The repugnant conclusion is garbage

I recently watched a YouTube video on the repugnant conclusion (TRC). The creator of the video explains TRC, sez he thinks it’s wrong but doesn’t explain why. Explaining a bad idea, but not the criticisms of that bad idea, is dumb. It gives the impression that there are no actual arguments against the bad idea. Even explaining a good idea, but not attempted criticisms, is often misleading. A person will think the good idea is not so good cuz you don’t address common criticisms of it. So I’m going to explain TRC and why it’s wrong.

TRC sez that there is a quantity called utility that measures how happy you are. You can add up utility from a group of people and find the total utility of those people. Higher total utility is better than lower total utility. Suppose group A consists of a lot of people with low but positive utility, then their total utility might be 500 say. Group B consists of a smaller number of people who are super happy and their utility only adds up to 450. So if you can choose between a policy that makes society into group A instead of group B you should choose the group A policy.

TRC is a thing that academic moral philosophers write about and take seriously. Every step and assumption in the TRC argument is wrong.

There is no numerical quantity called utility that measures how happy you are. Nor can you take the utility of different people and add it up. There is a set of sensations and ideas that people commonly call happiness. A person might prefer one state of happiness to another state of happiness. For example, a person might prefer the happiness he experiences when he has sex to the happiness he experiences when he eats pizza. Given a chance to have sex or to eat pizza he might choose the sex instead of the pizza. But there is no single number such that having sex has a larger number than eating pizza, and the number captures all of the differences relevant to that decision. Having sex and eating pizza solve different problems in that person’s life. So how can you add them up even for a single person? And for Pete having sex might solve a different problem than it solves for Jim. For example, Pete might value sex cuz he likes the sexual attention of one particular person. But Jim might just want his genitals stimulated without caring much who does it because he values the resulting orgasm. How are we supposed to add up or subtract Jim’s problem and Pete’s problem. They are qualitatively different.

You can add up quantities of goods like money or oranges or whatever. You can prefer 7 oranges to 3 apples in the sense that you would give up 3 apples to get 7 oranges. Perhaps you would give up 3 apples for 5 oranges but you wouldn’t give up 3 apples for 4 oranges. But that doesn’t mean there is some quantity called utility such that oranges have less than 3/4 times as much utility as apples. There is a well-developed theory about how to understand the quantities of stuff that people will exchange: it’s called the subjective theory of value.

Since there is no quantity called utility that could be added up to compare different populations, the thought experiment imagined in TRC is impossible.

There is another problem with TRC. It presupposes, wrongly, that you can and should make decisions about how many people there are and how happy they are. There is a word for this kind of behaviour: tyranny. You can’t decide how many people there are and what they think and feel. A tyrant can try to approximate such control through threats of physical violence, e.g. – Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. A tyrant can threaten to use murder, torture, theft etc. against people who don’t follow the ideas you lay down about what they should say, and write and who they should fuck. To the extent that the tyrant is successful at doing this, everyone is stuck on with the same stupid ideas as the tyrant. This is grossly immoral and irrational since it prevents bad ideas from being criticised and replaced by better ideas.

Academic moral philosophers haven’t reacted to TRC by explaining why it is evil and stupid. They don’t know about economics, and they don’t think seriously about morality. They just like to say stuff that annoys and disturbs other people. They are worthless except as a negative example.

About conjecturesandrefutations
My name is Alan Forrester. I am interested in science and philosophy: especially David Deutsch, Ayn Rand, Karl Popper and William Godwin.

2 Responses to The repugnant conclusion is garbage

  1. > Explaining a bad idea, but not the criticisms of that bad idea is dumb.

    need comma after 2nd “idea”

    > Even explaining a good idea, but not attempted criticisms is often misleading.

    need comma after “criticisms”.

    > But there is no number such that having sex has a larger number than eating pizza.

    There is no universal, absolute number. One can define all kinds of metrics for such things which provide numbers. And some such metrics could be useful to someone’s personal decision making. But you can’t impose your metric on others or expect it to accurately match their preferences.

    If your metric is so great, share it and persuade people to voluntarily make decisions according to it (maybe you’ll even persuade everyone!). As usual with this kind of thing, VOLUNTARY is a key issue that is completely ignored – they don’t argue against voluntary stuff, they frame everything to not even think about it.

    > tyranny

    yeah, that’s what i was getting at too!

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