Formal System

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The ethics of power — May 25, 2014

The ethics of power

Human history has been a history of ethics. Most of the past roughly till the end of the Medieval Ages seems to have been dominated by what I call authoritarian ethics. There is a brief explanation here but I will try to give one myself. In authoritarian ethics, the desirability of an action is decided by the relevant authority (i.e. religious leaders, lords, kings, husbands). From there, we (i.e. the western world) gradually moved on towards the ethics of natural (human) rights. Roughly, natural rights are a set of things a human is entitled to. In a broad sense, over time, more and more humans have had access to some common entitlements. While in practice not all humans currently have access to some common entitlements, there seems to be an interest in moving towards universal human access to common entitlements. So there might come a time where all humans have access to common entitlements. Some tout this point as the final point when it comes to the development/evolution of ethical state of affairs. Let us visualise this.

Circle E and circle H
Circle E and circle H. A set is represented by a circle.
Set H inside set E. Hypothetical future final point.
Set H inside set E. Hypothetical future final point.

 

If E is the set of life forms with access to common entitlements and H is the set of humans, human history is just the story of how P and H gradually overlapped till the hypothetical future final point where H will be inside P (all humans having access to common entitlements). But is this final stage qualitatively than the previous ones? You could say that yes, for the first time in the history of humanity, all humans have rights (all H are inside E). This should be the homeostasis of ethics in the Earth and presumably cause of celebration for everyone.

However, if an extraterrestrial visitor witnessed how H eventually got inside E, he might ask: what about other life forms? While we saw H as a set of its own, our visitor might see H as part of L (set of all life forms). This is what he would see:

Set A (life forms), Set B (humans) and Set C (all those life forms with entitlements)
Set A (life forms), Set B (humans) and Set C (all those life forms with entitlements)

For our visitor, only some members of set A which call themselves set B have got inside C (the set of those who have entitlements). So the question our visitor would ponder might be: what about those members of set A that are outside B. If he were to ask: “Hey, members of set B! Should ‘members of set A that are not members of set B’ be allowed to get inside C?”, the answer would most likely be an overall “No.”. The visitor would get to hear responses invoking metaphysical inventions and all sort of excuses to keep the current state of ethical affairs. This is what I call Anthropocentric ethics.

Now let us see what authoritarian ethics would look like:

Circle P and circle H
Circle E and circle S.
Set H inside set E. Hypothetical future final point.
Set H inside set E. Hypothetical future final point.

If E is the set of humans with access to common entitlements and S is the set of special humans, human history (till the Medieval Ages) is just the story of how S and E gradually overlapped till the hypothetical future final point where S will be inside E (all special humans having access to common entitlements). By special human I mean any human considered by other humans to be “important”, so special humans would be lords, knights, kings and any other person with some sort of influence on other humans. But is this final stage qualitatively than the previous ones? You could say that yes, for the first time in the history of humanity, all humans that are special have rights (all S are inside E).   This should be the homeostasis of ethics in the Earth and presumably cause of celebration for everyone.

However, if a 21st century human visitor witnessed how S eventually got inside E, he might ask: what about other humans? While we saw S as a set of its own, our visitor might see S as part of H (set of all humans). This is what he would see:

Set A (humans), Set B (special humans) and Set C (all those humans with entitlements)

For our visitor, only some members of set A which call themselves set B have got inside C (the set of those who have entitlements). So the question our visitor would ponder might be: what about those members of set A that are outside B. If he were to ask: “Hey, members of set B! Should ‘members of set A that are not members of set B’ be allowed to get inside C?”, the answer would most likely be an overall “No.”. The visitor would get to hear responses invoking metaphysical inventions and all sort of excuses to keep the current state of ethical affairs. This is what I call Authoritarian ethics.

Now let us make some main points about the visualisations:

  1. Both have a sub-group (called SG1) of a group moving inside another group G2
  2. Both sub-groups are part of a larger group G1
  3. SG1s do not want non-SG1s to move inside another group
  4. SG1s do not seem to have rational and consistent reasons to keep to non-SG1s outside G2
  5.  The only difference between SG1s and non-SG1s is the power they have
  6. Those inside G2 are the powerful members of G1

The final point to make when it comes to the main common characteristic between anthropocentric ethics and authoritarian ethics is that they are both ethics of power. In ethics of power, desirability is defined in terms of the interests of the powerful. When it comes to conflicting interests between the powerful and the non-powerful, that which is desirable or right is that which falls under the interests of the powerful.

Conclusion

Seeing this, how are the arguments supporting anthropocentric ethics any different than arguments supporting authoritarian ethics? It is worth mentioning that both the transition from pre-authoritarian ethics to fully fledged authoritarian ethics and the transition from the authoritarian ethics to the broader anthropocentric ethics was mainly a transition of a larger group of life forms inside the category of those who have entitlements, in other words, an increase of life forms who are considered to have entitlements.

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The Equality Dilemma — May 4, 2014

The Equality Dilemma

The equality problem can be summarised in the following question:

When should the interests of two beings be weighed equally?

I think this question is important because it has social and political ramifications and touches on things like racism, sexism, ageism and other forms of discrimination.

By looking at our societies, it seems that when it comes to humans the answer would be something along the lines of:

The interests of two humans are weighed equally when there are no other relevant criteria.

What does the above answer mean? It means that other things being equal, the interests of two humans are weighed equally. What does “other things being equal” mean? It refers to any other facts that might shift the balance towards one of the two interests.

Situation 1

Two people arrive to the hospital and request medical assistance. The hospital can only attend one patient and so, it needs to decide which patient should be cared first. Hospitals can be said to be interested in keeping alive as many people as possible. This means that the decision making of the hospital is based on the goal of reducing the number of deceased people. And we know that serious injuries are more likely to cause death in the short term than minor injuries. This implies that the hospital will prioritise the interest of the patient with the most serious injury over the interest of the patient with the less serious injury.

Other things not being equal, the interests of two beings are not weighed equally.

– Beginning: Optional reading-

Just like in situation 1, when an understaffed police station is asked for resources from two different parties, there is some decision making going on in order to decide whether/which of the parties’ interests should be prioritised. Ideally, interests would always be weighed equally, but in our physical world of finite resources, prioritising different interests (i.e. not giving the equal consideration) is often needed.

The rationale used for rejecting forms of discrimination like racism and sexism are based on the idea that the prioritising is not needed. One thing worth mentioning is that priorities are based on some assumptions. So in the case of the hospital, the priorities were based on a goal of reducing the number of deceased people and in the case of the police station, the priorities were based on a goal of giving more help to those who need it most and less help to those who need it less. In other words, we give unequal treatment to try to generate an equal state of affairs. It is a bit like the metaphor of adding wherever is needed and removing whenever is not needed to accomplish the goal of removing all the irregularities and achieving a flat ground.

How does this work for forms of discrimination like racism and sexism? A sexist person considers sex a relevant factor when examining the interests of two beings (who happen to belong to different sexes) when sex cannot be rationally argued to be a relevant factor. So when it comes to choosing two candidates for a job where sex is not relevant (for example, software engineering), a sexist person would still factor sex as a relevant factor. The argument against factoring sex here is that the sex of the person is not related to the person’s performance in a job where the only thing that matters is your performance as software engineer .

On the other hand, there could be a case where sexual discrimination is rationally supported. A female patient requests a female doctor on an assumption like the following:  she does not feel comfortable about the possibility of having to show her intimate parts to a male doctor. The core assumption is that nakedness is a very personal matter and we have as a goal that the wishes of the interested person should be granted whenever it is possible.

-End: Optional reading-

So the issue here is what qualifies as “relevant factors”. The relevant factors are those that maximise the goal held by the decision maker.

Let us bring the case of software engineer job that discriminates against women. Rather than calling it sexist, the question to be asked would be: what are the goals of the decision maker? Is it to have a software engineer or to have a male software engineer? If the goal was the former, the decision maker could be called sexist, otherwise it could not. Why? Because as we said, the interests of two parties are weighed equally when there are no goal-maximising factors.

Surely, someone could say that the goal of keeping a male-only company is sexist, but it is not. It does indeed differentiate on the basis of sex but it does not make judgements about the capabilities of the differentiated person. A case of discrimination would be the case where the decision maker is faced with two applications by a man and a woman for a job that only requires communication skills yet the decision maker prioritises one sex over the other. That is discrimination.

The solution to the problem of equality is establishing the nature of the goal. Once the goal is clearly defined, any possible relevant factors can be pinpointed and a fair decision making can be carried out (or an unfair decision making can be pointed out).

 

On eugenics and genetic counselling — April 20, 2014

On eugenics and genetic counselling

Let us clarify some terms first.

Eugenics:

1. the belief and practice of improving the genetic quality of a population.

2. Social philosophy that encourages higher reproduction rates for people with desirable traits and lower reproduction rates for people with undesirable traits.

Notice that eugenics mentions populations and groups of people and has the connotations of an authority carrying out the selective breeding on its citizens. I propose we call this type of eugenics “authority-driven selective breeding”.

Genetic counseling:

1. the process by which patients or relatives at risk of an inherited disorder, are advised of the consequences and nature of the disorder, the probability of developing or transmitting it, and the options open to them in management and family planning.

Having defined these terms, we turn to the topic of this blog post.

Is eugenics acceptable? Is genetic counseling desirable?

We will start with the first question. Due to historical factors, eugenics has gained a connotation of authoritarian imposition and discrimination on irrelevant grounds. There is the notion of an authority forcing selective breeding programs on people and the notion of choosing what traits are desirable. It is worth clarifying that authority-driven eugenics needs not to be the same as selective breeding by the involved sexual mates. Replies against eugenics often include the two notions, while replies against genetic counseling often include the later notion. However, eugenics does not necessarily need to be enforced. Individuals can choose whether or not to breed with others based on their own criteria.

There is also an inconsistency in replies against eugenics (here meaning selective breeding) regarding the second notion: they argue that we don’t have the right to choose what genetic traits are desirable. Yet the same people oppose sexual intercourse among siblings on the grounds that it is genetically undesirable (i.e. it produces genetic traits that are undesirable). These people are favouring selective breeding in one case and rejecting it in other case. How is ‘the ability/right to choose what genetic traits are desirable’ desirable in one occasion and undesirable in another? The way I see it, incest among siblings has been rationally rejected on the grounds that it is not genetically desirable. Surely, this implies that selective breeding and ‘the ability/right to choose what genetic traits are desirable’ are desirable.

If you go down this route, it seems unlikely that you can reject selective breeding when the sexual mates have enough reasoning powers to make their own decisions. Otherwise, if you reject the individual choice of selective breeding, you can’t reject incest among siblings. The conclusion seems to be that individuals should be allowed to carry out selective breeding. This leads us to the second question.

Is genetic counseling desirable?

As we said above, if we assume that: selective breeding and ‘the ability/right to choose what genetic traits are desirable’ are desirable and the parents have enough reasoning powers to make decisions involving potential children, it seems that genetic counseling is desirable.

However, by asking this question, there was something else I wanted to put on the table. It involves the termination of life of human life forms in gestation that are predicted to have traits that are not considered to be desirable by the involved sexual mates. This is where most of the hot debates focus their attention. ‘Who are you to decide on what criteria a potential human’s life should be terminated?’ some may say.

To all those who might think along similar lines, I invite them to consider the following scenarios:

Scenario 1
A product is developed that removes all neurodevelopmental disorders from a person. How many do you think would not take it?

Scenario 2

And soon after this product is improved so that it allows limb growth. How many severe physically impaired people do you think would not take it?

And, what about sense-enhancement products for people with auditive problems or blindness? How many people use auditory enhancement products?

I think few people would reject the chance to use these products if they could afford them. This implies that it is desirable for most of us to (remove or) avoid having impairments if one can (remove them or) avoid them. This in turn implies that an impairment-free life is considered more desirable than an unimpaired life everything else being equal.

Scenario 3
Now think about parents expecting a baby with impairments. They have the chance to improve the baby using some of the above products. How many parents do you think would not use the above products?

Scenario 4
Now think about parents expecting a baby with impairments. The fetus is in its early stages, it has no central nervous system yet. The parents have the chance to abort the fetus and undergo a therapy to reduce risk of impairments on the next fetus.

Why is it right for all the above people to choose an impairment-free life but wrong for the parents in Scenario 3 and 4 to choose an impairment-free life?

 

Why I don’t believe in the existence of a God — March 23, 2014

Why I don’t believe in the existence of a God

I have long wished to have a neat summary of my theological stance so when asked, I could direct people to it. I have divided the post in 3 sections separated by 3 asterisks. Section 1 is a summary of my reasons for my theological stance. Section 2 is a summary of my reasons for my ethical-theological stance. Section 3 is a summary of my reasons against my choosing a religion if I was theist.

Section 1

Philosophically speaking, I am agnostic. By this I mean that I think arguments for and against the existence of a divine entity are equally incapable of giving a conclusive proof regarding the existence of a divine entity. However, just like I am agnostic regarding claims for and against the existence of a divine entity, so I am equally agnostic about claims for and against regarding the existence of fictional characters.

That is why, pragmatically speaking, I call myself atheist. Because I while I can’t disprove the existence of fictional characters, I have no reason to believe they do, and as a rule of thumb, I only hold beliefs if I have a reason to do so. And this is the label that I use when someone just wants a simple answer.

***

Section 2

However, I think atheism and theism entail more than just a belief in the existence/non-existence of an entity. It entails ethics. On one hand, theism and the ethics of obedience and on the other hand, atheism and the ethics of disobedience. The existence or non-existence of God does not affect the ethics of my theological stance.

The ethics of disobedience

So even if I was given scientific evidence that a powerful divinity exists, I would refuse to comply with his commands (assuming he had some) or worshiping him. Anyone that wants me to comply needs to give reasons first. Also, I know of no one who worships their mother/father, why would it be different with a powerful entity?

Especially, when I do have plenty of things to dislike of this hypothetical divinity.

The Drowning Children Argument

If I can prevent something undesirable and unnecessary without sacrificing anything of similar ‘moral value’, then preventing something undesirable and unnecessary is the desirable and necessary thing to do.

The above argument is a useful ethical framework against which to compare things I dislike of hypothetical divinities. A divinity wanting to earn the label of “benevolent” must comply with the above. Is someone preventing undesirable and unnecessary pain in life forms? It does not seem to be the case. There is plenty of suffering in the planet Earth. It is hard to argue against it. And it could even be argued that suffering is an inevitable consequence of the existence of modern life forms. Seeing this, I conclude that our hypothetical divinity is not preventing pain (which is undesirable and unnecessary). Thus, he cannot earn the label of “benevolent”. Assuming the hypothetical divinity is omnipotent and omniscient, there are no excuses for not preventing pain in any of the forms it happens. Just like I wouldn’t call “benevolent” a person that does not save a drowning child when he has both the ability to do it and the knowledge that a drowning child needs to be saved by him and that he can do it.

***

Section 3

Theism and Religion

This section only concerns those who are theists and follow a particular religion.

We will temporarily assume that God exists (section 1) and that he is benevolent (section 2). So the issue now is choosing the right religion.

The Religion Choice Argument

I wrote a post on this last year (you can read it if you click the above title) so I will try to summarise it here.

The argument lies on a single premise.

Premise 1. The only way to God is through a particular religion

This single premise makes most religious claims for being the true religion incompatible. The problem only accentuates when you take into account different branches of religion which mostly disagree with each other.

Our task is choosing the right religion from the set R of all religions. Surely, if you  just had 1 member inside set R, the task would be as simple as choosing the religion inside set R. But it is not.

How many religions are inside set R?

The question asks how many religions are there?

Present: Nowadays, there are about 20 major religions (and at least 34,000 independent branches).

Past: But is the question properly formulated? No, it is not. The question does not take into account, dead religions as a result of conquering or systematic cultural destruction. It is very likely that since the moment humans appeared till now there have been more religions than the current number. What does this mean for us? It means that if the right religion was one of these dead religions, you could not possibly choose the right religion no matter how hard you tried.

Future: And similarly, let us look forward. It is very likely that the number of new religions from the moment we die till the demise/speciation of humans will not be zero. That means that if one of these new religions is the right one, you could not possibly choose the right religion no matter how hard you tried.

The members of set R are all the past, present and future religions with all their independent branches. The size of set R is probably a pretty big number.

But we are not done yet with our estimation of the size of set R. We have already looked at religions that existed, religions that currently exist, and religions that will exist. Now we open Pandora’s Box. Now we look at the number of possible religions. There are not many restrictions when it comes to the definition of religion. But all you need is a “description of an omnipotent entity”, a “book or set of books about your God and how you should live” and you just have a religion. So imagine the huge number of possible religions that fit the above definition yet might never be preached or thought about by humans. The size of all possible religions is likely to be infinite.

So set R = Past + Present + Future + Possible. With the addition of an infinite amount to the set R we gave set R an infinite amount of members. For us, it means an infinite amount of possibilities. Now one might think that some of the religions inside set R might be “silly” or “ridiculous” or “obviously wrong”, but that is nonsense. Religions are by their very nature not subjected to reason and thus arbitrary like the arts are. The notions of “silly”, “ridiculous” or “obviously wrong” are literally meaningless when it comes to religion. Thus, all members within set R are equally valid candidates to be the right religion. So you have to choose among an infinite number of mutually exclusive religions.

What is the probability that you could choose the right religion?

We assume that “r” is “one portion of a cake” and  ”n” is “the total number of portions” and we assume that “n” is an infinite number (i.e. a growing number). There is a cake and at least a portion (r) of it is yours. So we have a special machine that divides the cake. But this machine is making an infinite number of portions (n). This means that each portion (including yours) becomes increasingly small. In mathematics they express it as a “limit”. If we take the cake and divide by increasingly smaller portions, your portion of cake will get closer and closer to 0. The “r” represents the probability that the religion you chose is the right one and “n” is the number of all members in set R (i.e. the number of past, present, future and possible religions). As you can see, your chances of choosing the right religion are literally infinitely low.

Shingeki no Kyojin: the suffering of not being an apex predator — February 15, 2014

Shingeki no Kyojin: the suffering of not being an apex predator

Shingeki no Kyojin (Attack on Titan) is an animation series set in Germany somewhere in the future.

At some point in the future, large humanoid entities called titans appear around the world and started eating humans. Invulnerable to most weaponry, they drastically reduced the human population who remained in a few fortified “districts” built in a concentric fashion.

There are three districts each with its own wall. The walls seem to be able to keep the titans at bay.

Titans. They resemble humans but they do not exhibit any linguistic capabilities and their only goal is to eat as many humans as they can. 

Their origins are a mystery and they only eat humans even at the expense of their own survival. They also lack reproductive organs.

And they also lack a digestive system thus implying that they do not eat humans out of biological need. This fact raises the possibility that titans are not natural organisms but are in fact artificial organisms created by someone that decided to reduce or exterminate the human species. It might have been a last resort in a world that was overpopulated and no one wanted to stop having their own children. But, is it ethically acceptable to commit genocide in order to tackle the overpopulation problem? While one might argue that using titans might be a highly efficient way to deal with overpopulation, it is definitely not the most human friendly or the most painless way out there. If there are too many of us in the planet and we use titans to reduce our numbers, who decides who lives and who dies? On the other side, what are other human-friendly and painless methods there to tackle overpopulation?

Back to the series.


The fact that titans do not need to eat humans in order to survive only increase humans’ hate towards them. Their origins are a mystery.

The military often make explorations outside the walls to investigate titans. These explorations often result in the death of most of the exploration team members. 
Both low ranking…

And high ranking members…

This makes most people reluctant to join the military.

In the animation series, titans have not been seen by non-military people for a century. But one day they manage to breach the walls and wreck havoc inside. The protagonist’s mother is among those that get eaten. 
This makes Eren (the protagonist) hate titans intensely. 

Eren’s hate is a recurrent theme in the series.

It’s worth noticing that most of this human suffering seems to happen because humans are no longer the dominant species. Should another member of the homo family have evolved along with us, carnage like this could very well have happened. If the titans had functioning digestive systems, would that make it acceptable to eat other humans even if they did not need to eat them to survive? This question resembles the classical pro-vegetarian question, is it acceptable to eat other life forms capable of suffering even if we do not need to eat them to survive?

The presence of titans spreads fear in humans. Even in the military. The blonde man cries because his fear overpowered him and fled, so he could not save the boy’s mother. As a result of this, she died. This makes the man, who swore to fight the titans, guilty. 
But he is honest with his feelings. Like the blonde-haired man, many humans in the series struggle with their paralysing fear and the guilt that it often follows.

Due to the threat of the titans, most military candidates hope to join the top ranking military who protects the King. The King lives in the innermost district which is the safest of all. The fact that the best soldiers do not fight gives us an idea of the level of corruption inside the military.

There is corruption outside the military as well. 
In the picture, the wealthy merchant blocks the pathway to the safe district because he wants to transport his goods. This jeopardises the lives of all those people outside. The picture reflects the ethical views of the merchant: “This cargo is worth more than all your wretched lives combined!”

The idea of comparing the worth of a human life against something else is also a recurrent theme. Many soldiers die during the explorations so that humans can learn more about titans and get closer to a knowledge that might help humans exterminate titans.

Humans eventually learn that there exist humans that can morph into titans. 
Moreover, this shapeshifters are hostile to humans.This makes up for a very interesting scenario where titans are a primary but not the only threat to humans. Given the fact that some humans are also titans, it can be said that some humans are also threats to humankind. This blurries the notion of “enemy” as you cannot tell who is an ally and who is not.

Interestingly, for the character there is some kind of irony where that which he strives to kill is also that which is part of his nature. 

It is like the hypothetical fable of a carnivore animal that wants to exterminate all carnivore animals. If Eren wants to kill all titans he should also kill himself, but he wants to live so he does not want to kill himself. It is like a metaphor of terrestrial ecosystems, you cannot live without bringing some harm in the world.

To twist things further, it turns out that all titans are humans but unlike the shapeshifters, they lack self-awareness and are purely driven to eat humans. This makes the human-eating titans innocent. And it makes for another ethical question, should Eren kill the titans knowing that they are innocent humans? Can Eren hate those beings which are not malevolous but just victims of their nature? This question is quite analogous with serial killers whose behaviour is heavily determined by their genetic make-up and slightly by their social background. When someone has no control of their circumstances, can we attribute ethical responsibility to them? What if they are ignorant of their circumstances? In a world where everything that happens can be explained in deterministic terms or in random terms, can we attribute ethical responsibility to humans on the assumption that they have free will? Does this ethical responsibility extend to the prevention of human-caused suffering to other life forms?

These are some of the ethical questions that SnK implicitly or explicitly raises.

Hell and religious ethics — February 1, 2014

Hell and religious ethics

The Problem of Hell is an ethical conflict that arises from the idea that subjecting people to eternal suffering is inconsistent with a benevolent God. It is hard to argue against this. Let us break it down.

On one hand:

Statement 1. God punishes forever those that do not do as he wants.

On the other hand:

Statement 2. God is benevolent and wishes us no harm and he can ensure that we are not harmed.

Basically:

God is someone that can avoid someone’s pain yet does not because he does not want to do so.

The above statement fully captures the Drowning Children Situation which was covered here. The key idea from the Drowning Children Situation was that:

if I can prevent something undesirable and unnecessary without sacrificing anything of similar ‘moral value’, then preventing something undesirable and unnecessary is the desirable and necessary thing to do.

Not conforming to the above would earn you the label of  “morally indifferent”. And just like us, God’s not conforming to the above would also earn him the label of “morally indifferent”. Since he does not prevent people’s suffering when they are sent to Hell, he deserves the label of “morally indifferent” rather than the label of “benevolent” just like any of us would in his situation. The Drowning Children argument is a powerful argument where power and moral responsibility increase in direct proportion. When your power becomes infinite, so does your moral responsibility. Just like Voltaire said:

With great power comes great responsibility

Some thoughts on biocentrism and utilitarianism — January 27, 2014

Some thoughts on biocentrism and utilitarianism

I have written about utilitarianism before. Utilitarianism is a consequentialistic ethical view point that places the moral weight of an action on the utility of that action towards increasing a desirable thing/notion and/or reducing an undesirable thing/notion. However, something I have only mentioned once is a fundamental question that is at the core of utilitarianism. Utility is a term relative to some end. So for example, when we say that computers are useful, we mean that they are useful for us.

Whenever there is utility, there is an end.

Who is the beneficiary of the notion of utility in utilitarian ethics? This brings us back to the equality question and the answer utilitarianism gives. This was covered here. Unlike other ethical systems, classical utilitarianism is species-blind. It does not give humans a special status. The only relevant criteria is whether or not the being in question can feel pain. If you feel pain, you are a beneficiary regardless of your species. This means that, a priori, the end of minimising the pain of a human adult and the end of minimising the pain of a sheep adult are weighed equally. I covered this topic here. But I want to take this a step further. Who is the beneficiary of the notion of utility in utilitarian ethics? Living beings with central nervous systems. As a rule of thumb, CNS-equipped life forms are capable of experiencing pain. We will leave the CNS out of the equation in this post.

The beneficiaries of utility are a particular group of life forms.

This makes utilitarianism a bio-centric ethical system as opposed to most ethical systems that tend to adopt anthropocentric stances.

For now on, we will assume both a utilitarian stance and a bio-centric stance. What are the implications of holding those views? As Daniel Pearce pointed out in the Antispeciesist Revolution, the implications are huge, titanic. Implications the size of which have never been faced by the human species. Imagine the implications that having 3000 children could have for a mother. We are effectively talking about taking care of millions, perhaps even billions, of CNS-equipped life forms as we would if they were humans. From birth to death. Physical and psychological health, happiness, constant monitoring. Any of these alone is complex enough let alone all of them at once. But that is what we would have to do under our assumptions. We will leave aside the financial feasibility of carrying out and ensuring the above to throw around some questions.

Ensuring the “happiness” of CNS-equipped life forms would be have some major consequences. If we decide that to ensure their happiness, they should be protected from predators and we would be affecting the world ecosystems in major ways, not necessarily beneficial for humans or even life forms in general.

There is also the issue of carnivore life forms. The nascent technology of synthesized meat could tackle this. But would producing amounts of meat large enough to feed all the CNS-equipped carnivores be affordable? Another issue is reproduction. It is very likely that in the absence of predators and with enough food available, reproduction at a massive scale is going to happen. How would we control their population? Chemical castration? While technically useful, we run the risk of overuse it and chemically castrating a whole species. It is very likely that a change like isolating all mammals from their predators could transform the world ecosystems in such a way that it becomes detrimental to our survival.

Are these life forms to be protected?

Their protection might spell our end or a period of famine if the changes affect plant population levels. Not protecting them implies leaving them exposed to potential harm and thus pain. It soon becomes a matter of self-interest. Do I expose them to pain or do I expose us to pain? In this simplified world, if we were to decide to protect them, we might have to accept a drastic reduction of our species size as a result of the likely changes in the ecosystem that would follow our isolating of all mammals in species based natural spaces. If were to decide not to protect them, our current state, we would have to face the huge amount of pain we could be avoiding and the huge amount of pleasure we are not providing.

However, you see it, adopting a practical utilitarian bio-centric approach does not automatically calculate the rational path to take. Technology could help us choosing which path to take but, is such technology existent or will it develop in the near future? And even if it does, will it be helpful enough to let us see in clear ways the advantages and disadvantages of the different ways to take care of the biosphere utilitarianism-style?

In the absence of this technology, all we can see from our limited perspective is that both protecting and not protecting CNS-equipped life forms produce pain. The million dollar question is which path produces less pain. A quick idea that would likely be noticed on this landscape of never-ending pain is that reducing the population numbers of a species will reduce the pain in the long term. The combined pain experienced by 30 CNS-equipped life forms is lower than the combined pain of 3,000,000,000,000,000,000 CNS-equipped life forms, other things being equal. Assuming that, on average, all CNS-equipped life forms experience the same amount of pain when exposed to the same painful stimuli, it is easy to conclude that:

The less life forms alive, the lower the amount of pain we have to reduce.

We could choose to keep the CNS-equipped population numbers low and all our ethical conflicts would also be reduced. The reason for this is that ethics has always been confined to living beings, in some cases only life forms belonging to the human species, in others, only CNS-equipped life forms, and in some, all life forms. While some religion-based system of ethics could make a case for an ethical system of some inanimate object like a rock, it seems very unlikely to be accepted outside that particular religion. So, ethics is for those are alive.What are the implications of reducing a species numbers to reduce the amount of pain it experiences as a whole? The most immediate one is that if you do it for one species, you are bound to do the same with the rest. So we would be bound to keep our own population numbers under some number. What are the implications of this? Just like our decision reduced or deprived animals of their reproductive capability:

Our decision will limit our reproductive freedoms

Some legal mechanism like the Chinese one-child policy would be enacted but without discriminating on the sex of the baby. Laws are made to be broken. A very popular aphorism that could apply to the attitude of some parents towards this hypothetical policy. Ideally, all humans would be aware of the full chain of reasoning leading to the child policy and would all adopt a bio-centric and utilitarian stance. But it is not likely to be the case. It is very likely that for some parents, their own interests will have a higher priority than those of the rest of CNS-equipped life forms. For them, the chain of reasoning would be completely meaningless because they rejected the initial premise:

A priori, the interests of all CNS-equipped life forms are weighed equally.

They would argue that they only care about their fetus and could not give a “chocolate bun” about the rest of life forms. It would be really difficult to argue with someone with whom you have no shared premises. And one could predict that there would be plenty of these self-interested parents who would try to break the law and do anything and everything to give birth to as many humans as they want.

I did not write this with a solution in a mind but only to expose the entangled nature of the implications of adopting a practical utilitarian bio-centrism.