Sunday, June 12, 2011

Your Possible Future Selves and Their Rights to You Putting Down the Banana Cream Pie

Or, Holy Christ, I founded the goddamn Society for the Protection of Possible Future People

Whose well-being may we ethically sacrifice?

James at Diabasis makes a dangerous, strange, powerful connection regarding the rights of possible future selves.

A while ago, I argued that Adam Ozimek of Modeled Behavior was wrong to consider suicide "murder of a future self" in light of the successive-selves model favored by neuroscience. A future self, I argued, is only a possible future person, with no right to come into existence any more than the 1,526,287th sperm you ejaculated this morning has a right to come into existence together with your sister's ovum.

But all this time, I and others have been arguing in favor of a particular right for possible people: the right not to come into existence.

Connecting the two, James notes that this does seem like evidence of a duty to protect possible future selves from existence by committing suicide at the earliest possible date. (Indeed, I feel annoyance at all my past selves when I suffer.)

If your possible future self has a right for you to put down the fucking banana cream pie and take a walk, for chrissakes (a right, that is, to a certain quality of life) how can it not also have a right to not come into being at all?

Is there a good reason for treating possible future selves distinctly from possible future others? Indeed, I feel morally entitled to sacrifice my future self's well-being, when I wouldn't feel entitled to sacrifice the well-being of proper other people. But since it's my future self, and not "me," that suffers this - am I really any more entitled to make my possible future selves suffer than to, say, make you suffer?

14 comments:

  1. Whose well-being may we ethically sacrifice?

    In the framework of an algonomic strategy, the principle I guess is that we may not sacrifice anyone's well-being except when it is inevitable, and then the choice of "whose", if there is any choice to be made, is a matter of collective decision by those who are concerned. In certain circumstances, the decision may have to be made by chance alone...

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  2. Presumably, we may altruistically sacrifice our own well-being, and others may altruistically sacrifice their own well-being (that collective decision you refer to). But the strange thing here is: what counts as me? Is my future self's well-being a proper target for sacrifice? Or is that just as, or nearly as, noxious as sacrificing the well-being of nonconsenting others?

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  3. I suppose it’s possible to argue that existing people are better placed to judge how many of these future selves will be like present-self. Would-be parents gamble with an unfathomable number of variables when they make decisions for future units of sentience but existing people can at least see what possibilities are likely even if the assessment is inductive. If my adult temperaments have been consistent for 10 years there is at least a track record to work with. I can say that there is a likelihood that a considerable number of future selfs would agree with my judgment.

    Obviously there are many people that are not great at making probability based decisions but we allow them to make poor decisions within reason. I suppose that might count as giving them the benefit of the doubt.

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  4. Yes - we can think of it as, if the future self has a right to be protected, who is in the best position to be the protector - an abstract set of rules enforced by the government (for instance), or the past self?

    However, I think this needs to be harmonized with the proposition that no life is worth getting. The successive-selves model seems to kill any distinction between the procreation case and the continuing-to-live case.

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  5. It happens sometimes that I sacrifice my well-being or that of non-consenting others. Such sacrificing may be justified or not, depending on various considerations.

    I don't understand your question about my future self: for me it counts like any other, except that I am of course closer to my own self interests. In cases where everything is equal, I will vote for myself, and more particularly for my present self.

    But my basic assumption is that some lives are worth getting and some are not.

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  6. ~The "3-4 hours ago" anonymous in response to Sister Y ~

    Perhaps…

    The knowledgeable future protector scenario doesn’t immediately strike me as ineffective at dealing with the problem but I can see that it risks marring the effectiveness of the asymmetry argument by making it susceptible to the continuum fallacy. I’ll have to think about it but I’m still finding myself looking at this as odds based. Some choices that provide no benefit are unjustifiable given the risk of harm (ie birth = 100% risk of harm) but some lower risk choices (not necessarily to the benefit of future selves) might be justifiable purely because the existing self-avoids harming current self and other people by making the decision. It's all a matter of degree and not necessarily a decision that reflects the underlying reality of net harm but it does reflect the uncertainty we face in making certain decisions.

    In my opinion it is difficult to ignore many of the intricacies that are a part of being alive that are not faced by the non-existent. The illusion of a unified self might just have to be (at least in part) a limiting factor of our considerations because, taken to extremes, consciousness could be deconstructed to the point where each component might be too trivial to be relevant of moral consideration. We might just have to chunk selves into units that reflect average levels of identity/desire and this might only be possible to do in retrospect.

    Final note: Future self-consideration chimes well with a recurrent question I ask myself. Why don’t I kill myself today? I could be immobilised at some point in the future and the odds of that happening increase daily. If I kill myself today I would have a better chance of succeeding than if I was handicapped at some later stage in life... I tend to put it down to upsetting family and friends which suggests that I’m doing some kind of utility equation that seems incomparable to bringing life into the world.

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  7. The question in the end is: how (much) should we inflict suffering upon ourselves in order to control suffering in a universe that produces sentient life willy-nilly.

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  8. Is future self something which will be born after we die or am I totally missing everything?

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  9. Your future selves are...yourself two minutes from now, yourself an hour from now, a month from now, five years from now. Nothing mystical intended.

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  10. In that case, the third-post Anonymous makes a very powerful and crushing observation. We can be considerably surer of our "future selves'" views and tastes than of possible future other people.

    And then, there's your "happiness is a stochastic phenomenon" post.

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  11. The Plague DoctorJune 14, 2011 at 9:35 AM

    The case for antinatalism rests in part on the fact that the harm done to potential parents by nonprocreation is minimal or non-existent (merely the frustrated desire to have children). If killing or substantially harming yourself was the only way to prevent the existence of future children (future other people), then the antinatalist argument might not hold either, as the sacrafice would be too great to be reasonably demanded.

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  12. Plague Doctor, I think that has to be part of the key. But I also do think it's legitimate to claim that I have a right to sacrifice my future self's well-being, even if the harm to me in not doing to is negligible, whereas I don't have the right to sacrifice my future children's well-being, even if the harm in avoiding doing that is substantial.

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  13. The Plague DoctorJune 14, 2011 at 12:09 PM

    I cannot think of an example of your second situation: when do parents experience substantial harm when they choose not to procreate?

    Also, procreation versus not committing suicide seems to me to be a clear example of doing versus allowing harm.

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  14. Plague Doctor,
    Old people rely often very heavily on care provided by younger people. If we all unanimously choose not to procreate, as I believe we should, we might be in for a substantially more difficult old age.

    That said, it does seem that modern medicine is increasing life spans of old people -- often against their will -- without providing true well-being, let alone happiness. In India at least, it is even seen as a duty of the children to keep their parents alive as long as possible.

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