what eliminates this suffering - what eliminates the suffering is the act of obtaining pleasure. We can also eliminate this kind of suffering by focusing our attention elsewhere.

Pain is pain. Ignoring the cases of masochism and BDSM, I think it's pretty damn obvious that pain or suffering of any kind is a bad thing. Hopefully this isn't a controversial point.

Now, Benatar states that the lack of pleasure is only a bad thing if there is someone that can experience its deprivation. I'm apt to agree. However, he goes on and says that the lack of pain is a good thing regardless of whether or not there is anyone actually there to experience the relief. There are some issues with this. I will attempt to break them down:

First, I do not usually proclaim that it is a good thing that I am not experiencing a headache. It's only apparent that this is a good thing when I compare myself with counterfactual, possible me's. In which case, the real me who is not experiencing a headache is not in a good state just because I'm not experiencing a headache - I'm merely in a better state than if I were.

Second, if we are to use counterfactuals for pain, then we really ought (and need) to use counterfactuals for pleasure. For I can imagine myself experiencing pleasure - in fact, this imagery is often the cause of desire (which causes suffering in some sense). Regardless of the fact that this imagery causes suffering, since pleasure is good then a possible me experiencing the pleasure is better off than the actual me who is not. This does not mean that the actual me is in a bad state, though, just as the lack of a headache does not mean that I am in a better state.

Third, counterfactual, possible if-me's do not hold the same good-ness or bad-ness that actual me's do. This was already explained above. For example, we typically don't throw a party because someone avoided a really, really bad situation - we throw a party because a person is experiencing or is about to experience a lot of pleasure. And we typically don't mourn the loss of pleasure - we mourn the subsequent gain of pain.

Because of this, I believe that if we are to use counterfactuals for possible unborn people in regards to the pain they will experience, we need to use counterfactuals for the pleasure they will experience.

Now, like I said before, I think pleasure is largely supererogatory. So it's intuitive that the lack of pleasure is not really a bad thing. But the trouble is that Benatar holds that the lack of pleasure is not bad if there is nobody there to experience the deprivation. But if there's nobody there to experience the deprivation, then how can we possibly say that it is a good thing that a person is not experiencing pain? There's nobody there to experience the relief.

Furthermore, like I said before, Benatar conflates the "good" of the lack of pain with the GOOD of pleasure. His entire argument hinges upon his equivocation of the two. He specifically states that it is difficult to calculate how much pleasure or pain someone experiences (and yet he goes on later to explain why our lives are really bad which is calculating pain but whatever). Because of this avoidance of calculation, Benatar avoids the issue that would break his argument apart: that we often do plan things to do based upon how much pleasure or pain will be experienced. Benatar openly embraces the idea that a pinprick disqualifies all pleasure by making the "good" of the lack of a pinprick equal to the GOOD of a million orgasms. He also seems to ignore the fact that even if pleasure is supererogatory, it's still good. He's appealing to states of affairs without considering the composition of these states of affairs - I liken it to saying there is flour in the cookie mix without actually stating how much flour is in the cookie mix. All Benatar is concerned with (at least with his formal argument) is that there is pain in existence and no-pain in non-existence without actually considering how much pain is in existence and how much pain is avoided in virtue of non-existence.

So in conclusion, I believe that Benatar's asymmetry, although being intuitive, is not logically sound. The intuitiveness of his asymmetry is derived from his material argument and other evaluations of pain and pleasure.

Ultimately, I do not accept Benatar's asymmetry, although I do accept the conclusion of it. More on that later though. I think I've enough deconstruction for a while: time to actually construct something of my own.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Quick thought about the relationship between antinatalism and pro-mortalism

I made a post on this topic before, but it utilized Benatar's asymmetry which I have come to reject (see previous posts).

Nevertheless, I still consider myself an antinatalist of some sort, and I still maintain that antinatalism does not lead to pro-mortalism.

Setting aside other arguments for antinatalism, such as the awesome risk associated with birth or the utilitarian argument, I will focus purely on a pessimistic argument that would have been utilized by Schopenhauer and co. Basically, the sum the view up, life sucks.

Because life sucks, we shouldn't have children. Plain and simple.

However, a common response might be that if life sucks so much, why shouldn't we kill ourselves, or at least be suicidal?

There are a few ways the antinatalist can respond.

They can say that they really are just clinging to life. Barely making it through the day. They affirm that they really would want to die, if they could get around the inherent fear of death and the irrational impulse to continue to live. Many of the YouTube antinatalists come across this way.

However, I doubt that most people are suicidal. I doubt that most people actually wish to die (including these YouTube antinatalists). But how can a life worth living not be worth starting?

The trick here is that our lives possibly aren't worth continuing. But they certainly aren't worth ending either. There is no dichotomy here. We can all have mostly mediocre lives that don't warrant a creation of another one but nevertheless don't warrant the end of the ones that already exist. There's not enough pain to warrant a suicide. But life generally isn't that fun either. meh

Of course, this by itself "tones down" the fierceness of many antinatalists and their views. If life is merely mediocre, they it's not worth being born into but it's not a horrible, terrible tragedy either. The tragedy only comes along when life is romanticized.

It's only tragic when life really does suck in the horrible, terrible way. But since most of our lives are merely mediocre and not horrible and terrible, a better argument for antinatalism that maintains our general wish to continue to live (not being suicidal) is that there is an inherent risk associated with birth, and that the worst-case scenario is always worse than the best-case scenario, even if the best-case scenario is itself a good experience.

Composition as Identity

I am of the view that there are only two serious candidates for a theory of composition - universalism and nihilism. Between the two, there is also very little difference. We all agree that we use the concept of an object in everyday life. The universalist just simply reifies this concept in reality and the nihilist rejects this application onto reality.

The difference becomes even more difficult to assess when we see composition as identity. That is to say, an object/thing/substance/etc has an essence that is defined by the existence and relations between all of its mereological parts. Because of this, composition as identity is an essentialist theory, one that makes every property of an object essential (therefore no parts are accidental).

Composition as identity also means that there are no natural kinds in the strict, static sense. There are no strict boundaries between one "kind" of thing and another "kind" of thing. Things are not "ontologically placed" within these boundaries as if there exists a metaphysical "spice rack" with little ontological containers where things can be organized.

Instead, natural kinds are fluid constraints on the very being of reality. A thing belongs to a natural kind just if it has a family resemblance with other things. Natural kinds evolve. We can see this in the biological classification scheme, as well as the burgeoning amount of elements - in the far past, there was only hydrogen and maybe helium and lithium. Because of stellar fusion, we now have much heavier elements.

These elements are natural kinds, characterized by things that act in a similar way. But these things, these atoms, can be changed. They can be fused with each other, thus losing the essences of both and creating a new essence. Similarly, biological creatures are in a long path of evolution, where there are no strict boundaries between species. No-one is a "human" in the ontological realist sense - they are just unique things that happen to operate and appear in highly similar ways. As a heuristic, natural kinds help with communication. But they cannot be used as an actual metaphysical device.

Composition as identity also brings up some tricky things with persistence and self-hood. Since objects just are their identity, and since their identity just is their composition, then any change in any of its parts and the relations between them constitutes a change in identity. Nothing persists through change.

This does not bother the universalist too much, though, as it means that although by scratching a skin cell off my arm makes a new, unique organism, it does not mean there exists a totally different organism in the looser resemblance sense (although it is a totally different organism in the stricter ontological sense). Thus persistence in the strict sense is impossible through change, but persistence in the looser sense is possible. I certainly was not the same person psychologically five days ago - I acquired new memories, experiences, etc. But I still sense that I persist in some structural way. Although the structure has been modified, the overall appearance and function hasn't changed much.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

A theory of ethics: a fusion of consequentialism and deontology, with affirming thoughts regarding antinatalism

The absence of pleasure is not-bad, and the absence of pain is not-good. The absence of pain is only good (and the absence of pleasure is only bad) when utilizing counterfactuals. By doing so, we put the interests of possible beings into consideration.

Would they want to experience [insert medical condition here]? Would they want to experience desire and endless striving? Would they want to experience death? Would they want to experience the limitless sufferings of Hell (if it exists)? Of course not - in which case, the absence of these negatives is good only because they have been avoided.

Would they want to experience [insert joyous occasion here]? Would they want to experience orgasms? Would they want to experience the limitless omega-sequence of Heaven (if it exists)? Of course they would – in which case, the absence of these positives is bad only because they have been avoided.

So this is the logical symmetry. But something doesn’t feel right. Is the absence of pleasure really a bad thing? Logically, it must be a bad thing. But intuitively, it’s not. We don’t feel compelled to give someone pleasure, but we certainly feel compelled not to give someone pain.

But hold on, again!  This isn’t quite right, either. For what if you could, at a press of a button, bring millions of people into existence that experience limitless joy. You only have five minutes to do this, and then your chance is over. It’s intuitive that by not pressing the button, you’d be preventing these individuals from experiencing pleasure. You might even feel a bit of guilt for not allowing these people to experience this joy. By not pressing the button, you have taken away all chance of their happiness.

Now of course, nobody is actually there to experience this deprivation. Objectively nothing has changed. The universe continues on like nothing has changed.

Let’s take this issue from another angle. Say if you press a button, millions of people will be thrown into the pits of Hell to suffer forever. Obviously you would not press this button. The absence of pain here, though, is objectively neutral. Nobody exists to be saved of this horror. The universe continues on like nothing has changed. There is no sigh of relief, except by those already existing.

Still, something seems a little funny. I will attempt to explain more:

No sane individual will argue that it is not-bad to bring great suffering into existence. Quite clearly, we would be extremely guilty for throwing even just one person into the pits of Hell forever.

But presumably we will also be willing to accept that it is a bad thing to exclude potential happy people from existence.

Now for my more fleshed-out argument.

I am of the opinion that, ceteris paribus, we have a duty to bring pleasure into existence. By itself, without any other variables, we have a duty to bring as much pleasure into existence. Of course, no scenario is without variables. To bring pleasure into existence would require me to do work and take time out of my own day (spent experiencing pleasure, myself). Since when do I have to ignore my own desires and give pleasure to other people?

But again, there’s another catch. If my existence is acting as a preventative wall against pleasure, then I have a duty to eliminate my resistance. For example, say I park my car in the middle of an intersection (for no important reason), and there is a group of people trying to get across to get ice cream. I am preventing them from getting their ice cream. As a good fellow of society, it’s my duty to get out of the way so other people can experience pleasure, just as it’s other people’s duty to maintain a low resistance to other people’s desires (so long as they don’t conflict with their own non-harmful desires).

In a nutshell, what this all means is that we have a duty, ceteris paribus, to not prevent (obstruct) the pleasure of other people, but we have no duty to give pleasure to these people (unless we have no more important obligations - namely, the pursuit of one's own desires).

So let’s turn to the negative side, that of pain and suffering. It’s the mirror of pleasure. We have a duty, ceteris paribus, to not impose pain upon another individual. But we have no duty to prevent pain from being imposed upon another individual (unless we have no more important obligations - namely, the pursuit of one's own desires).

Now, how do we evaluate obligations? Ta-dah! Consequentialism! 

If I’m a SWAT team member who has their vehicle in the middle of the intersection during an armed robbery at a bank, I am indeed preventing people wanting ice cream to get this ice cream. But I’m also preventing pain from occurring (in the bank), and since it’s my job as a hypothetical SWAT team member, I have a duty to prevent this suffering. The people wanting ice cream also have a duty to put aside their desires for ice cream for the greater good.

If I’m a potential parent, wondering if I should have a child, then duties still apply. I have no obligation to bring pleasure into existence, because this would require me to set aside a ton of time and effort raising this child. But I do have an obligation to not bring pain into existence (unless for good reason), and birth is a completely unnecessary activity (spawned from the primal desires of people) and thus does not have good enough reasons to support its actualization.

I’d also like to point out how this duty and calculus-based system recognizes heroism and sacrifice. To be a hero means to go beyond the expected duty for the sake of the greater good. And to be a sacrifice requires one to go beyond the expected duty for the sake of the greater good. Let’s look at some examples:

Say I am the same SWAT team member during the bank robbery. Say I rush in courageously and save the bank, but in the process get shot in the leg. I would be a hero for doing this. This is typically why we see soldiers and rescue-workers as heroes (even if they haven’t done anything particularly heroic).

Say I am a parent who brings a child into existence in a world in which not much suffering exists at all, perhaps just a few aches and pains and a few disappointments (if that). To bring such a child into this possible world of beauty and pleasure is not necessary at all, and yet I took time out of my life to raise this child and give them a pleasurable existence. Clearly, this is a sacrifice because I could have abstained from having a child in this near-perfect world.

But like most of you will probably sense, this world that we live in is not perfect. Suffering abounds. Pleasure is intrinsically contingent. The sacrifice of the parent is not really something to be praised, then. Although it is a sacrifice indeed, it’s also quite ethically dubious, as the parent would have imposed a sufficiently large amount of pain unto another person without the appropriate amount of pleasure.

We have no way of knowing the exact amount of pleasure or pain experienced by a person. It’s entirely subjective and variant. But we can know that birth is ethically dubious by at least two ways (assuming my prior ethical stance):

1.)    Life has structural problems, chinks in its very being. Schopenhauer identified this to be the Will, Buddhists identify this as tanha, Cabrera identifies this as moral disqualification. We can also see how pleasure is not a fundamental structure to life – it is a contingent phenomenon that depends on the aforementioned structural issues.
2.)    We have a duty to take into account the worst case scenario. The worst case scenario, in this world at least, is always worse than the absence of the best case scenario. The best case scenario is not even remotely common or easy to obtain, while the worst case scenario is, in comparison, easier and far more common.

I hope I have given an intuitive and easily-applicable ethical system, as well as a persuasive case for antinatalism.