Sunday, September 28, 2014

Utilitarian Infighting: The Eight Levels

Originally posted on 2014-09-28. Last substantive revision on 2018-01-17.

The inspiration for this post is the dismal state of utilitarian-themed discourse that I spot every so often in my YouTube subscription feed. Scattered insertion of this unspecific 'utilitarianism' type of stuff has to go. Pronto.

To get an idea of some basic oversights, here are the three cornerstones of disputation within utilitarian ethics, in chronological order:

Total Utilitarianism vs. Average Utilitarianism

Positive Utilitarianism vs. Negative Utilitarianism

Classical Utilitarianism vs. Preference Utilitarianism

The oft-neglected implications of these internal frictions are as follows:

When someone says they're a 'Utilitarian' they've only revealed 25% of where they stand insofar as the multi-layered disputation is concerned.

When someone says they're a 'Classical Utilitarian' they've only revealed 50% of where they stand insofar as the multi-layered disputation is concerned.

When someone says they're a 'Classical Negative Utilitarian' they've still only revealed 75% of where they stand insofar as the multi-layered disputation is concerned.

I can go on with the labels’ intersections, but I'm sure you've gotten the gist of it by now. The patterns limn how unavailing all blanket invocations of 'utilitarianism' can be and have been for centuries. To say that the full scope of utilitarianism is scarcely ever taken into account –– even among professed utilitarians –– would be an understatement.

[2015-03-23: Turns out there are additional levels that I made no mention of here. Lesser known levels. If you're interested in what they're about, see the FAQ

By drawing attention to the above cornerstones of internal dispute, I've come to see that identifying the types of utilitarianism that must always remain disjointed becomes a walk in the park. More importantly, you’ll be afforded insight as to the versions of utilitarianism that can be consolidated. In the first case, we have 'Total Utilitarianism' and 'Average Utilitarianism' listed as rivalrous. Accordingly, we’ll never see a title like “Total Average Utilitarian”. TU and AU have been ousted as antithetical and must remain compartmentalized at all times. Titles like “Classical Preference Utilitarian” are equally as oxymoronic because 'Classical Utilitarianism' and 'Preference Utilitarianism' are also pitted against each other from the outset. These recognitions are useful to judicious value theorists who see the pressing need to take the mutually compatible forms of utilitarianism and assimilate them for perspicuity.

This in mind, I figure it’s beyond time for someone to dedicate a Very Special Post to the eight subsumed modes of utilitarian thought. Given the major ethics binge I've been on as of late, I'll go ahead and assign the task to myself. The numeration below lists the eight markers divulging 100% of where one stands in the overall disputation picture. Every single amalgamated utility formula is represented underneath, kicking off with the genesis of Classic Utilitarianism and following the progression over the centuries; or at least what I consider to be progress.

I’ll be assessing the strengths and follies of every level in accordance to
Freelance Ethics. Each benchmark has been described in italics to the best of my abilities, the intent being to avoid longwinded definitions:

1. Classical Positive Total Utilitarianism

Applies aggregative metrics to sentience, embraces value monism in the form of non-colloquial hedonism; striving to maximize pleasures and minimize pains.

2. Classical Positive Average Utilitarianism

Applies “per capita” metrics to sentience, embraces value monism in the form of non-colloquial hedonism; striving to maximize pleasures and minimize pains.

3. Classical Negative Total Utilitarianism

Applies aggregative metrics to sentience but only concerns itself with minimizing pain, readily disregarding the maximization of pleasure/happiness as an imperative. Embraces value monism in the form of qualia-welfarism.

4. Classical Negative Average Utilitarianism

Applies “per capita” metrics to sentience but only concerns itself with minimizing pain, readily disregarding the maximization of pleasure/happiness as an imperative. Embraces value monism in the form of qualia-welfarism.

5. Positive Total Preference Utilitarianism

Rejects value monism, tolerates value pluralism. Aims to maximize preference fulfillment, setting aside elemental “pain and pleasure” standards of measurement in recognition of each person’s sense of satisfaction and dissatisfaction being unique and idiosyncratic. Applies aggregative metrics to preference maximization.

6. Positive Average Preference Utilitarianism

Rejects value monism, tolerates value pluralism. Aims to maximize preference fulfillment, setting aside elemental “pain and pleasure” standards of measurement in recognition of each person’s sense of satisfaction and dissatisfaction being unique and idiosyncratic. Applies “per capita” metrics to preference maximization.

7. Negative Total Preference Utilitarianism

Rejects value monism, makes room for value pluralism. Safeguards the negative preferences of the subject, setting aside elemental “pain and pleasure” standards of measurement in recognition of each person’s sense of dissatisfaction being unique and idiosyncratic. Some restrictions are in place however, ideally to keep positive preferences distinct from negative preferences. Applies aggregative metrics to the safeguarding of negative preferences.

8. Negative Average Preference Utilitarianism

Rejects value monism, makes room for value pluralism. Safeguards the negative preferences of the subject, setting aside elemental “pain and pleasure” standards of measurement in recognition of each person’s sense of dissatisfaction being unique and idiosyncratic. Some restrictions are in place however, ideally to keep positive preferences distinct from negative preferences. Applies “per capita” metrics to the safeguarding of negative preferences.

Of the above eight, let’s imagine a scenario that sees you being called on to pick one level’s blueprint that goes on to shape the outcome of every forthcoming (or every fathomable, if you wish) ethical dilemma involving human beings. Which one would you choose?

Having given this task considerable thought, I’d opt for level # 8’s Negative Average Preference Utilitarianism (NAPU) as the best option. That is; if we’re discussing humanity in exclusivity and if I had to be pinned down to just one utility formula at all times, without caveats allowing for non-utilitarian consequentialist formulas like prioritarianism or sufficientarianism, and without non-consequentialist exceptions every now and then.

My reasons for rallying behind # 8's NAPU boil down to it being the only version of Negative Utilitarianism that steers clear of paternalistic autonomy violations (in the manner of unsolicited painless killings) while remaining true to its hybrid premise. Additionally, NAPU avoids falling prey to tired criticisms misinforming us about how "Lying is permissible under Utilitarianism as long as there's no undesirable fallout". Lastly, there’s the recurring “pinprick” bickering to which NAPU is invulnerable as well.

If all Utilitarians suddenly aligned themselves with # 8’s NAPU and made some serious noise about it, the mantras fretting over lying or murder or pinpricks would come to a halt. The mantras prevail due to the lamentable fact that only a microscopically small percentage of Utilitarians have hitherto supported or even expressed interest in NAPU. Ever since I can remember, these concerns over painless murder or pinpricks or inconsequential lying have formed the senselessly antagonistic grand narratives that stifle conversational progress on utilitarian ethics. Negative Preference Utilitarians (# 7 and # 8) are simply not chargeable here.

Conversely, had I been called on to pick one utility formula I’d least like to see implemented as a shaper of all upcoming dilemmas' outcomes, I’d cite level # 1’s Classical Positive Total Utilitarianism as the worst, with level # 2’s Classical Positive Average Utilitarianism coming in as the unambiguous runner-up.

The range of pitfalls within # 1’s CPTU and # 2’s CPAU is vast thanks to positive utility deeming it permissible to crack innumerable eggs so long as the resulting omelet is rewarding enough to compensate for the losses. Such scenarios are feasible with minimal effort, and history is certainly not in short supply of them. The same activities turn patently impermissible the moment we turn to a singularly negative aim; one which concerns itself with the minimization of disutility and pays no mind to the maximization of anything. Considering that cracking eggs to make omelets maximizes utility by directly failing to minimize disutility, any Negative Utilitarian worth her salt will outright refuse to comply with the maximization imperative.

The only conditions under which the NU may resort to cracking eggs are those where doing so guarantees the prevention of more eggs being cracked down the line. Whether classical or preferential based, the positive utility catalogue runs afoul of this aim in its willingness to blur crucial demarcations between utility and disutility. Maximizing utility denotes focusing partly on those who are at a neutral or above-neutral state and benefiting them further. Minimizing disutility denotes focusing exclusively on those who are at a below-neutral state and inching them closer to a neutral state, either optimally or suboptimally. Positive Utilitarianism (# 1, # 2, # 5, # 6) opens itself to prioritizing the maximization of benefits over the minimization of harms based on interpersonal harm-to-benefit magnitude ratios, and is thus jam-packed with potential for injustice. I'd even go so far as to position select forms of non-consequentialism as superior to it.

# 1’s CPTU and # 2’s CPAU are particularly rife with horrifying prospects –– consistently tolerable within the premise of the respective level –– that the Repugnant Conclusion would be the least of CPTU’s problems. CPAU is stuck with slightly tamer variations of this obstacle –– the Mere Addition Paradox –– since it is still a type of positive utilitarianism that fixates on maximizing the good. The difference being; its immersion in average [per capita] measurements and animus toward total [summative] measurements, making it somewhat less distressing than CPTU.

Point is, every textbook criticism of 'utilitarianism' you can think of is actually bang-on when levied against the relished trajectories of these two unsavory levels. Notwithstanding low-hanging fruit like Divine Command Theory, I really can’t think of much else in the way of systematized ethics that’s worthy of being ranked below CPTU and CPAU.

I am comfortable siding with # 8’s NAPU because its aspiring trajectory is to be limited to the safeguarding of human sentience and is meant to exclude all non-human sentience (as stipulated near the top). To be sure, this is not to imply that our evaluation of sentience should ever sidestep the predicaments surrounding animal suffering, all too prevalent in the wilderness. I’m narrowing in on human sentience at the moment, but for illustrative purposes only, and not out of any humancentric delusion. In fact, the moment we shift our attention exclusively towards non-human sentience, all forms of Preference Utilitarianism (# 5, # 6, # 7, # 8) automatically become null and void. I consider this a truism because any concern over preference fulfillment in the context of wildlife is plainly absurd (what with animals running purely on instincts).

An animal cannot be wronged unless it is harmed in some way, but this is not the case with human beings. Consider how the average human prefers not to be deceived, and generally maintains this preference even in the face of hypotheticals where remaining forever ignorant of said deceit would have benefited the human emotionally (or even physically) in a long-term capacity. The human hears the hedonic allure of such alternative scenarios and typically responds with "No thanks, I'd rather just not be deceived".

This is why we prefer others be frank with us instead of expecting them to benevolently walk on eggshells while in our company, irrespective of the potentially beneficial consequences of their deceitful coddling; long-term or short-term. These “Frankness > Prevarication” components of ethics should never be thought of as mere anomalies that one can brush aside in everyday settings. The negative preference ordinary people have to not be deceived should be upheld as a rule of thumb in ethics, regardless of whether the intent behind a given deception is malevolent or benevolent. Once this is established, we can conclude that, for most humans, being wronged and being harmed is not an everlasting entanglement. A human can be wronged without being harmed (via deceit) and a human can be harmed without being wronged (via consensual harm).

There is indeed much 'harmed/wronged' overlap to speak of, but to dismiss the contradistinctions is intellectually dishonest. The gamut of Preference Utilitarianism (# 5, # 6, # 7, # 8) is the only utilitarian-friendly solution to this.

Readers should not misconstrue my bringing up consensual harm amid humans (global lives) for a case where the experiencer is willing to suffer for the greater good, nor for an appeal to straight-up masochism. Both jabs exemplify derailment, as no exceptionless principle is placed under scrutiny in either case. Each derailment is nonetheless invoked as though it raises a point that vexes the interlocutor on the receiving end of it. Curveballs of this sort are played out and I'm steering clear of them.

Think of consensual harm, in the context of this post, as harm that (1) reduces no other harm at all, and (2) is every bit as physiologically unpleasant to the experiencer who is consenting to it, as it would be to the experiencer who never consents to it.

Stars of kitsch shows like 'Jackass' or 'Dirty Sanchez' are prime examples of what I'm getting at when I refer to consensual harm. The contracted talent on both programs enthusiastically serve as guinea pigs for laughs. Veteran viewers of these shows can attest to the fact that these daredevils don’t actually enjoy the pain that inevitably comes with such gigs. Tuning in for a brief minute should be enough to dissuade anyone from concluding that the adulated talent consists of masochists. Prohibiting the willing participant from being a cast member on the show –– in order to consistently and optimally minimize harm –– would be an unjustified violation of the willing participants' preferences, and would be impermissible under Negative Preference Utilitarianism (# 7 or # 8).

Classical Negative Utilitarianism (# 3 or # 4) would be a better fit for the safeguarding of animal welfare, though the theory would do well by also encompassing comatose humans who are incapable of forming preferences, unless their pre-coma preferences or pre-paralysis preferences had them specify what is to be done with them should they ever fall into a coma or get paralyzed, and assuming said persons are successful in finding committed caretakers eager to uphold those preferences, post-coma/post-paralysis. If a vegetated human has not laid out such plans heretofore, the subject will obviously not be able to pull this off henceforth. Unplugging the respirator cannot be dubbed an unjustified violation of autonomy because leaving it plugged in could just as easily result in an unjustified violation of autonomy, in the same way that legally prohibiting a suicidal individual from acquiring access to physician assisted suicide is a violation of autonomy. The sensible course of action would be to err on the side of caution rather than risk decades of torment for the septic or immobile subject, as well as the caretaker, by refusing to yank the plug.

At any rate, had I been put in charge of deciding which one of the eight formulas depicted above will shape the destiny of a 'preference-crippled' segment of sentience (i.e. all animals), I’d choose level # 4’s Classical Negative Average Utilitarianism (CNAU) as being tailor-made for the job. Should there ever come a time where a non-human sentient being conceives of preferences the way humans presently do, the layering would be adjusted to reflect the newfound preference of that specific organism; now privy to level # 8’s NAPU. In this day and age however, wronging an animal is wholeheartedly synonymous with harming it.

A principled shunning of value monism forms the groundwork behind these movable utility layers, and this is why I cringe a little whenever I hear fellow anti-natalists self-identify simply as 'Negative Utilitarian'. This is common practice in TinyChat or in Google+ hangouts, and with each occurrence it is a safe bet that no one ever interjects to point out how the plain NU label only tells us 50% of where one stands as it relates to the overall utility compass. Plain NU merely clarifies that one is concerned with pain minimization instead of pleasure maximization, and that’s a wrap. This is all fine and dandy, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. The alert moral theorist should always find herself wondering whether the person who has just self-identified as NU is a:

  • (A) Total Utilitarian or Average Utilitarian
  • (B) Classical Utilitarian or Preference Utilitarian

The option presented in 'A' is fully compatible with NU. The option presented in 'B' is circumstantially compatible with NU. I’d like to discuss B’s role in the formation of level # 8’s NAPU, which I ultimately endorse above all others.

Negative Utilitarianism and Preference Utilitarianism can pose oppositional value criterions in practice, but they can also form the hybrid NPU –– Negative Preference Utilitarianism –– in principle. Simply put, Negative Utilitarianism and Preference Utilitarianism are only mutually incompatible in the few cases where the NU adherent is a monist utilitarian who knowingly rejects value pluralism –– whereas those with an impetus to value pluralism will find themselves salivating at the thought of a NPU synthesis.

When I published this monster sized post last year, I omitted the feasibility of the NPU merger, having surmised that Negative Utilitarians and Preference Utilitarians are structurally prone to value clashes. This was a hasty move on my part. As a result of it, I cultivated quite the rigid “Negative Utilitarianism vs. Preference Utilitarianism” binary to my line of thinking. Not only is this binary inapposite, but it teeters on a false dilemma fallacy, as Negative Utilitarianism is squared against the scourge of Positive Utilitarianism, while the enemy of Preference Utilitarianism is Classical Utilitarianism. This means that Negative Utilitarianism and Preference Utilitarianism are themselves not principally at odds (much less sworn enemies). This alone is enough for justify the NPU fusion.

Remember, to integrate utilitarian ethics appropriately, simply heed the prism at the top that lists the three essential cornerstones of disputation. To do this is to be vigilant of the fertile ground for NPU type crossovers within utilitarianism. As such, I have updated last year's post to include the imperative NPU disclaimer (in Section B).

Judging by the videos, comments and general activity feeds of most YouTube Benatarians, the utility formula most fancied by this camp is either # 3’s CNTU or # 4’s CNAU. No doubt, these folks are big on Classical Utilitarianism. I must once again stress that value criterions pointing to either # 3 or # 4 are to be applied when the theorist is evaluating non-human sentience and human sentience. Keeping in mind that human sentience often finds itself in the business of enduring consensual harm as a direct or indirect consequence of innumerable acts, level # 3 and level # 4 are shown to be paternalistic, and warrant firm abandonment.

This tacit paternalism is, in a nutshell, the crux of my quarrel with the Benatarian Asymmetry. The points raised in Better Never To Have Beenhave been credited as the starting point from where anti-natalists must operate in their criticisms of Natalism. I think this is a mistake, because this line of argumentation tolerates an inferential shaky ground allowing for paternalistic measures to be taken whenever push comes to shove. The all-too-plausible internal consistency behind such measures being taken (thwarting consensual harm) is never brought to the forefront in Benatarian spheres. This prompts the Benatarian to impulsively overlook aspects of Negative Preference Utilitarianism in the form of # 7 (NTPU) and # 8 (NAPU), neither of which are the least bit chummy to Natalism. Quite irritating, these oversights.

To recap: If our conception of NU is premised on monist utilitarian grounds, its end-result is naturally Classical Negative Utilitarianism, which is unapologetically anti-pluralist and inferentially hostile to Negative Preference Utilitarianism. Despite being moulded as only taking issue with the initiation of new lives and not the continuation of already existent lives, the offerings in “Better Never To Have Been” paper over the problem of internally consistent paternalism targeting human sentience; the new elephant in the room.

Now if you’re a Moral Constructivist who happens to be a Benatarian, this criticism doesn’t have to apply to you because you can construct ample breathing room around it by supplementing value pluralism to your position. The constructivist can achieve this by designating the pluralistic NPU (# 7 or # 8) formula to human sentience, and viewing the monistic CNU (# 3 or # 4) formula as felicitous to non-human sentience.

For the strict Benatarian who favours robust Moral Realism vis-à-vis value monism, these “Initiating lives =/= Continuing lives” disclaimers should ring hollow. I wouldn’t go so far as to dub them lip service, but still, they don’t exactly follow from a dour reading of a “pain = bad” axiom. Once "pain = bad" is the lone value template, the proverbial "unsolicited painless mercy killings!" kvetching naturally re-emerges and we're back to square one. Benatar himself has been succinct from the outset about his belief that pain is bad regardless of what the sufferer makes of it, which points to a predilection for # 3 (CNTU) or # 4 (CNAU), miles away from the coordinates of # 7 (NTPU) or # 8 (NAPU).

{Update 2014-10-03: It has been pointed out to me that Benatar's expressed views face no issues of  inconsistency nor of paternalism, and that a proper reading of BNTHB demonstrates as much. I have since reread much of BNTHB and now officially retract the above remarks about disclaimers ringing hollow. They are not mere disclaimers. In the comment section of this post I will quote a few crucial passages from BNTHB showing how its author didn't paper over anything. My initial false impression stemmed from pro-asymmetry blog posts, like the one I hyperlinked four paragraphs above, which includes statements like "The qualifications "good" and "bad" refer not to some intrinsic property of the things themselves, but to their status in ethical reasoning". This type of noise overshadowed whatever recollection I had of Benatar's arguments for shunning paternalism; arguments I've not revisited since 2011. That, coupled with years of exposure to Efilists and Anti-Frustrationists citing the asymmetry as a go-to appeal for their brand of Negative Utilitarianism; staunch CNU. There is, sadly, a bombardment of CNUs flaunting the asymmetry, deducing from it "nuke the world" fixes. This had me convinced that the glove fits, so much so that I never considered reacquainting myself with BNTHB while working on this post. Due diligence; better late than never. I won't delete or alter the above four paragraphs, given the constructivism clause I sagaciously included. The paragraphs in question are still applicable to the average YouTube Benatarian who in my experience hasn't grasped the subtlety of Benatar's position. I will point out, however, that anyone who has grasped this subtlety and still sees no issues with paternalism pertaining to human sentience, has no business calling himself a Benatarian in the first place. Efilists are especially ill-suited for this title, as most of them openly endorse the view that the instant an ouch emerges, the ought is automatic. I've made a small adjustment to the below paragraph reflecting this.}

This rejection of NPU in favour of CNU is the Benatarian’s Deprivationalist's downfall, and the only time I’ve seen this schism not swept under the rug is when I personally make it a point to intervene in the otherwise clichéd discourse, which I only do once in a blue moon, since I'm not fond of repeating myself. Issues encircling “CNU vs. NPU” are salient ones in my view, yet they never even seem to register under the radar of vested Benatarians.

As an ardent advocate of NAPU, I’m left with no alternative but to write off the building blocks behind the asymmetry deprivationalism, for no reason other than its paternalistic baggage. Had Benatar swapped the presumptuous "pain = bad" axiom for the more cautious "general pain = generally bad" axiom, this paragraph would not exist, as the stumbling block of sequential paternalism would have been averted from the get-go. Granted, this paternalistic baggage is just one component of an otherwise splendid theory. It’s more like a tidbit, really, and one that doesn’t even stand to factor into anything in practice. I totally get that, but as I've stated in the past, I'm not really interested in judging utilitarian theories based on how they stand to play out in practise. Practical concerns beg for agent-centered thought experiments which carry their own traditional baggage, as the agent is always foresight-deficient.

If all agents suddenly became convinced of NAPU and actively sought to suffuse its desired orbit, many of them would be under the impression that the optimal way of accomplishing this is by treating NAPU as a behavioural guide. The task, of course, can go awfully awry, so much so that it may even incur a polar opposite global outcome, permitting enough permutations. Because of its inapplicability in the guidance department –– given a world as precarious and as volatile as ours –– NAPU is not meant to enlighten the agent on how to act in any given circumstance. The more traditional moral theorists actually believe that admissions of such unintended consequences' feasibility suggest a fatal blow against NAPU itself, but this is a nonsensical conclusion to draw as it parts ways from scrutinizing the tenor of NAPU based on its actual aspirations. This is why our ruminations on ethics need to be grounded in theoretical matters, pure and simple. This may sound like a wholesale endorsement of non-consequentialism, but a reading of my last post supplies coherence as to why it isn't. Once this catches on, the crux of my beef with Benatar’s plausibly paternalistic offerings will be clearer.

[Side note: The grievance over paternalism is not the crux, not entirely anyway, because my underlying issue with Benatar is one I can't exactly fault him for. I'm sure that in 2006, Benatar could not have foreseen how his asymmetry would serve as fodder for natal-friendly red herrings.
If one starts out conceptualizing the discord as centering on “Natalism vs. AntiNatalism” (the way a genuinely neutral party should), the Benatarian Asymmetry is indeed a diversion, because it’s possible to critique the asymmetry without defending the Natalist position in the slightest. Even I am evidence of that. This post-2006 elasticity enables natalists –– but more so their sympathizers who pose as neutralists –– to criticize “AntiNatalism” without feeling the least bit compelled to actually defend the penchant for procreation, to say nothing of the wider penchant for parenthood (which calls for Adultism). Instead, arguments censuring the position of AntiNatalism end up resembling textbook arguments against Classical Negative Utilitarianism (# 3 or # 4). Just imagine, for a moment, how puerile my arguments against Natalism would be if they marched in lockstep with standard arguments against Classical Positive Utilitarianism (# 1 or # 2). Such an approach is not even computable, as Natalism doesn’t carry any baggage in the form of CPU, while AntiNatalism presently enjoys the CNU association, among other lazy associations. The asymmetry is to blame for this superglue. That and “Efilism”.
The number of adroit anti-natalists who are wise to these contorted narratives is staggeringly low. Even my own readers, who acknowledged these very points the last time around, failed to fortify them a few months down the road while directly engaging pseudo-neutralists. So it’s hardly any wonder why AntiNatalism manages to be the only anti (oppositional) position in history whose critics make sense of contriving absurdities like “Anti-Anti-Natalism” in order to pretend they’re on the attack. This way, the AntiNatalistic stance is intuitively perceived as having the burden of proof squarely on its shoulders, even though it is, by definition, nothing more than a counter-propositional stance.
Hide-and-seek antics of this nature went into high gear on YouTube in 2011, with the anti-natalist relegated to playing defense like a good little sucker; never calling foul on the "Anti-AntiNatalist" foe and always failing to point out how the double antis are mutually cancelling, thus redundant. To insist that they aren’t is to goad the anti-natalist into returning the favour by self-identifying as an Anti-Anti-Anti-Natalist, so as to regain rightful possession of offense. If this takes effect, the discord would absurdly center on “Anti-Anti-Natalism vs. Anti-Anti-Anti-Natalism” and the two camps can just continue petulantly one-upping each other with additional antis until the cows come home. Should a simple discord on the topic of procreation be deciphered this way? The answer is a resounding no. Not if I can help it.
Sure, I’ve gone over the crypto-natalism artifice before, but it bears repeating as plenty of anti-natalists doltishly accept narratives where they’re left arguing against phantoms instead of demanding overt opposition in the form of a natalist or a natal-sympathizer who is open about it. The dreaded asymmetry, more than anything else, has made it difficult to call shenanigans on the pseudo-neutralist.]

In keeping with the 'preference-endowed' subset of sentience (i.e. the average human), I’ll reaffirm that level # 8 is decidedly the most sensible of the bunch. NAPU offers a calculus that’s attuned to the dignity of human preferences, and thus immunizes itself to recycled noise about how 'utilitarianism' fails; one hackneyed point at a time. It's possible to convince Classical Negative Utilitarians of this, but not until they intellectually abrogate the "sentience = zero-sum" principle (assuming a good number of CNUs even subscribe to it in the first place).
In any setting alien to YouTube, it's uncontroversial to believe that a Classical Utilitarian needn’t hold sentience as a 'zero-sum game' in order to side with Classical Negative Utilitarianism over Classical Positive Utilitarianism. Even so, YouTubers who discuss ethics the most tenaciously (and redundantly) have made the zero-sum theory seem as though it's a prerequisite for NU. It isn't. I don't subscribe to it, yet I somehow manage to be steadfastly supportive of NU in the form of level # 8.

Similarly, we can grasp that a Preference Utilitarian needn’t hold that the optimal flourishing of human preferences is but a 'zero-sum game' in order to ultimately side with Negative Preference Utilitarianism (# 7 or # 8) over Positive Preference Utilitarianism (# 5 or # 6), in principle.

Oddly enough, shunning the zero-sum theory as groundwork for NU may import some lucidness insofar as how one arrives at NU; be it Classical based NU or Preference based NU. This seems highly counterintuitive at first, but hear me out.

The only way for # 8’s NAPU (or # 7’s NTPU) to pass muster is if we begin with the understanding that it is possible to categorically differentiate between positive preferences and negative preferences (dispreferences). I contend that this is doable. An example of this is the innate recognition that a preference to ride a rollercoaster on a periodic basis is different from a dispreference to not be brutally tortured in captivity on a periodic basis. Generally speaking, legalities and illegalities reinforce radiant dualities between the positive and the negative, and the segmentation poses grievous consistency woes for anyone who believes that chasing cheese is tantamount to climbing out of the dungeon; which is to say A pursuit of the positive preference is merely a pursuit of the elimination of a pre-existing negative that cannot surpass zero. This position is known as 'Anti-Frustrationism' in advanced circles, but I’ll refrain from calling it that in this entry due to some florid connotations overshadowing this facet of it. So I’ll just refer to it as the zero-sum theory.

In any event, consider the underdiscussed implications of the belief that optimally satisfying all preferences for several decades merely alleviates all dispreferences for several decades. A well-hidden implication is that once this is put forth, the advocate mustn’t toss the rhetoric by differentiating between positive preferences and negative preferences –– or between pleasures and pains –– even in a cavalier manner. The zero-sum apotheosis holds that all preferences belong in one pile; the deprivation pile (negative pile). You have, in effect, barred yourself off from fostering preference vs. dispreference categories, so you must hold that something as benign as a proclivity to go on a rollercoaster ride stands to bring about a smidgen of genuine “harm” if it goes unmet. But does it? It doesn’t, quite obviously. Negative Utilitarians can rebuke maxims asserting that it does, as I have done here, but by doing so the NU necessarily opens the door to the recognition that riding the rollercoaster would have resulted in an authentically positive experience; the manifestation of which isn’t predicated by sensorial deprivation. The only way around this is to explicitly take issue with the following claim:

  • Not riding rollercoasters causes no harm

Or the more general:

  • Adrenaline junkies not experiencing an adrenaline rush causes no harm

These are apodictic claims. Arguing against either of them would be unwise. Insistence to the contrary spits in the face of actual harm, flippantly promoting the sheer paradox of affirming the zero-sum theory while simultaneously belittling positive preferences.

I on the other hand can effortlessly belittle positive preferences and prioritize them below negative ones –– drawing a line in the sand between mere unmet desire and actual harm –– so long as I don’t saddle myself with contradictory “sentience = zero-sum game” starting points in the process. By welcoming those starting points one would, in turn, morph those very positive preferences (unmet desire) into negative ones (actual harm) by squeezing them all squarely “below zero”.

The only way to uniformly avoid conflating positive preferences with negative preferences is by grasping the invalidity of the zero-sum proposal. By validating such dictums, the zero-sum theorist inevitably ends up blurring the lines between oppositional preference categories, and in so doing concocts rationale for all sorts of heinous viewpoints. For instance, finding oneself at a crossroads between two viable rescue missions and choosing to rescue seven billion adrenaline-junkies from their "harmful" desire to ride rollercoasters, at the expense of not rescuing one measly person from being boiled alive, and pointing to the accumulated "harm" of the seven billion being greater than the accumulated harm of the one person, as the logic behind the decision. There is no getting around this unless one envisions a luminous barrier between the positive preference (for riding rollercoasters) and the negative preference (for not wanting to be boiled alive), and negating the former accordingly.

For my money, we can insert an infinite number of adrenaline-junkies on the positive preference side and deprive them of the rollercoaster ride. It wouldn't matter. Were I to ever find myself at such a crossroads, I'd move in the direction of the one person I can rescue from being boiled alive, rather than viewing her as a gambit in the name of a daft “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few” preference-jumbled principle.

The numbers game is irrelevant under this ultimatum, because all frustration stemming from positive preferences having gone unmet doesn't constitute actual harm, and is therefore not the concern of anyone who favours # 8’s NAPU.

Regardless of how trivial or phantasmagorical a preference may be, once the zero-sum theorist denies that its fruition generates a genuinely positive (plus-sum) experience, the theorist concomitantly denies that the preference was itself of a positive format to begin with. If a preference cannot be positive, it must be negative, and is to be regarded as a fecund bringer of actual harm. Put bluntly, even the preferences of a would-be torturer who hungers for victims ought to be taken into account by the zero-sum theorist’s scaling, given the equal-opportunity indexing of harm.

Frustrated schadenfreude, or frustrated sadism, are not impediments for those who reject the zero-sum theory. Narcissistic cravings along these lines fall into the domain of positive preferences (# 5 or # 6) since the miscreant derives positive mental states by following through on them. The very definitions of 'schadenfreude' and 'sadism' support this. Negative Preference Utilitarians are not concerned with maximizing any such positive preferences. Our lone concern is the abatement of negative preferences.

I actually believe that this can be extended all the way to Classical Negative Utilitarianism (non-preference based utilitarianism). Suppose the points I just made are dreck and that sentience is in fact a zero-sum game. If this is true, there is no point in dividing up pains and pleasures, as pleasures are nothing but pains subsiding in a transitory manner. The word “pleasure” would itself be a linguistic non-starter, much in the way “free will” is a misnomer to hard determinists and hard incompatibilists. Ergo labelling oneself a 'Negative Utilitarian' would be superfluous as there can be no such thing as positive utilitarianism in the first place. There are only different strands of pain depletion, like saving one person from being boiled alive versus saving one person from her frustrated desire to ride a rollercoaster, and prioritizing the former above the latter based on the ensuing magnitude of harm.

The mere idea of "saving" someone from their unmet desire to ride rollercoasters would still be internally permissible though, despite it being paternalism overload. This is why the prudent Utilitarian should shun Classical Negative Utilitarianism (# 3 or # 4) in favour of Negative Preference Utilitarianism (# 7 or # 8). [Note that the prototypical Classical Negative Utilitarian outside of YouTube should be given enough credit as understanding how a denied rollercoaster ride is not a form of actual harm. The zero-sum theory is not essential to arriving at CNU.]

The grounded ethicist should only promote rescuing people from actual harm or from exposure to potentially non-consensual harm via Natalism. Frustrated desire does not fall into this sensory bracket, otherwise the half-baked arguments made by Incels about their sexual 'oppression' would actually make sense, as sexual inactivity would indeed be considered an actual harm. This is ludicrous. Virginity doesn't beget what’s commonly and sensibly referred to as harm. If you’re itching to see the non-colloquial 'hedonist' label to go the way of the dodo (as I am), you can't go around portraying things like celibacy and sobriety as bringers of actual harm. You might beg to differ, but before you know it statements like "I've been plagued by the unforgiving sweet-tooth! Oh the horror!" will no longer smack of hyperbole. Such claims aren’t meant to be taken at face value because snacking on a chocolate bar amounts to actual pleasure. It’s crucial to parse the intricacy of this so as to recognize the core of plus-sum denialism.

[Side note: Proponents of # 3's CNTU or # 4's CNAU do see a tactical need to set boundaries between pains and pleasures, in an informal way, given the wavelength of a world filled with intrepid risk-junkies, adventurists, triumphalists, survivalists, familialists and other life-affirmers whose underlying goal is to perpetuate sentience at any cost. Point is, any terminological division of “pains vs. pleasures” is but a technicality for the mission-driven CNU who also believes that sentience at best only amounts to “zero”.
As with most everything else, devising a sound strategy for persuasion is their end-goal, even if the ransom for it ends up costing them whatever shred of epistemic clarity they had to start with. Enter “Theorist vs. Rhetorician” broils where the dispassionate theorist is always left in the dust, as the rhetorician inches closer to mass appeal; utilizing methods like infotainment.
We shouldn't expect anything nobler from people who believe that ethics are best discussed in an “off-the-cuff” oratorical manner rather than in cold hard text. One method places the arguer front and center (a recipe for tangential discursion and click-baity drama), the other method conceals as much about the arguer as humanly possible (making room for ratiocination). A quick way of verifying this is to glance at the titles of blog posts in the blogosphere, and compare them to the titles of YouTube videos dabbling in ethics/civics/politics/economics. The first bundle's titles will contain isms and technicalities, only seldomly invoking screen names of other users with contrasting ideologies. The YouTube bundle's titles will accentuate the username of the opponent spouting the disagreeable argument, and in doing so shifting our attentional energies away from the isms and technicalities.]

Persistent disputers of the entire utility compass may believe that # 8’s NAPU, while a few notches above its inferiors, is nevertheless still guilty of viewing the individual as "a means to an end" rather than an end onto himself/herself. This is ultimately a ruse as one can deduce roughly the same “means vs. ends” split with most non-utilitarian moral systems to date. Ethical egoism would be an exception to the rule. Kantian or moderate deontology, would not. All deontological theories spring to mind because their desired trajectories superimpose fixed duties on all individuals without raising any fuss over the individuals who aren’t peachy keen about it to say the least.

How might Kant's Categorical Imperative pass as not viewing disinclined egoists as “a means to an end” any more than the disinclined egoists under NAPU? Both systems’ ethical aspirations demand certain things of the egoist that his ethical egoism will never demand of him. Such obligations strive to alter the egoist’s inclination to a lifetime of self-indulgent considerations, reducing all such individuals to “a means” all the same. This can be corroborated regardless of whether we're discussing the motives or consequences of the egoist as a moral agent. Suggesting that a “motives-only” clause absolves deontology of “means” indictments is a cute form of special pleading. The only way for an ethical theory to get a true pass on the “means vs. ends” derailment, is by extolling individual selfishness full-throttle. Emphasis on "means vs. ends" targeting NAPU in exclusivity is question-begging.
If you view Kantian Deontology as a moral system that has no interest in divesting the individual of egocentricity, you’ve (1) not grasped Kantian Deontology, likely confusing it with Deontic Propertarianism, or (2) you've grasped it, were charmed by it, and are now trying to make it immune to criticism from all angles, likely because you’re dogmatic on this issue.

As an aside, if we posit that gradating between trivial negative preferences and non-trivial negative preferences is doable, then my idiosyncratic formulation of NAPU would only aspire to have individuals used as a means to an end in select cases targeting the minimization of non-trivial negative preferences. Admittedly, this would be an ad hoc version of NAPU. It would still strive to minimize trivial negative preferences, just not under instances where the task interferes with individuals whose own agendas are inharmonious with it. I understand that the distinctions between what makes for a trivial negative preference versus a non-trivial negative preference will not always be clear cut. This paragraph is not intended to convince non-utilitarians to view formal NAPU as being less culpable of using individuals as "a means" in comparison to any other non-egoist ethical system. It's just something that I think warrants mentioning.

This leaves us with the "Total Utilitarianism vs. Average Utilitarianism" disputation cornerstone (TU vs. AU). I won't harp on this one too much, because it's the longest running one and because my reasons for why AU’s per capita tally is superior to TU’s net-equation tally have already been regurgitated in pretty much every post I’ve done over the last two years. That said, my antipathy towards TU has not simmered down by any stretch.

Given that we’ve already arrived at a type of Negative Utilitarianism in NPU –– in lieu of worrying about the maximization of positive preferences, pleasure, or happiness –– the orbit of AU's per capita metric will be conducive to eliminating individual bouts of non-trivial harm in tandem with non-trivial negative preferences. TU on the other hand is disturbingly content with gearing its plane of focus towards the minimization of uncountable dispersed cases of trivial harm, all of which fail to take into account the separateness of persons. Since AU’s measurement of wellbeing is person-oriented, it will be more swayed by the outliers compared to the aggregative measurements of TU. Thus the more egalitarian AU scaling is predicative of outcomes that tolerate fewer individuals being boiled alive (so as to thwart disutility in the aggregate) compared to its TU rival.

In other words, Total Utilitarians are willing to crack as many eggs as it takes in order to make the best possible omelet, whereas Average Utilitarians are less concerned with the omelet as an end product, and place more value on ensuring that the fewest number of eggs are cracked as possible, despite knowing that such a priority will undoubtedly deter the quality of the omelet. The analogy simply uses eggs as a placeholder for individual sentient beings, with the omelet representing net benefits. Enter Negative Average Utilitarians like myself, who do not accept sacrificing a single egg to the omelet making endeavour. If the outcome is an eggless omelet which tastes worse –– or no omelet at all –– so be it.

It can be argued that the last two sentences are somewhat of an overkill in that they resemble the aims of Negative Prioritarianism more so than the aims of Negative Average Utilitarianism. This rings true if we're boxed into judging the variance based solely on what might be extrapolated from unabridged applications of Negative Average Utilitarianism in 2014, in an uncontrolled environment on a planet with as many sentient beings as the one we inhabit. Be that as it may, I must stress that a Negative Prioritarian's unwillingness to crack a single egg, while not 100% congruent with Negative Average Utilitarianism in the here and now, is nonetheless plenty less congruent with Negative Total Utilitarianism. Whatever variables exist between Negative Prioritarianism and NAU are marginal in comparison to the substantial variables between NTU and NAU (to say nothing of the variables that exist between NTU and Negative Prioritarianism).

Some ethicists may be tempted to include "Act Utilitarianism vs. Rule Utilitarianism" as yet another cornerstone of dissention engulfed by the utilitarian spectrum. I see no point in adding "Act vs. Rule" because those issues only have relevance if we're forced to deal with agent-centered thought experiments as opposed to comparative 'global outcome' hypotheticals. As mentioned earlier in this post, posing dilemmas to individual moral agents misses the mark, as all schools of utilitarianism shouldn't be thought of as behavioural manuals to begin with. Replace 'global outcome' hypotheticals for agent-centred predicaments, and we’re fazed with endless pragmatic difficulties stemming from agents not being prognosticators.

Every agent lacks the ability to foresee unintended consequences, in addition to being incapable of measuring differences in individuals’ pain thresholds (so as to apply them in deeply convoluted interpersonal harm-exchange contexts). This, while true, is a sly topic-changer in my book, about as relevant as the fact that we will never be able to figure out exactly how many grains of sand exist on this planet. Our perpetual inability to answer this question in no way suggests that a concrete numeric answer to “How many grains of sand are there on planet earth?” doesn’t exist.

Moreover, unlike the three disputation cornerstones listed at the top, "Act vs. Rule" can be dropped on account of the "Two-Level Utilitarianism" resolution, encapsulating its obsolescence even more in 2014.


By now it should be clear that a conscientious Utilitarian will have a love/hate relationship with the utilitarian landscape, eliciting rightful trepidation anytime non-layered 'Utilitarianism' is used free of qualifications.

If held at gunpoint and forced to rely on just one system to resolve all future ethical dilemmas, my vote goes to # 8’s NAPU. My decision remains unaltered even if the range of ethical systems to choose from is limitless, rather than confined to the 'utilitarian' diapason. So in that sense, I am friendlier to a single type of 'Utilitarianism' than I am to any other unitary system of ethics.

Going back to the three cornerstones of internal dissension, the NAPU culminations I’ve argued for can be envisioned as: 

Total Utilitarianism < Average Utilitarianism

Positive Utilitarianism < Negative Utilitarianism

Classical Utilitarianism < Preference Utilitarianism

This post targeted Total Utilitarians, Positive Utilitarians and Classic Utilitarians. These are the people I’d like to sway or be swayed by.

As things stand, the aggregative metrics of Total Utilitarianism can be disastrous for an unlucky few individuals in outlier scenarios where they conflict with and subvert the per capita metrics of Average Utilitarianism. 

I have no patience for Positive Utilitarianism whenever it interferes with Negative Utilitarianism, which is almost always seeing as we’re underscoring sentience-as-a-package-deal in the here and now. 

Finally, my issues with Classic Utilitarianism stem from its monism, which makes me side with the pluralism of Preference Utilitarianism once human sentience enters the fray.

By ascribing one set of NU (CNTU or CNAU) to all non-human species and another set of NU (NAPU or NTPU) to humanity, it may appear that the partitioning is intended to violate sentiocentrism. This is not so, as CNU varies from NPU only in its inability to safeguard negative preferences. All four NUs (# 3, # 4, # 7, # 8) are still
 sentiocentric, even in the face of this dissimilarity.

If you can think of any drawbacks to Negative Average Preference Utilitarianism that weren't covered in this entry, let me know and I'll address them in future posts.


  1. Benatar's asymmetry argument does not depend upon utilitarianism. This is clear on any decent reading of his book, but Benatar ruled out any doubt with the following (taken from an article in which Benatar replies to critics):

    "Some people, failing to see that pains and pleasures were intended only as exemplars of harms and benefits have mistakenly identified my argument as hedonistic. [citations omitted] Another common error it so identify my argument as a utilitarian one. While my arguments are compatible with most (but not all) forms of utilitarianism, they do not presuppose utilitarian foundations and are equally compatible with deontological views."

  2. "Some people, failing to see that pains and pleasures were intended only as exemplars of harms and benefits have mistakenly identified my argument as hedonistic."


    Harms = Pains. See my "harmed vs. wronged" paragraphs.

    It would be great if you included a quote or a link to an interview where he successfully squares this with a tolerance of consensual harm (something I went over in this post). To pull this off, he would have to change the title of BNTHB, or add to it, because his entire point rests on the belief that the sufferer's willingness to suffer counts for nothing. I doubt he's been challenged further on this.

    What brand of deontology has zero tolerance for the perpetuation of consensual harm? There's no getting around CNU being the only moral system that's complimentary to statements like "better never to have been" irrespective of the type of person being evaluated.

  3. Harm is a broader category than pain. The latter is explicitly experiential. Many philosophers argue that not all harms and benefits are experiential, as made clear by, among other things, theories of harm/benefit that depend on "objective goods" and "objective bads", where these goods and bads are thought to be as such irrespective of their impact on our experiential states. Benatar makes the effort to not commit himself to any particular normative ethical view; he did this to avoid rejections of the asymmetry on the basis of any given critic not accepting whatever specific normative ethical theory Benatar might have chosen.

    When Benatar writes that pain is bad and pleasure good (for those who experience them), he is referencing intrinsic quality. Pain is intrinsically bad, by definition, whether the experience of it is consented to or not. If it was the case that consent (of the right kind) to birth could be achieved (and only with it could people be brought into existence), then the AN case (at least, the philanthropic AN case) would be weightless. But the ability to acquire consent is not on the table. For this reason, we have to think about the harms and benefits of creation in terms of their intrinsic value.

    Your response, I imagine, would be to point out that once created, people can consent to the harms of their life, such that there was no wrong in creating the person even if the person was harmed as a result of being made. This strikes me as an argumentatively weak move. One of the main issues, of course, is that the act can still be wrong (harms imposed without consent), even if it is granted that the outcome is not objectionable (the harm is ultimately consented to). A further issue is that consent to harm does not thereby undo the disadvantage of existing relative to not existing described by Benatar via the asymmetry. That some state is consented to does not entail that that state is not worse than some alternative state (or non-state). So even if Benatar were to grant that consent can make it such that procreation is not wrong in those cases where it obtains, it would not follow that it is false that is it always better to have failed to come into existence (so long as existence contains harm). (It should be pointed out that Benatar acknowledges the distinction between procreation harming those who are created, and procreation being wrong; such is why he opens the section of his book entitled, "Is there a duty not to procreate?", which proceeds the asymmetry argument, with the following sentence: "Do my arguments also show that it is actually wrong to have children?") An additional argument, brought forth by Benatar, undermines the notion that consent is sufficient to exonerate procreation. This argument is buttressed by Benatar's review of empirical studies of human self-deception in his book (a section that I suspect you have not read), but one need not be familiar with that in order to appreciate the force of his argument. I quote it in the next comment.

  4. “However, given that most people do not regret their having come into existence, does the argument work? In fact, the argument is problematic (and not only for the reasons that Seana Shiffrin raises and which I mentioned in Chapter 2). Its form has been widely criticized in other contexts, because of its inability to rule out those harmful interferences in people’s lives (such as indoctrination) that effect a subsequent endorsement of the interference. Coming to endorse the views one is indoctrinated to hold is one form of adaptive preference—where an interference comes to be endorsed. However, there are other kinds of adaptive preference of which we are also suspicious. Desired goods that prove unattainable can cease to be desired (‘sour grapes’). The reverse is also true. It is not uncommon for people to find themselves in unfortunate circumstances (being forced to feed on lemons) and adapt their preferences to suit their predicament (‘sweet lemons’). If coming into existence is as great a harm as I have suggested, and if that is a heavy psychological burden to bear, then it is quite possible that we could be engaged in a mass self-deception about how wonderful things are for us. If that is so, then it might not matter, contrary to what is claimed by the procreative argument just sketched, that most people do not regret their having come into existence. Armed with a strong argument for the harmfulness of slavery, we would not take slaves’ endorsement of their enslavement as a justification for their enslavement, particularly if we could point to some rationally questionable psychological phenomenon that explained the slaves’ contentment.”

    I suspect that you have no real familiarity with the whole of Benatar's AN argument, since you make it out as if you're raising original objections to his view, when he has considered these problems in his book. Did you read his book in its entirety, if at all? If so, when is the last time that you did as such?

  5. “Harm is a broader category than pain”

    The word ‘harm’ is synonymous with the word ‘pain’ & I don’t budge when dealing with common understandings of words. It’s why I've included “non-colloquial” before referring to ‘hedonism’ in a way that doesn't register with 99% of people.

    “Many philosophers argue that not all harms are experiential”

    I find that distinguishing between being ‘harmed’ and being ‘wronged’ (as done in this post) offers a more effective segmentation that actually gets to the heart of the matter; tacit paternalism. Splitting hairs over obscure interpretations of ‘harm’ which deviate from ‘pain’ stands to only blur perspectives & shift focus away from what I think is the elephant in the room.

    “ “objective goods” and “objective bads” “

    In conversations about ethics, these should translate to “Oughts” and “Ought nots”. So the direct question is: When we’re asking “what ought to happen?” do impersonal “bads” trump the negative-preferences of the person being evaluated? My answer is no & I’ve not seen an argument from you or DB that deals with concerns over 'internal consistency' raised in the post.

    “he is referencing intrinsic quality. Pain is intrinsically bad, by definition, whether the experience was consented to or not”

    You’re telling me what he asserts as if it’s news to me. I'm arguing beyond the assertions, explaining that reality itself cannot take the impersonal “bad” & automatically entangle it with an ‘ought not’ just as it can't provide an automatic green light for an ‘ought’ by appealing to the impersonal “good”. To a moral constructivist, the idea of dismissing mind-dependent input of the subject, when the subject is actually capable of providing input-free-of-delusions, is a naturalistic fallacy. To a moral naturalist, perhaps it isn't. This is why I assign CNU to the naturalism & monism of the asymmetry.

    CNU is fine as long as we’re discussing non-human sentience (organisms unable to comprehend consent). Objections should be raised the moment we begin discussing already-existent-human-sentience, as naturalism doesn't trump the subject's already formed preferences.

    “But the ability to acquire consent is not on the table”

    True. Not sure why you’re telling me this. In this very post I explain how my issues with paternalism have nothing to do with procreation & aren’t meant to absolve Natalism of criticism. Even if this is the first post you’ve ever read from me, the content makes it clear that it’s written by an AntiNatalist. The issue is the supposed logical conclusion of instant painless murder, which is justifiable based on clinical interpretations of the asymmetry (provided no one grieves for the dead). By viewing harm as the intrinsic value, DB ends up viewing autonomy as an instrumental value. That's the whole point. It's why CNU is so compatible with the asymmetry. Deontologists & Preference Utilitarians don’t reduce autonomy or honesty to mere instrumental values.

    I read BNTHB in 2011, & these are not rehashed objections. I'm unfamiliar with his subsequent replies to critics, so if he directly dealt with things I’ve actually raised here, I’d like a link. Everything you said so far is suggests that he hasn't.

  6. “That some state is consented to does not entail that that state is not worse than some alternative state (or non-state)”

    Going by the CNU benchmark, yes. Going by the NPU benchmark, no. I’m looking for a non-circular & non-naturalist argument that actually explains why NPU is flawed when applied to sound minded humans who already exist, as their wavelength counts for more in the currency of ought than the non-wavelength of the natural process. No one is lost on the fact that evolution drives us to avoid harms & seek benefits. Evolution & the natural process are not the arbiters of right & wrong. AntiNatalists generally understand this. Why some of them get hung up on the intrinsic nature of pain, given that there's no intelligence pulling nature's strings, is absurd to me.

    “indoctrination” … “sweet lemons” … “optimism bias”

    These are worthwhile concerns, but surely you’ve met or are aware of intellectual giants who are wise to everything along these lines yet still manage to competently decide for themselves that their existence being painlessly/instantly wiped out is not preferable to their staying alive. Even if you disagree with me on how many competent humans exist in the here & now, you can accept that the number is well beyond zero.

    "Armed with a strong argument for the harmfulness of slavery, we would not take slaves’ endorsement of their enslavement as a justification for their enslavement, particularly if we could point to some rationally questionable psychological phenomenon that explained the slaves’ contentment.”

    I would say that their contentment constitutes impaired judgement. On the flipside, would you say that a lifetime of perfection & happiness, accompanied by a single moment of trivial annoyance which prompts aspirations of suicide in the otherwise content individual, is also a sign of impaired judgement? If so, should society intervene & prohibit access to assisted suicide in this case? I say no. The question of when intervention is appropriate is that elephant in the room.

    “you make it out as if you’re raising original objections to his view, when he has considered these problems in his book”

    I am raising a peculiar objection though, as no criticism of BNTHB narrows in on the plausibly consistent paternalism. I haven’t seen "paternalism" inserted in a single counterargument. People generally counter by either appealing to the non-identity (non) problem, or by saying that the sure fire consent of the supermajority in the coming generations ought to supersede the non-consent of the tiny minority in the coming generations. This is repugnant, & I shouldn't have to recap why it has nothing to do with anything in this post. Frankly, I don't think you read the post all that diligently, as you commented roughly 30-45 minutes after I published it. Either you're one of the world's fastest readers, or you skimmed through it.

  7. I have read your post. I think that you're being inconsistent with your distinctions. You acknowledge that harming and wronging are not synonymous, and yet you take Benatar's statement that pain is bad regardless of those who have it (where he is indicating that pain is intrinsically—as a matter of the experience of pain—bad) as implying a view that all pain is morally wrong. The following from you illustrates this:

    "For the strict Benatarian who favours robust Moral Realism vis-à-vis value monism, these ‘Initiating lives =/= Continuing lives’ disclaimers should ring hollow. I wouldn’t go so far as to dub them lip service, but still, they don’t exactly follow from a dour reading of a ‘pain = bad’ axiom. Once ‘pain = bad’ is the lone value template, the proverbial ‘unsolicited painless mercy killings!’ kvetching naturally re-emerges and we're back to square one. Benatar himself has been succinct from the outset about his belief that pain is bad regardless of what the sufferer makes of it, which points to a predilection for # 3 (CNTU) or # 4 (CNAU), miles away from the coordinates of # 7 (NTPU) or # 8 (NAPU)."

    With regard to your reply to me, there is little help I can offer you for your failure to realize that ethicists generally acknowledge that pain is only one sort of harm, and that not all harm is pain.

    You seem to entirely misunderstand my reason for bringing up objective goods/bads. I am not an objective list theorist. I was only giving examples of benefits and harms recognized by many ethicists that are not reducible to pleasure and pain.

    Where I have written that Benatar states that pain is intrinsically bad, I am pointing out that he's referring to the experience of pain. The experience of pain is, by definition, bad. There is no "ought entanglement". As evinced by the quote provided, Benatar does not see moral wrongness following necessarily from harming, which is why he feels the need to make a further argument that procreation is wrong after arguing that procreation harms universally. A further place in his text that this can be seen is his rejection of the pinprick argument. As part of this counter, he maintains that it would be morally acceptable to have children in the pinprick world, because even though their lives would be worse than failing to exist (they are harmed by being made), they would benefit their parents and communities enough to justify this harm (since the harm is so minor in the pinprick world). Thus he is decoupling the harm of procreation and the wrongness of procreation.

    I understand that you're an anti-natalist. I don't know why you think I was suggesting that you were endeavoring to vindicate natalism. I was only laying out Benatar's position.

    Your injection of preference concerns vis-a-vis the asymmetry is senseless, since the comparison is between existence and failing to come to be via non-procreation. There are no preferences to deal with here, unlike when considering informed, conscious, etc. persons. Your effort to extend the asymmetry as having implications for decisions made about life and death by the living fails for this reason. I will get to that after I'm done going through the rest of your rebuttals.

    Where you speak of the non-deluded, the comparison you bring up is irrelevant, since the asymmetry applies to coming to be vs. not coming to be, not continuing to exist v. dying. It is delusion about the value of coming to live that Benatar wants to expose (even though he acknowledges that these delusions certainly affect the extent to which people are disposed to continue to live). You rush over this distinction in your post, probably because it is the glaring hole in your critique.

    (Continued in next comment.)

  8. Because the asymmetry is about the harmed/benefited status of created life, he is not suggesting that mercy killing interventions, or interventions of any kind, are to be forced on the optimistically biased.

    Now, I shall turn to the paternalism objection directly. You seem to believe that the asymmetry commits Benatar to the ethicality of (non-consensual) mercy killing. Benatar anticipated and responded to this objection in his book, and also covers it in two articles replying to critics. With a clear eye to preferences that are relevant once people are alive, Benatar writes the following in his book: “I explained . . . that there is good reason for setting the quality threshold for a life worth starting higher than the quality threshold for a life worth continuing. This is because the existent can have interests in continuing to exist, and thus harms that make life not worth continuing must be sufficiently severe to defeat those interests. By contrast, the non-existent have no interest in coming into existence. Therefore, the avoidance of even lesser harms—or, on my view, any harm—will be decisive.” It follows that one’s life can always be worse than failing to exist, without it being true that one’s preference for continued life is to be ignored (that we are morally justified in overriding it by killing the person). To this you may want to tender a reply to do with a retroactively applied preference to come into existence as defeating Benatar’s harm claim. But again, at best this preference would establish that one was not wronged by coming into existence (which, as I think we agree, would still not vindicate the act of procreation that actualized this life-affirming individual); it would not establish that one was not harmed by being created, which you’ve acknowledged is a distinct issue from being wronged.

  9. As a follow up, it should be pointed out that just as you acknowledge that different conditions of ethical analysis apply when considering animals rather than humans (because the former cannot form preferences), so Benatar acknowledges separate modes of ethical analysis for the potentially existent v. the existent (consonant with your reasoning, because the former have no preferences).

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  14. On what planet can animals not form preferences?

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  16. Earth.

    If you want to say that biological forces triggering in animals feelings of hunger or thirst or lust is what forms their preferences, that's a crude interpretation of what a preference is. Animals have blunt needs; 100% instinctual. Humans have non-mechanistic preferences in the sense that we're equipped with self-awareness which (often) separates our psychological makeup from the (former) puppet master that was our biology. So you get a wide range of non-evolutionary or even counter-evolutionary preferences amid humans; preferences that animals are sadly incapable of forming. Oh, and homosexual animals are not an argument here, because they're just as incapable of evaluating their sexuality as heterosexual animals are.

    Point being; two dogs engaging in a fight is something that should be stopped on ethical grounds, as both animals are running on nothing but instincts and cannot in any way consent to the harm they're exposing themselves to. Two human UFC fighters engaging in a cage fight, on the other hand, are doing so because they've formed a preference for that particular activity, making them fit to provide informed consent to the harm that will likely befall them. Due to the dignity of non-evolutionary preferences, as opposed to the indignity of crude mechanistic needs (that you refer to as 'preferences' all the same), interference cannot be justified on ethical grounds when we're evaluating the human fight. Only the animal fight warrants stoppage.

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  19. Why didn't you address Anonymous's criticisms of your crappy arguments?

  20. Way to not read the post.

    Anon didn't criticize any of my central arguments. He/she defended David Benatar against my wrongful targeting of him on the issue of paternalism. Anon dropped some quotes from BNTHB, so I reread most of it & found ample evidence showing that DB does, in fact, reject thwarting harm via paternalistic measures. I updated the post (keyword search "2014-10-03") pointing this out. What 'crappy' argument of mine do you actually think suffered because of this?

    The arguments stand, because of quotes like this one, linked from a pro-asymmetry blog post four paragraphs above the update: "The qualifications "good" and "bad" refer not to some intrinsic property of the things themselves, but to their status in ethical reasoning".

    Yes, DB rejects paternalistic interference, but you wouldn't know it based on some of his supporters who think that an automatic 'ought' verdict rationally follows every 'ouch', which is indistinguishable from the deprivationalist position & the CNU position. The only crappy move on my part was thinking that these are apt summaries of what DB believes.

    The average asymmetry defender *is* guilty of inferential paternalism & CNU, though that's hardly DB's fault. Still, he can easily resolve this by pointing out that extinction is appropriate when & only when perpetuation is achieved generationally, & not individually.

    Hopefully that settles that. Perhaps you think there was something else I needed to address? I ignored the spat which arose due to anon saying "Your response, I imagine, would be to point out that once created, people can consent to the harms of their life, such that there was no wrong in creating the person even if the person was harmed as a result of being made". This came after I was told that consent is unattainable. If this person grasps my points, he/she should see why that spiel was unnecessary & why I was right to say that such a statement paints me as a natalist or natal-sympathizer. I protested it once, & felt that once was enough to get my point across.

  21. What happened to your hair?

  22. Nothing.

    What happened to considerate specificity?

  23. You should go back to youtube.

  24. It looks as if you grew a fro. It looks good though. Anways, got to go. See ya later, yo.

  25. Anon from 27 hours ago: YouTube is still filled with melodrama and click-bait still thrives. What exactly is to be gained from a return? In any case, I'll probably end up uploading a few videos there in a couple of months, after I publish the 10 or so posts/essays I'm currently working on. I'll never go back to uploading videos on a routine basis or even a quasi-routine basis though. That's a waste of perfectly good reading time, of which I don't have an infinite supply. YT should really only serve as a platform linking people to the vlogger's best work (i.e. written work and carefully constructed work).

    Anon from 16 hours ago: Longish hair that gets a bit puffy =/= fro.

    I agree with you on the "looks good" part though, and I'm only being half-sarcastic about that.

  26. I wonder if you have longish hair on your ass and balls. On second thought...

  27. Funny how you ignore my comment about you having longish hair on your ass and balls.

  28. Anyways, can you tell me how you became such an eloquent writer?

  29. You've left several comments on this thread, none of which have anything to do with the post's content. Plus you're posting as anonymous. I tend to stop humoring anonymous comments at a certain point.

    I'll answer the last question though: I write a lot. Most of what I've written hasn't been posted on here (yet) as the drafts are always undergoing some combination of trimming and expansion.

    Now either post a comment that has something to do with one of the utilitarian formulas discussed in the post, or bugger off.

  30. But I just want to be your friend... is that too much to ask? Anways, thanks for answering my question you boorish bastard.

    Now back on topic. Why did you not include a Kantian-utilitarian formula in your blog post? Do you got a problem with Kantians?

  31. Excellent post. I strongly concur that Negative Average Preference Utilitarianism should be talked about a lot more in the utilitarian community.

    Some may criticise it as being ad hoc: it seems to pride itself on gaining results which align with our intuitions, particularly with respect to population ethics. But, our reasoning does align with NAPU in these cases, in my view: when making a decision to have a child, humans often state that they want it to have the "best life possible" and often compare their child's welfare with others', meaning that they do want their child to have an above-average lifestyle and reduce their number of preferences left thwarted.

    I'm definitely going to try to publicise it more.

    1. Appreciate that, though I've since revised my position on NAPU a bit. This post already argues that Classic Utilitarianism is better suited for animal welfare than Preference Utilitarianism can ever hope to be. So in some cases, NAPU is clearly not the appropriate utility formula. But are exceptions to NAPU only routed to concerns over non-human animals, or do they extend beyond that? Well, this post presents Average Utilitarianism in an inflated light, as though it's *always* superior to Total Utilitarianism, which in retrospect seems indefensible to me.

      Consider this scenario from a subsequent post:

      "One such unpleasant configuration is a world with seven billion people resulting in a state of affairs where the average suffering level is a hellish -100. The suffering is distributed evenly across the entire population, meaning each individual is left to endure -100 respectively. Contrast this with a world containing just ten people, resulting in an average suffering level of -101 distributed evenly across the population. Neglecting the total view on this tally, so as to cleave to the average view, seems as pathological as doing the opposite in the first set of global hypotheticals. In this case, one should not hesitate to clamor for Total Utilitarianism in order to bring about an outcome where only ten people suffer at -101 each, as opposed to seven billion at -100 each."

      Perhaps AU ought to be applied in more cases than TU, but we cannot say it ought to be applied across the board without running into obstacles of this sort.

      That said, Total Utilitarians are still wrong"er" because they tend to more robustly insist on the exclusivity of their metrics. I'm curious as to how they reconcile this with their lack of protest over economic performance indicators which are patently more rooted in AU measures than in TU measures. I mean, ethicists who study economics typically focus on rising per capita income as an indictor of successful economic performance of a nation, far more than its aggregate wealth creation (as most of the surplus hardly ever trickles down).

  32. I I just think antinatalism is quite simplistic. There is too much more than suffering, pain and disgrace in life. For many life can be very enjoyable and pleasant.

    Antinatalism also seems to be an idea based on a subjective experience of misery of some. Which is obviously not shared by everyone. Lets say we implement this idea and no one ever has kids again in order to end all potential, future suffering, what about all the potential, future joy you've prevented people from experiencing? Couldn't that also be deemed as immoral?

    1. "For many life can be very enjoyable and pleasant"

      How many times must I go over this? You must've read literally nothing from any of my posts or comments, ever, to assume that I'm lost on this fact. Attributing more importance to the avoidance of non-trivial dispreferences than to the pursuit of preferences doesn't entail nullifying the value of preference fulfillment altogether. Throw in some prioritarianism, & the rest writes itself.

      If an omnipotent being offers joe average a year of optimal bliss, for which he must first spend a year in hell, joe's refusal to accept the offer has nothing to do with an inability to comprehend how wonderful the 365 days of bliss would've been.

      Add in the fact that procreation is an interpersonal activity, and analogies galore.

      i.e. Better a vacant rollercoaster than one with 99 (or however many) gleeful riders who forcibly strap in 1 (or 2, 3, 4...) unwilling rider(s) for the purposes of takeoff. I'll ask you what I ask others; Would you strap in the 1, or would you tell the other 99 to get their jollies elsewhere? Not hard, yet no one ever answers this question. Will you be the first? Fingers crossed!

      "what about all the potential, future joy you've prevented people from experiencing? Couldn't that also be deemed as immoral?"

      Point me to one ethicist who'd deem the above package-deal moral while declaring the alternative scenario (a vacant rollercoaster) as immoral. It doesn't even have to be an especially reputable ethicist. Just one.

      If you can't find one, the task ahead is to explain why the described trade-off is fundamentally disanalogous to the (even more horrific) package-deals you're quick to tolerate in life itself (a global context).

      In what universe is my refusal to give the green light here "simplistic"?! As with any ethical position, you can disagree without being deluded, but calling it simplistic just shows you've not truly grasped what you disagree with.

      "Lets say we implement this idea and no one ever has kids again in order to end all potential, future suffering"

      It's not the sort of idea that's implementable, and it's not about ending all (everyone's) prospective suffering indiscriminately. Note that you're soliciting feedback from a scalar anti-natalist who doesn't believe there's a "moral duty" to not procreate. I merely ascribe "better" to "worse" ratio based verdicts as it pertains to the outcomes of (and motives behind) procreation. I'm also a non-paternalistic anti-natalist, so for me it's more about ensuring against the perpetuation of non-trivial dispreferences, not suffering per se (though with non-human animals it is about the suffering in & of itself).

      Properly fine-tuned formulations of AntiNatalism (above) don't purport to speak on behalf of content persons, insofar as such individuals are confined to *intrapersonal* risk-exposure and self-assessment (not interpersonal risk-exposure replete with parental assessment of minors).

      But seeing as immortality pills are just not in the cards at this time (unfortunate, I wouldn't mind one), bringing up those intrapersonal standards misses the mark in a debate like this.

  33. I found this post while researching Negative Average Preference Utilitarianism last year and have referred back to it like every few weeks. I totally agree that there isn't nearly enough material on NAPU, and I'm glad you've made such a big contribution. Just really, thanks for writing this.

    1. Thanks, glad you got something out of it. But I ended up picking some holes in NAPU as well:


      Nothing devastating, just pointing out how counterintuitive it can be in unflattering cases.

  34. ABM,

    A general comment about suicide.

    While we cannot clearly say why life is worth living, suicide is not so much a judgment against life as an abdication of judgment. If we are honest about the source of the problem, then, we cannot condone a solution that pretends, in essence, that the problem does not exist. Suicide does this by eliminating the value of the mind, that is, of the thinking being, man.

    Suicide is the ultimate performative contradiction. If we understand the confrontation that is the apriori of our thinking, we will see that suicide attempts to ignore it, and thus cannot be the conclusion of any clear reasoning. Rather than solve a problem or make a judgment, it declines to wrestle with or endure the actual difficulty that confronts us in favor of a simple exit from mental distress.

    1. You talk of suicide as though it's generalizable. It's not:

      To give the most obvious and devastating example against your "mind elimination" piffle, just consider a terminal cancer patient who is guaranteed a brutally protracted death process and no recovery. In this case, suicide is just the absence of masochism and a refusal to have one's mind enslaved by thanatophobia. The subject's fate is sealed. Nothing is accomplished by lengthening the death process. Whether the patient dies by nature's law, or by his own hand, his mind will be no more. This is but a temporal inescapability. It doesn't nullify the value of everything the subject learned throughout his life. This & that can be valuable absent immortality.

      In what world does the simple recognition that qualitative concerns are not to be subordinated to quantitative concerns across the board entail dishonestly about the "source of the problem"? To that end, what type of problem & source did you have in mind?

      Further, I think "performative contradiction" minded arguments are some of the weakest arguments in vogue right now. It's applies & oranges on steroids. For instance, people who believe in highly demanding theories of ethics end up engaging in ethically suboptimal behavior all the time. Or even outright mediocre behavior all the time. The more demanding the theory, the more imperfect the agent stands to be. If behavioral shortcomings gave rise to doxastic shortcomings, every last belief would be inherently motivating. Without exception. But we know this is not so. The curveball of amorality reveals this in the moral domain. Ethicists have been repeatedly shown to not behave more ethically than the general public. Their "performative contradictions" in no way discredit the field of ethics. It just shows that motivational externalism is by no means debunked.

      "Rather than solve a problem or make a judgment, it declines to wrestle with or endure the actual difficulty that confronts us"

      Many personal problems are insoluble, and many judgments manage to be right on the money regardless of the evaluators prioritizing their own quality concerns over their quantity concerns.

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