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Jonathan_El-Bizri comments on Torture vs. Dust Specks - Less Wrong

41 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 30 October 2007 02:50AM

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Comment author: Jonathan_El-Bizri 30 October 2007 06:00:51AM 3 points [-]

Trivial annoyances and torture cannot be compared in this quantifiable manner. Torture is not only suffering, but lost opportunity due to imprisonment, permanent mental hardship, activation of pain and suffering processes in the mind, and a myriad of other unconsidered things.

And even if the torture was 'to have flecks of dust dropped in your eyes', you still can't compare a 'torturous amount' applied to one person, to substantial number dropped in the eyes of many people: We aren't talking about cpu cycles here - we are trying to quantify qualifiables.

If you revised the question, and specified stated exactly how the torture would affect the individual, and how they would react to it, and the same for each of the 'dust in the eyes' people (what if one goes blind? what of their mental capacity to deal with the hardship? what of the actual level of moisture in their eyes, and consequently the discomfort being felt?) then, maybe then, we could determine which was the worse outcome, and by how much.

There are simply too many assumptions that we have to make in this, mortal, world to determine the answer to such questions: you might as well as how many angels dance on the head of a pin. Or you could start more simply and ask: if you were to torture two people in exactly the same way, which one would suffer more, and by how much?

And you notice, I haven't even started to think about the ethical side of the question...

Comment author: DanielLC 27 December 2009 03:20:52AM 4 points [-]

Can you compare apples and oranges? You certainly don't seem to have much trouble when you decide how to spend your money at the grocery store.

It was rather clear from the context that the "dust in the eye" was a very, very minor torture. People are not going blind. They are perfectly capable of dealing with it. It's just not 3^^^3 times as minor as the torture.

If you were to torture two people in exactly the same way, they'd suffer about equally. Why do you imply that's some sort of unanswerable question?

If you weren't talking about the ethical side, what were you talking about? He wasn't trying to compare everything about the two choices, just which was more ethical. It would be impossible if he didn't limit it like that.

Comment author: snewmark 02 June 2016 04:12:52PM *  0 points [-]

And you notice, I haven't even started to think about the ethical side of the question...

I'm pretty sure the question itself revolves around ethics, as far as I can tell the question is: given these 2 choices, which would you consider, ethically speaking, the ideal option?