Monday, January 11, 2021

Reading List Review and Postview: Population Ethics

This is the review and post-view for the population ethics reading list.

I found the articles to be of varying relevance to my project. Some of them were long, and I didn't finish them. The two most useful were "Infinite Ethics" by Nick Bostrom and "Population Axiology" by Hilary Greaves.

I thought of reading through the articles twice. But I decided against it due to my declining interest in the subject. Picking low-hanging fruit (/ giving an idea of how I think MSLN applies to infinite and population ethics) seems like a reasonable thing for me to do, but anything that slows me down is probably a bad use of my time, because I'm not really an expert in ethics anyway, and think it unlikely that I ever will be. So I can sketch out relatively obvious things, and see if someone more qualified finds problems with them.

I think from now on, unless I feel particularly moved, I won't re-read reading list papers. Although I did refer to Greaves' paper in writing my response.

Besides this post and the preview post, I derived two posts from reading this list: God is a Good Utility Monster and MSLN Infinite and Population Ethics.

Looking back at the preview, I see that one of my starting intuitions was that population could be any size, as long as people live lives of true well-being. This is fulfilled (unless there are problems I don't currently see with it) by the "rest view" of "MSLN Infinite and Population Ethics". The other was something like the Mere Addition Principle: if one new baby is born and their life goes well, that's good, right? The rest view isn't as favorable to this intuition, but I'm basically satisfied with the compromise in it (a large but finite population, necessarily limited by God's need for rest).

I see that I left some questions for my future self to see:

"1. Is there a rational way to decide how large a population should be? If not, then we are in a situation where we have to decide without a right answer."

The rest view recommends that we have whatever size population is most effective at reducing hardening. Answering this question is not trivial, but in principle there is an answer. We can't have a firm, verified measure of hardening, but we can make common sense guesses as to how hardening works and what kinds of environments are better or worse for it, and then measure our progress using those. With that in place, if we have enough resources to think this question through, we should be able to come up with a best guess.

"2. Questions of moral philosophies affecting population-ethical views:"

The basic idea with these was to see if there were any ideas that could help choose between expansionary and contented growth strategies. We could find ourselves unsure whether to choose between, say, total and average utilitarianism, and "break the tie" by considering one of the following.

"a. Hedonism lends itself to having more and more. Preferentialism can lend itself to that but also can lend itself to saying 'everybody got what they wanted, so we don't need any more.' With preferentialism, there's a question of 'what should people prefer?' The answer to that might answer the question 'should we want more and more, or should we be content?' Or we could say that there's no good or bad preferences. Then we wonder what random preferences humans might have, and how they might tilt toward more or fewer people."

I don't have much more of an answer as of this writing.

"b. What about fiducialism? Is fiducialism a "more and more" thing ('adventure', as in the Fiducialism booklet), or inherently about connecting with what is ('mission', or "receptivity to reality")? 'Mission' is itself about the reality of people. This lends itself to saying 'connect with the reality of existing people'. But then, couldn't it lend itself to saying 'there ought to be more people', to whose reality one could connect? So that's a hole in fiducialism to try to fill."

As of the date of posting this, my general sense is that there's nothing greedy or compelled about fiducialism, but there's also something open to expansion in it. So, too hard to tell whether it's more in favor of growth or contentment? Effectively neutral? There are different flavors of "neutral". For instance, a high variance and low variance life can be very different, even if on average they might be the same. So a neutral of "I don't care" is different than a fiducialist neutral.

"c. What do people mean to us? Are they to be seen economically, or in some other way? And given the answers to those questions, how strict should we be in making ourselves live according to economic thinking?"

I guess MSLN suggests that God sees nobody solely economically, even if we have to. (Even if there were an infinite number of us, God would directly and personally relate to each of us). But I suppose even God might have to think about quantities of people, in order to make things go best for the most number. This would be in addition to his direct relationship. This relationship with all individuals is something human utilitarians are unable to have. But maybe there are cases where we can think of people less economically.

"3. What might population ethics look like given the God of MSLN?"

Answered in "MSLN Infinite and Population Ethics".

"a. God had some reason for creating people in the first place (unless there is no reason). Does this mean that in absence of a defeater, he will never stop creating people?"

According to the rest view, no.

"b. Would God value having more and more for its own sake? Is God a slave to maximization?"

The rest view avoids having to answer this question by saying God can't keep having more and more people. Plausibly, God lives according to fiducialism, and feels both the adventure and mission side of it, but maybe mission is the stronger impulse in God. So maybe he would favor rest and contentment, and thus be immune to the compulsion to maximize.

"c. Are people created new, or is there a fixed supply of people created once and for all at the beginning of time, which God then brings into consciousness during their time in history?"

I wouldn't assume that there is a hard limit from a kind of "pre-existence", and I don't think there is a reason why there would be one (at least, not that I can think of).

"Possible answer: We are called to enter God's rest, and presumably God seeks rest, too. New people have to work out their salvation, which is not restful for God. So it seems like there is some finite limit to population, so that there can be a time of permanent rest afterward.

"If so, maybe if we increase population above baseline, what we're doing is accelerating the end of the world.

"Or, if God can handle our turmoil forever, he can create people forever. If he thinks there aren't enough people, he can always create more. Ultimately, it's his decision how many people there are, because he pays the biggest price for human experience and ultimately has power over the way things are. So if we create more people, he may cause fewer to be created elsewhere."

How could God handle our turmoil forever? Maybe by taking periods of rest in between batches of new people. I tend to think that wouldn't work, because God can anticipate the pain of what is to come, and that anticipation would be at least a little bit unbearable. Or very unbearable, depending on the interplay between God's sensitivity and his patience. Jesus had a moment where he was in anguish over having to go the cross, and the Father might have a similar moment in anticipation of creating a new world.

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