Saturday, November 22, 2008

Do Merely Possible People Matter?

Lets say you have a small world with a million people everyone has a small house and there is enough food for everyone.
you have a couple of buttons you can press and you want to know if you are morally obliged to press them

1) the first button immediately creates a million slaves that will make the lives of everyone in the world better but their lives will be miserable.
2) the second button makes half a million people disappear but makes everyone else's life better
3) the third button instantly creates half a million people with average lives at the cost of happiness to the others (they need places to live food etc)

the question is how do you weight the future interests of current people with future people who might or might not exist/continue to exist depending on what buttons you press. I presume most people would choose to press no buttons or press button 3, but neither of those options seems to follow a consistent rule.

I guess Richard would consider pressing button 3 but for an odd reason. Richard argues we DO have reason to bring more good lives into existence, but not for the good of that person but for the good of the world. but that seems silly to me - he is trying to get around allocating value to a non existing person and he does so by adding value to a non existing world? Seems Richard has just confused himself enough to not see the problem remains.

here are a couple even better thought experiments
1) imagine that you have a series of machines that support your brain functions by duplicating them. As time goes by they get more refined until a point where if disc0nected from you they are able to become a independent person. Is it a good thing to create people in this way? does that decision depend on how good a life they would have?
2) imagine a ray gun called the 'never existed ray gun" if you shoot someone with it it doesn't kill them - instead it goes back in time and ensures they never existed. You could thus remove peopel youdont like without 'harming' them in the narrow sense of the word.
3) imagine a gun that if it shoots you changes something small in your past that makes you a fundamentally different person - is it morally bad to use the gun (because it 'kills' real people and replaces them with alternate people.


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