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Benoit_Essiambre comments on Torture vs. Dust Specks - Less Wrong

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

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Comment author: Benoit_Essiambre 30 October 2007 02:26:33PM 2 points [-]

I believe that ideally speaking the best choice is the torture, but pragmatically, I think the dust speck answer can make more sense. Of course it is more intuitive morally, but I would go as far as saying that the utility can be higher for the dust specks situation (and thus our intuition is right). How? the problem is in this sentence: "If neither event is going to happen to you personally," the truth is that in the real world, we can't rely on this statement. Even if it is promised to us or made into a law, this type of statements often won't hold up very long. Precedents have to be taken into account when we make a decision based on utility. If we let someone be tortured now, we are building a precedent, a tradition of letting people being tortured. This has a very low utility for people living in the affected society. This is well summarized in the saying "What goes around comes around".

If you take the strict idealistic situation described, the torture is the best choice. But if you instead deem the situation to be completely unrealistic and you pick a similar one by simply not giving a 100% reliability on the sentence: "If neither event is going to happen to you personally," the best choice can become the dust specks, depending on how much you believe the risk of a tradition of torture will be established. (and IMO traditions of torture and violence is the kind of thing that spreads easily as it stimulates resentment and hatred in the groups that are more affected.) The torture situation has much risk of getting worst but not the dust speck situation.

The scenario might have been different if torture was replaced by a kind of suffering that is not induced by humans. Say... an incredibly painful and long (but not contagious) illness.

Is it better to have the dust specks everywhere all the time or to have the existence of this illness once in history?