Re: Arguments from Nonexistence
Wed, 13 Jan 1999 18:59:35 -0800 (PST)

On Wed, 13 Jan 1999, Robin Hanson wrote:

> Dale C wrote:
> >It cannot be emphasized enough that an entity that never exists does not
> >"miss" the life it hasn't attained, and that taking its fictional
> >"desires" into account when making moral calculations seems to
> >overcomplicate an already breathtakingly complicated business.
> I don't see that introducing this specific consideration makes the difference
> between complex but manageable calculations and unmanageable calculations.
> So I don't see why we should reject this consideration on such grounds.

It is a tricky enough business to negotiate among the contending ends of existing entities. Even under the best circumstances I don't know if I would describe these calculations as "manageable" exactly. Just as "necessary." It is not clear to me how it can be helpful to introduce our projections about the ends of fictional potential entities to the mix. Am I misunderstanding your point? In any case, even if this added and unecessary complication of ethical deliberation is an insufficient ground to reject such a consideration, there are additional questions about how and why and when one should weight the ends of these actual and potential entities over one another in ethical deliberations.

> Regarding the fictionality of desires, consider the view that me-today
> and me-tommorow are two different but closely related creatures. If you
> suddenly and without warning killed me, you might argue that me-tommorow
> became a fictional creature whose desire to live is irrelevant. And you
> didn't hurt me-today, except via his altruism toward me-tommorow.

You will be unsurprised to hear that I wouldn't argue this. If you-today are in the process of committing suicide, because you are suffering the extreme irremediable pain of some terminal condition, say, should I frustrate your effort on the assumption that you-tomorrow might regret being dead? Should I privilege the you-tomorrow who would regret your decision over the you-tomorrow who would not regret it and simply try again? On what grounds? And anyway, it seems to me that there is a sufficiently nontrivial ethical difference *between* the difference between you-today and you-tomorrow on the one hand, and you-sloshing-about-the-womb-a-week-after-conception and you-today on the other hand, that I don't know how clarifying it is to the issue at hand to make too much of this analogy. The ontic difference between the "disappointed" piglet that never has a shot at existence and the discomfited piglet in the slaughterhouse seems to me a grander one than the simple difference between a piglet-today and that piglet-tomorrow as he makes his way in the world.

Best, Dale

	  	   Dale Carrico |
	  University of California at Berkeley, Department of Rhetoric