Chapter 4: ((The Value of Life))


To now linger here for an additional auxiliary discussion, first observe that the dynamics which have caused the ability to feel positive/negative are responsible for all love, hatred, itchiness, fun, lust, pride, anger, remorse, and so on. These dynamics were responsible for all “sensations,” or theoretically all punishment and reward — or all personal relevance.

The realities of existence mandate that sensations might ultimately prove positive to the personal entities that both have existed and will exist, in a cumulative sense, though for the little that we know, negative sensations might actually prevail. The theoretical way to assess this would be to add every unit of positive sensation which has been and will be experienced, and deduct every unit of negative sensation which has been and will be experienced. This summation would theoretically quantify the net positive or negative “value” associated with sensations over time, or define what this enormous subject as a whole is ultimately “worth.”

Though it’s commonly assumed that the emergence of “life” was somehow “a positive development,” first observe that from this model existence is completely irrelevant to all perfectly instinctive examples. Theoretically it was only with the emergence of the personal entity, or sensations, that significance could also exist. And though extensive and impartial research would be required in order to effectively estimate how positive or negative personal existence has been in the past, it’s distinctly possible that the emergence of the personal entity both has been, and will presumably continue to be, an enormous cumulative tragedy.

Given cumulative future sensations, however, if existence does ultimately represent “a great tragedy for future life,” observe the following implication. Here it would be beneficial to this coming subject as a whole, if it did not actually occur.

We may never have much ability to accurately estimate the amount of positive and negative sensations that “future life in general” will experience, or even have much ability to “end life on Earth.” Furthermore the incentive to actually attempt such a thing, would not ultimately exist — “future sensations as a whole” are not specifically the sensations of “anyone.” But it is possible that future existence ultimately represents a horrible tragedy for this subject, and quite regardless of whether the presented definition of “good” is used… or any other. If future existence as a whole will indeed be “punishing” to this enormous subject in general… then nonexistence would be beneficial for it regardless.

While we’re “out there,” however, one might also suggest that a better plan from this scenario than termination, would be for humanity to somehow improve conditions so that positive sensations would ultimately predominate.

Though positive sensations are indeed superior to no sensations from this model, speculation that humanity might have such a positive effect… is certainly suspicious. Rodents and other mammals apparently do experience sensations, and cumulatively these sensations should be many orders beyond humanity’s. And while I can’t say whether or not insects generally experience sensations, perhaps they do. Furthermore the birds above and the fish below seem quite conscious — so perhaps their sensations would need human help as well.

If we are given that the balance of sensations for life on Earth generally tends to be negative, might humanity then improve this situation for sentient subjects in general to the point that future positive sensations would predominate? And do so given the relatively short future that humanity should be expected to have? And furthermore, even if humanity did have the ability to markedly promote positive sensations for existence on Earth over time to the point that these sensations would predominate, the incentive to actually impliment this “enormous general good,” would presumably still be missing. The presented model states that incentive exists for us to expend resources in order to promote the welfare of the sensations which we personally experience, not the sensations of future existence in general.


15 Comments on “Chapter 4: ((The Value of Life))”

  1. Took me a while to find your response. I’m much more scientific/empirical than many. my conclusions are that morality is a survival trait, a la Thos. Hobbs. “If the people are not moral, paraphrasing from his “Leviathan, they will soon get a government which makes them moral.”
    That’s the survivability of morality.
    For instance, if one is promiscuous sexually, esp. when there were no treatments for STD’s, one was likely to die like Al Capone did of tertiary syphilis, etc. HIV and drug resistant STD;’s have now created a similar situation with respect to what existed before PCN and the other antibiotics, esp. in Equatorial Africa. Morality with respect to HIV infection probabilities will create more sexual morality, or they will die. The same is happening, albeit slower in North Am.
    I regard morality therefore as an efficient, least energy rule for survival, codifed and blessed by the gods, of course!!

    herb W.

  2. Liam says:

    I like how you’re willing to consider the possibility that nonexistence is beneficial. I’m curious what your thoughts are on this post of mine:

  3. Well here’s how I see it Liam. The value of existing as anything for a given moment, is made up of how good it feels for that moment, minus how bad it feels for that moment. So I don’t need to get into any kind of complicated ratio. A micro amount more happiness experienced by a given society than unhappiness, means that existence is better for it than not as I see it, and to the exact magnitude of the extra positive bit of happiness experienced. In this case it’s not much, but something. You mentioned eternity earlier, which wins out in the end against mortal factors.

    Let me emphasize that the good of one thing will almost always be different from the good of something else. My welfare is constituted by how good I feel over a defined period of time, just as it is for a given society over some period. Take a full summation of anything’s happiness, and that’s how good existence is for it.

  4. That’s right Liam, 50%+ will do it for happiness. I really should clarity my position in a technical sense however to let you know what I’m proposing.

    First my position is not about the rightness or wrongness of any human behavior. This is to say that it’s amoral. My ideas concern welfare and function rather than judgement.

    Second my ideas are purely based upon a stated subject. This is to say that one must define what’s being referred to at least implicitly if not explicitly. Different subjects naturally tend to have different interests which often conflict, so I believe that we need to be resolute here.

    Then finally I believe that each unit of happiness needs to be accounted for in its own right. This seems to mathematically work out as its total magnitude rather than any variety of mean assessment. There are many technical terms for happiness, though for the moment let’s use “valence” from psychology. So I call my position Amoral Subjective Total Valence, or ASTV.

    This is an extreme form of psychological egoism, so once you assess its various implications I’ll be interested to see if you’re satisfied with it. It has all sorts of repugnant implications well beyond what’s noted by Derek Parfit (which I believe you’ve posted on). My purpose here is to describe what’s real rather than social conceptions of what’s moral. Utilitarians fail, I think, because they try to make their position more appealing by means of moral caveats. Furthermore I believe that mental and behavioral sciences in general haven’t yet been able to agree upon basic theory regarding our nature, specifically because of the repugnant implications of taking things to the extremity that I do. Only economists seem permitted to go this far, and apparently because their science is so far off the center of human function.

    • Liam says:

      I think I can already see the repugnant implications of ASTV. Suppose you could create a universe with one trillion people who will suffer for all eternity and one trillion and one people who will be happy for all eternity. It seems to me you are saying you would create this universe.

  5. Yep. And here’s the main thing that I think makes it all work. Every time we’re talking about welfare, we must be sure to a acknowledge whose welfare. It’s bad for the sufferers to exist and good for the happy to exist, so any one or combination could be a subject with its own associated welfare. But if we define the subject to be the welfare of the two trillion and one eternal entities, where the one trillion cancels out the state of the other trillion, then the last happy eternal entity will be the deciding factor. So for this total subject I consider existence “good” given the left over happiness that the full subject experiences.

    And things could get far more repugnant as well. Let’s say that we factor in the happiness of someone that does repugnant things in order to become happy, or even a “utility monster”, versus the unhappiness of kind people. It doesn’t matter.

  6. With me personally? Yea the utility monster definitely cuts ice with me. I don’t like this whatsoever. And no I wouldn’t choose to create a world where horrible bastards have all sorts of fun torturing innocent people. But that’s not my point. My point is about what’s true and what’s false regarding the welfare of any given defined subject. In a world where torturers feel so good torturing that this surpasses the horrors experienced by the tortured, the society overall will be of positive value, while its non-existence will be neutral.

    In the end I believe that we’ll need to formally understand such hard truths in order to better lead our individual lives, as well as structure our various societies.

  7. Liam says:

    It seems to me that torturers who feel so good torturing that this surpasses the horrors experienced by the tortured are utility monsters.

  8. Agreed, and if it were up to me they wouldn’t exist — even if it were best for a defined society that they did exist.

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