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Nick_Beckstead comments on Four Focus Areas of Effective Altruism - Less Wrong

40 Post author: lukeprog 09 July 2013 12:59AM

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Comment author: Nick_Beckstead 03 August 2013 08:34:46AM 1 point [-]

Do you not argue for that at all? I thought you were going in the direction of establishing an axiological and deontic parallelism between the "wretched child" and the "happy child".

I do some of that in chapter 4. I don't engage with speculative arguments that the future will be bad (e.g. the dystopian scenarios that negative utilitarians like to discuss) or make my case by appealing to positive trends of the sort discussed by Pinker in Better Angels. Carl Shulman and I are putting together some thoughts on some of these issues at the moment.

The quoted passage ("all potential value is found in [the existence of] the well-being of the astronomical numbers of people who could populate the far future") strongly suggests a classical total population ethics, which is rejected by negative utilitarianism and person-affecting views. And the "therefore" suggests that the crucial issue here is time preference, which is a popular and incorrect perception.

Maybe so. I think the key is how you interpret the word "value." If you interpret as "only positive value" then negative utilitarians disagree but only because they think there isn't any possible positive value. If you interpret it as "positive or negative value" I think they should agree for pretty straightforward reasons.

Comment author: Adriano_Mannino 04 August 2013 01:52:55AM 6 points [-]

One important reason they like to discuss them is the fact that many people just assume, without adequate consideration and argument, that the future will be hugely net positive. Which comes at no surprise, given the existence of relevant biases.

Whether negative utilitarians believe that "there isn't any possible positive value" is semantics, I think. The framing you suggest is probably a semantic (and thus bad) trigger of the absurdity heuristic. With equal substantial justification and more semantic charity, one could say that negative utilitarians believe that the absence of suffering/unfulfilled preferences or suffering-free world-states have positive value (and one may add either that they believe that the existence of suffering/unfulfilled preferences has negative value or that they believe there isn't any possible negative value).