Monday, July 18, 2016

The value of a life

Is life inherently valuable? Is it rational to continue to exist?

Life is intrinsically valuable to the agent whose life it belongs to. To be valuable means to be worth continuing and striving for. But, again, is this intrinsic value a rational one? To be rational, in this sense, means to be objectively valuable. Is intrinsic value always synonymous to objective value?

If what is rational (and thus objectively valuable) is not dependent upon the intrinsic value of the agent's life, then we're left with the somewhat uncomfortable position that people might not know what is best for them. They may be delusional and believe their life to be worth continuing when in fact it isn't.

I think it to be true that the intrinsic value (perceived value) of an agent's life is, at least in some sense, independent from the objective, overall value of a person's life.

Perhaps we can make a rough mathematical formula to intuitively calculate the objective value of a person's life:

where V = value of an individual's life, x = comparative qualitative constant between pleasure and suffering, P = pleasure, S = suffering, i = the individual, n = other individuals, I = intensity, D = duration, and L = likelihood.

(Okay, I'll admit, I had a lot of fun making this...)

This formula reads as follows, or at least it should if I remembered any mathematics from high school...:

The value of an individual's life equals the net pleasure (measured by intensity multiplied by duration multiplied by likelihood), minus the net suffering (measured by intensity multiplied by duration multiplied by likelihood) multiplied by the comparative qualitative constant and the net pleasure, minus the net suffering (measured by intensity multiplied by duration multiplied by likelihood) of other people caused by the individual multiplied by the comparative qualitative constant.


From this, we can see that a person's life is objectively valuable if they have a significantly greater amount of pleasure than pain (hence the comparative qualitative constant x which avoids the Repugnant Conclusion), and they don't directly cause a sufficient amount of suffering in others than what they personally experience. The comparative qualitative constant x is meant to not only to avoid the Repugnant Conclusion but also to avoid any Utility Monster scenarios. I also left out the pleasure the individual causes in other people, since this also can lead to the unsavory scenario of instrumentalizing a person.

I'm not about to claim that a valuable life is a common specimen in the world. Most people live mediocre lives and are poor at evaluating the shittiness. A belief that one has a good life is of course necessary for a life to be objectively valuable, but such a belief is not by itself lead to an objectively valuable life. If a person isn't living a mediocre life (or in addition to their mediocre lives), then they are, to a certain degree, morally disqualified.

For a person to be condemned as utterly immoral would require them to be extremely morally disqualified. So even if procreators are the root of all suffering, they are not necessarily responsible for the suffering. If their children aren't responsible for what they do and instead their parents are, then we need to apply this same logic to parents and understand that parents aren't responsible for anything either, since they also were born at some point in time. Either we just keep pushing the blame and responsibility back, or we realize that you have certain responsibilities whether you like it or not.

Therefore, procreative parents indeed make possible the conditions of all suffering in the world, but most parents also go on to do good and are "decent" people. So they can be seen as living a potentially valuable life even if they initiate the causal chain of suffering.

It's late, I might expand on this later.


  1. I need to reread all this when I'm not sleepy and mentally drained.

    The mathematical formula is giving me a headache which is (probably?) making my life less valuable and less worthy of continuation.

    1. To simplify, the objective value of a life is the subjective values and disvalues (objectively calculated) in addition to the subjective disvalue imposed upon other people due to this original person's existence.

    2. Precisely, but I'd make it a point to stress preferentist (over hedonist) caveats for all interpersonal impact stemming from humans' relationships.

      So if Bob tends to be a jerk to his lifelong friend because he has a very dark sense of humor which his friend doesn't quite share, and this difference officially puts Bob's impact in the hedonic red because it continually hurts his friend's feelings on some level (with all else being neutral), yet Bob's friend still values their friendship and by proxy Bob's existence, this non-hedonic appreciation overrides the hurt feels caused by Bob.

    3. I would argue that the non-hedonic appreciation of Bob as a friend is, in fact, hedonic. It's pleasurable to have good company. I find it hard to accept that someone's preferences can be independent from any pleasure. At least, preferences have to be attached to some higher-order pleasure, like a teleological good.

      So the appreciation would naturally override Bob's douchewankery.

      The first part of the equation would then deal with the personal value of person's life, and the second latter part of the equation would deal with the impact this person has on other people. Thus the former motivates counseling and assistance, and the latter motivates legal action.